Aerial Tours

If you only drive around Kauai in your rental car, you will not see all of Kauai. There is truly only one way to see it all, and that's by air. Helicopter tours are the favorite way to get a bird's-eye view of Kauai—they fly at lower altitudes, hover above waterfalls, and wiggle their way into areas that a fixed-wing aircraft cannot. That said, if you've already tried the helitour, how about flying in the open cockpit of a biplane—à la the Red Baron?

Air Tour Kauai. This company, which is operated by the same group that runs Skydive Kauai, can hold up to six people in its Cessna 207 plane. The flights take off from the less-crowded Port Allen Airport and will last 65 to 70 minutes. Port Allen Airport, 3441 Kuiloko Rd., Hanapepe, HI, 96716. 808/639-3446. $120 per person.

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. This multi-island operator flies the latest in helicopter technology, the Eco-Star, costing $1.8 million. It has 23% more interior space for its six passengers, has unparalleled viewing, and offers a few extra safety features. As the name implies, the helicopter is also a bit more environmentally friendly, with a 50% noise-reduction rate. Even though flights run a tad shorter than others (50 to 55 minutes instead of the 55 to 65 minutes that other companies tout), they feel complete. A DVD of your tour is available for an additional $25. 3651 Ahukini Rd., Heliport 8, Lihue, HI, 96766. 808/245–5800 or 800/745–2583. $210.

Jack Harter Helicopters. Jack Harter was the first company to offer helicopter tours on Kauai. The company flies the six-passenger ASTAR helicopter with floor-to-ceiling windows, and the four-person Hughes 500, which is flown with no doors. The doorless ride can get windy, but it's the best bet for taking reflection-free photos. Pilots provide information on the Garden Island's history and geography through two-way intercoms. The company flies out of Lihue. Tours are 60 to 65 minutes and 90 to 95 minutes. 4231 Ahukini Rd., HI, 96766. 808/245–3774 or 888/245–2001. From $269.

Safari Helicopters. This company flies the "Super" ASTAR helicopter, which offers floor-to-ceiling windows on its doors, four roof windows, and Bose X-Generation headphones. Two-way microphones allow passengers to converse with the pilot. There's a 60-minute waterfall tour and a 90-minute "eco-tour," which adds a landing in Olokele Canyon. Passengers are often met by Keith Robinson of the Robinson family, who provides a brief tour of the Kauai Wildlife Refuge, with endangered, endemic plants. A DVD is available for $40. 3225 Akahi St., Lihue, HI, 96766. 808/246–0136 or 800/326–3356. From $167.

Sunshine Helicopter Tours. If the name of this company sounds familiar, it may be because its pilots fly on all the main Hawaiian Islands except Oahu. On Kauai, Sunshine Helicopters departs out of two different locations: Lihue and Princeville. They fly the six-passenger FX STAR from Lihue and super roomy six-passenger WhisperSTAR birds from Princeville. Discounts can be substantial by booking online and taking advantage of the "early-bird" seating during off hours. 3416 Rice St., Suite 203, Lihue, HI, 96766. 808/240–2577 or 866/501–7738. From $205. Princeville Airport, Princeville, 96722.

Tropical Biplanes. This company flies both a bright-red Waco biplane, built in 2002 and based on a 1936 design, and a Cessna 182 Skylane. The biplane can carry two passengers, the Cessna holds three. If a couple takes two seats in the Cessna, they will not sell the third seat, as to keep it a personal experience. An open cockpit and staggered wing design mean there's nothing between you and the sights. You'll see the sights at an altitude of 1,500 feet at about 85 mph. Lihue Airport Commuter Terminal, 3901 Mokulele Loop, Lihue, HI, 96766. 808/246–9123 or 888/280–9123. $410 per couple for biplane tours; $149 per person for Cessna tours.

ATV Tours

Although all the beaches on the island are public, much of the interior land—once sugar and pineapple plantations—is privately owned. This is really a shame, because the valleys and mountains that make up the vast interior of the island easily rival the beaches in sheer beauty. The good news is some tour operators have agreements with landowners that make exploration possible, albeit a bit bumpy, and unless you have back troubles, that's half the fun. If it looks like rain, book an ATV tour ASAP. That's the thing about these tours: the muddier, the better.

