Traveling to Kauai? Then start here with our Kauai Guide.
|Guide Series: Guide To Hawaii
Kauai is the fourth largest of the Hawaiian Islands and known as The Garden Isle. It holds the distinctions of being the oldest of the major islands as well as the northernmost island. The island is covered in lush plant life, epic cliffs, and amazing valleys.
Some of the best parts of Kauai can only be accessed by boat or aircraft. In fact, some of those amazing landscapes you remember from movies like Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost ark were filmed here (see Popular Movies & TV Shows Filmed In Hawaii). This is also the only island that has a navigable rivers.
Getting AroundThe main airport here is Lihue Airport (LIH) and this is likely how you'll be arriving to the island. It's located in the city of Lihue which is on the southeast part of the island.
Like most of the islands, Kauai has a main road that runs along much of the outer perimeter of the island. For the northern and eastern parts, this road will be the Kuhio Highway (Highway 56 & 560). For the southern parts it will be the Laumualii Highway (Highway 50). Note that the northwest part of the island does not connect to the southwest part.
The bulk of your travel will be along these routes. Because of that, the answer to "Do I need a rental car?" is a big yes! You'll also need to keep in mind that travel times can be significant. For example, if you were driving from Princeville on the north side to Koloa on the south side it will take over an hour by car. If traffic is heavy, like during rush hour times, expect delays.
Kauai RegionsThe island is generally broken out into a few key regions as listed below:
North KauaiStarting at the west end of the north shore is where you'll find Ha'ena State Park. This park is home to the popular Ke'e Beach Park and the north end of the incredibly difficult Kalalau Trail. As you head east you'll find the town of Hanalei, which is a popular tourist stop for food and shopping.
Next to that will be the resort area of Princeville, home to one of our favorite luxury resorts, The St. Regis Princeville Resort. Keep traveling clockwise and be sure to stop by Kilauea Lighthouse / Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. The views there are incredible and worth the trip.
East KauaiThe east side of Kauai is known as the Coconut Coast for the large amount of coconut trees that dot the coastline. This side includes a few major towns like Kapaa and Lihue.
If you're arriving by cruise ship then you'll be docking at the Nawiliwili Harbor in Lihue. From there you'll find some nearby shops and restaurants you can walk to. If you need to get to the nearest beach as you step off your ship you can walk to Kalapaki Beach as well.
South KauaiThis is the sunny part of Kauai. And where there is sun you will find beautiful resorts. Starting from the east and heading west, follow the Kaumualii Highway to Maluhia Road and you'll enter the touristy town of Koloa. It's worth a stop to shop and maybe grab a bite to eat.
Once you're done there head further south to the resort area of Poipu. This is where some of the best beaches on the island and popular resorts are located. On your way out, if you hug the coastline heading west you'll be able to stop at Spouting Horn Park / Spouting Horn Blowhole. After that, you'll need to head inland towards Lawai and the main highway.
As you continue west now you'll pass through Hanapepe, home to Port Allen. You're getting close to the popular Waimea Canyon now. It's worth a stop for most visitors but keep in mind the drive is still over 30 minutes once you head north towards the park.
West KauaiKauai's west coast is truly a wild, wild west. Much of it can only be accessed by boat. Other parts require some serious hiking via the Kalalau Trail.
A hike that the average visitor shouldn't attempt! Even places like Polihale Beach State Park along the southern end of the west coast are difficult to get to because of bumpy roads. That's 4x4 country for sure!
Explore KauiFor more information try one of these links:
Or head over to our Guide To Hawaii for an overview on the Hawaiian Islands.
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