Even a nickname like “The Garden Island” fails to do Kauai’s beauty justice. Kauai is covered with lush greenery and tropical plants and also has more miles of sandy coastline than the other Hawaiian islands. Kauai’s beaches offer great opportunities for snorkeling, surfing, swimming, and even just bathing in the sun. And its luscious greenery make for many gorgeous hikes you’ll experience nowhere else.
The Goal of Our Trip to Kauai
We planned a week long trip to Kauai giving us a little more time to explore the beautiful island. While I felt 5 days in Maui was more than enough, 9 days in Kauai left me wanting more. Our goal was to experience as much of the island’s natural beauty as possible. From its gorgeous hikes, to its beautiful reefs, and even some adventure tours – our trip was non stop fun.
9 Day Itinerary for Kauai
Flight to Kauai
Because of the time difference and the long flight, this day was pretty much just spent on a plane. Landing in Kauai by 4 PM we had time to rent our car, go grocery shopping, and then head to the beach house for dinner and sleep.
Waimea Canyon Hike & Glass Beach
Waimea Canyon is one of Kauai’s must see major landmarks (the other being the Na Pali Coast). We looked into the best way to see it, and many expressed the Canyon Trail was by far the best hike for seeing its expansive beauty. We started our day early in order to avoid the hot sun, reaching our destination by 1030AM. The views were spectacular! Not to mention, once you reach the end of the trail there are a few waterfalls and even a small waterhole to swim in and enjoy.
We spent a good amount of time simply appreciating the beautiful and expansive Waimea Canyon, and then began our return to the car to continue on. From there, we decided to drive along the Waimea Canyon and head to the main look out. While the look out was pretty, the hike was by far the best view. We had lunch at the lookout, and then headed back to Lihue – stopping at Glass Beach for a short swim and snorkel. From there, we were back to our rooms by early evening – just in time for dinner.
Want to learn more about this hike? Check out our tips for hiking the Waimea Canyon trail.
ATV’s, Horses, and Zip Lines
We started our morning at the Kipu Ranch near Lihue where we spent the day driving ATVs on rugged terrain, swimming in fresh water pools, swinging on a rope swing, and even enjoying a cold waterfall. We had lunch with the tour, and headed back to our cars to make our way to other side of the island for our horseback riding and zip lining tour.
We had just enough time between the two tours to fit it all in. Exhausted and ready for dinner, it was time to head back to Lihue.
With a 30 minute drive ahead of us, we woke up a little over an hour before our tour departed in order to get ready, have a quick bite, and make our way to the ranch.
We chose to do our ATV/Waterfall Tour with Kipu Ranch due to the amount of high praise they had received. I will say, it definitely lived up to its expectations. We spent the day driving through rough dirt terrain to see some of Kipu Ranch’s gorgeous scenery (much of which is featured in numerous movies). The tour was also a swimming tour, and included the opportunity to hop into a lightly flowing river via the rope swing featured in Indiana Jones – something we were not about to turn down!
The tour included a tasty lunch at the very end, as we sat around a small waterfall and soaked up the sun, and then ended with a short walk to their hidden oasis for the chance to swim in a small waterfall fed pool.
Between the ATV and Horseback Riding tours, we had about 1 hour. As it turned out, it takes about 1 hour to go from Lihue to Princeville. Fortunately, we made quick work of the drive, and reached Princeville with 10 minutes to spare.
Once in Princeville we joined up with the ranch for their Ride’N’Glide tour. We hopped on our horses, making our way through the vast open lands to reach the zip lines. Leaving the horses behind, we geared up and headed over to the platforms to prepare for take-off. The zip lines were extremely fun and the views equally gorgeous. However, because it was a mixed tour, we were only able to do 3 lines before meeting back up with horses and making our way back to the stables to end our day.
Dirty and dusty, our tour came to an end – time to head back to our rooms to shower off before going out for dinner.
Helicopter Ride & Na Pali Coast Sunset Cruise
If you’ve never be on a helicopter tour, Kauai is definitely the place to finally bite the bullet and do it. Taking a helicopter ride is easily one of the top 3 things to do while in Kauai. The island is 75% uninhabited, which means the only way to see majority of the island is by air. Because the rides are not long, we decided to plan it earlier in the day to leave ourselves with enough time to fit something else in – sailing the Na Pali Coast with Captain Andy’s sunset and dinner cruise.
For the helicopter ride, we chose Island Helicopters because they were the only company that offered the chance to land the helicopter at a remote waterfall for a private viewing. After enjoying a short time at the waterfall, we were back in the helicopter to enjoy 55 more minutes of flying around the entire island and taking in all of its beauty.