Kauai ATV Tours. This is the thing to do when it rains on Kauai. Consider it an extreme mud bath. Kauai ATV in Koloa is the originator of the island's all-terrain-vehicle tours. The three-hour Koloa tour takes you through a private sugar plantation and historic cane-haul tunnel. The four-hour waterfall tour visits secluded waterfalls and includes a picnic lunch. This popular option includes a hike to secret WWII bunkers and a swim in a freshwater pool at the base of the falls—to rinse off all that mud. You must be 16 or older to operate your own ATV, but Kauai ATV also offers its four-passenger "Ohana Bug" and two-passenger "Mud Bugs" to accommodate families with kids ages five and older. 3477A Weliweli Rd., Koloa, HI, 96756. 808/742–2734 or 877/707–7088. From $113.

Kipu Ranch Adventures. This 3,000-acre property extends from the Huleia River to the top of Mt. Haupu. Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, and Mighty Joe Young were filmed here, and you'll see the locations for all of them on the three-hour Ranch Tour, (depending on the vehicle). The four-hour Waterfall Tour includes a visit to two waterfalls and a picnic lunch. Once a sugar plantation, Kipu Ranch today is a working cattle ranch, so you'll be in the company of bovines as well as pheasants, wild boars, and peacocks. 235 Kipu Rd., off Hwy. 50, Lihue, HI, 96766. 808/246–9288. From $90.


Kauai is a labyrinth of cane-haul roads, which are fun for exploring on two wheels. The challenge is finding roads where biking is allowed and then not getting lost in the maze. Maybe that explains why Kauai is not a hub for the sport... yet. Still, there are some epic rides for those who are interested—both the adrenaline-rush and the mellower beach-cruiser kind. If you want to grind out some mileage, you could take the main highway that skirts the coastal area, but take caution. There are only a few designated bike lanes. It's hilly, and you'll find that keeping your eyes on the road and not the scenery is the biggest challenge. "Cruisers" should head to Kapaa. A new section of Ke Ala Hele Makalae, a pedestrian and bicycle trail that runs along the East Side of Kauai, was completed in the summer of 2013, extending the multi-use path to about 8 miles. You can rent bikes (with helmets) from the activities desks of certain hotels, but these are not the best quality. You're better off renting from Coconut Coasters or Kauai Cycle in Kapaa, Outfitters Kauai in Poipu, or Pedal ’n’ Paddle in Hanalei. Ask for the "Go Green Kauai" map for a full description of Kauai biking options.

Ke Ala Hele Makalae. For the cruiser, this county beach park path follows the coastline on Kauai's East Side. Eventually, it will run some 20 miles and presently offers scenic views, picnic pavilions, and restroom facilities along the way—all in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. For now, there are 6.5 miles of path that runs from Lydgate Beach Park to secluded Kuna Bay (aka Donkey Beach). An easy way to access the longest completed section of the path is from Kealia Beach. Park here and head north into rural lands with spectacular coastline vistas or head south into Kapaa for a more interactive experience. Trailhead: 1 mile north of Kapaa; park at north end of Kealia Beach, Kapaa, HI, 96746.

Moalepe Trail. This trail is perfect for intermediate to advanced trail bike riders. The first 2 miles of this 5-mile double-track road winds steeply through pastureland. The real challenge begins when you reach the steep and rutted switchbacks, which during a rainy spell can be hazardous. Moalepe dead-ends at the Kuilau Trail. If you choose to continue down the Kuilau Trail, it will end at the Keahua Arboretum stream. Wailua (Kauai County), HI. From Kuhio Hwy. in Kapaa drive mauka (toward mountains) on Kuamoo Rd. for 3 miles and turn right on Kamalu Rd. It dead-ends at Olohena Rd. Turn left and follow until road veers sharply to right.

Powerline Trail. Advanced riders like this trail. It's actually an abandoned service road for the electric company that splits the island. It's 13 miles in length; the first 5 miles go from 620 feet in elevation to almost 2,000. The remaining 8 miles descend gradually over a variety of terrain, some technical. Some sections will require carrying your bike. The views will stay with you forever. Trailhead is mauka (upland) just past the stream crossing at Keahua Arboretum, or at the end of the appropriately named Powerline Road in Princeville, past Princeville Ranch Stables. When it's wet—in summer or winter—this trail is a mess. Check with a knowledgeable bike shop for trail conditions first and be prepared to improvise. HI.