After the tour we had time to enjoy lunch, a short rest, and then we headed out to the docks to get on our catamaran and enjoy a beautiful and mellow tour of the gorgeous Na Pali Coast.
Hiking the Na Pali Coast (Hanakapi’ai/Kalalau Trail)
The Na Pali Coast is hands down the absolute must see of Kauai. The scenery is so gorgeous it’s best seen by land, sea, and air. When it comes to exploring it by land, the Hanakapi’ai/Kalalau Trail hike is the way to go. The trail is part of the longer Kalalau Trail, but instead of being a multi-day hike, it is a much shorter 4 mile round trip (to the beach) or 8 mile round trip (to the waterfall).
Our hike took us first to the beautiful beach of Hanakapi’ai, and then continued the extra 2 miles to gushing the waterfall. Once you reach the beach, if you’re feeling up to it, making your way to the waterfall is a must do. It was easily the highlight of our hike. Though the coastal views as you hike along the trail to the beach are a close second.
Want to learn more about this hike? Check out our tips for hiking the Hanakapi’ai Trail.
SCUBA Diving Ni’ihau
We signed up with Bubbles Below Kauai for their 3 dive Ni’ihau charter, and because February in Kauai is whale season, we were treated to an extra special time. During our dives, we could constantly hear the beautiful song of the whales. It was the most incredible and almost mesmerizing experience I’ve ever enjoyed. Although we never got to see one up close (some lucky divers do), it was as if they were right next to us the whole time. Considering visibility is only 100ft or so, it’s entirely possible that they were.
If you’re in Kauai during whale season, diving with the whales is an experience to be had – whether you get to see them up close and personal or not.
Zodiac Boat Tour of the Na Pali Coast
Captain Andy’s offers a number of different boating trips, and after having such a great time on their sunset cruise of the Na Pali Coast, we decided to hop on board their Na Pali Day Expedition Rafting Trip. Riding in a small zodiac boat, we sped our way down the coast line getting up close and personal with the small caves and waterfalls along the cliff faces. Along the way we saw numerous whales and even a couple sea turtles. The trip also included getting dropped off at a remote part of the Na Pali Coastline where we enjoyed lunch on the beach and some snorkeling before heading back.
Surfing Lesson & 4WD Beach Adventure
This was our final day in Kauai and since we really hadn’t spent much time on the beach, we decided to make it a beach day. We started our day off with a surf lesson in Poipu, where we spent a few hours learning the basics. By the time the session ended, we had caught upwards of 15 waves.
After our trip, we stopped for lunch and then it was off to go explore a more remote beach (accessible only by 4WD). The beach was beautiful and fairly empty – giving us a chance to enjoy it to ourselves.
Unfortunately, it was time to go home. Kauai, really is a beautiful island – and quite possibly my favorite of all the Hawaiian Islands.
Our Journey Through Kauai
What We Packed for Kauai
- Carry On Sized Suitcase – When I don’t carry a backpack I use this suitcase by Travel Pro. It’s carry on size (no checked bags for me) and really is a great suitcase.
- Daypack – We did a bunch of hiking, so a daypack was a must. I love my Osprey Daylight.
- Water Bottle/Hydration Reservoir – (2L) I carry my water in a reservoir for easy access
- Trail Running Shoes/Hiking Shoes – I like to hike with these shoes from New Balance (Women’s) (Men’s) – they’re lightweight and comfortable.
- Sandals/Flip Flops – You’re on a island!
- Socks (3 pair) – I used these (Women’s) (Men’s) to pair with my hiking shoes.
- Shorts (2 Pair) – It’s plenty warm on Kauai. I spent a lot of time in these shorts by Columbia (Women) (Men’s).
- T-Shirts (1) – It’s nice to get a little extra shoulder protection from the sun and for the evenings when it can get a bit chilly.
- Tank Tops (3) – It’s warm! We mostly wore tank tops as we made our way around.
- Hat/Bandana – Get a little sun cover. I love my Buff (Unisex).
- Sunglasses – Don’t forget them!
- Camera + Memory + Charger – You definitely want a way to capture all the amazing sights you’re about to see.
- Sunscreen – Kauai is beautiful, you’re going to be out in the sun all day enjoying it.
- Chapstick – It’s dry – your lips will thank you.
- Basic First Aid – Basic items include aspirin, ibuprofen, bandaids, Neosporin, and moleskin.