Spalding Monument Loop. For the novice rider, this loop offers a good workout and a summit ocean view that is not overly strenuous to reach. If you pick up a bike at Coconut Coasters or Kauai Cycle in Kapaa, you can ride a mile up Ke Ala Hele Makalae to reach the head of the loop, and even make a snack stop at the corner food truck without a detour. From near the end of Kealia Beach, ride up a gradual incline 2 miles through horse pastures to Spalding Monument, named for a former plantation owner, although there is no longer any signage. Palms circle the lava-rock wall, where you can picnic while enjoying a 180-degree ocean view. Behind you is the glorious mountain backdrop of Kalalea. Follow the rocky road north toward Kalalea for 2 more miles. Turn right at the highway, and it's another 2 mi south to a parking lot for Donkey Beach on the ocean side. The lot is not far from mile marker 12 and sits on the top of a hill. Follow the path down to the beach and turn right on Ke Ala Hele Makalae, following what was once an old cane-haul road that heads right back into Kapaa town. The loop begins at the end of Kealia Beach, past mile marker 10 on the mauka (mountain) side of the road, HI, 96746.

Wailua Forest Management Road. For the novice mountain biker, this is an easy ride, and it's also easy to find. From Route 56 in Wailua, turn mauka (toward the mountains) on Kuamoo Road and continue 6 miles to the picnic area, known as Keahua Arboretum; park here. The potholed four-wheel-drive road includes some stream crossings—Stay away during heavy rains, because the streams flood—and continues for 2 miles to a T-stop, where you should turn right. Stay on the road for about 3 miles until you reach a gate; this is the spot where the gates in the movie Jurassic Park were filmed, though it looks nothing like the movie. Go around the gate and down the road for another mile to a confluence of streams at the base of Mt. Waialeale. Be sure to bring your camera. Kuamoo Rd., Kapaa, HI, 96746.

Waimea Canyon Road. For those wanting a very challenging road workout, climb this road, also known as Route 550. After a 3,000-foot climb, the road tops out at mile 12 adjacent to Waimea Canyon, which will pop in and out of view on your right as you ascend. From here it continues several miles (mostly level) past the Kokee Museum and ends at the Kalalau Lookout. It's paved the entire way, uphill 100%, and curvy. There's not much of a shoulder on either road—sometimes none—so be extra cautious. The road gets busier as the day wears on, so you may want to consider a sunrise ride. A slightly more moderate uphill climb is Kokee Road, Route 552, from Kekaha, which intersects with Route 550. By the way, bikes aren't allowed on the hiking trails in and around Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park, but there are miles of wonderful 4WD roads perfect for mountain biking. Check at Kokee Museum for a map and conditions. Off Rte. 50, near grocery store, Waimea (Kauai County), HI, 96796.

Equipment and Tours

Kauai Cycle. This reliable, full-service bike shop rents, sells, and repairs bikes. Cruisers, mountain bikes (front- and full-suspension), and road bikes are available for $20 to $45 per day and $110 to $250 per week with directions to trails. The Ke Ala Hele Makalae coastal path is right out their back door. 4-934 Kuhio Hwy., across from Taco Bell, Kapaa, HI, 96746. 808/821–2115.

Outfitters Kauai. Hybrid "comfort" and mountain bikes (both full-suspension and hardtails), as well as road bikes, are available at this shop in Poipu. You can ride right out the door to tour Poipu, or get information on how to do a self-guided tour of Kokee State Park and Waimea Canyon. The company also leads sunrise and evening coasting tours (under the name Bicycle Downhill) from Waimea Canyon past the island's West Side beaches. Stand-up paddle tours are also available. 2827-A Poipu Rd., near turnoff to Spouting Horn, Poipu, HI, 96756. 808/742–9667 or 888/742–9887. Rentals from $15; tours $104.

Pedal 'n' Paddle. This company rents old-fashioned, single-speed beach cruisers and hybrid road bikes. In the heart of Hanalei, this is a great way to cruise the town; the more ambitious cyclist can head to the end of the road. Be careful, though, because there are no bike lanes on the twisting and turning road to Kee Beac. Ching Young Village, 5-5190 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei, HI, 96714. 808/826–9069. Rentals from $15 per day and $60 per week.


For golfers, the Garden Isle might as well be known as the Robert Trent Jones Jr. Isle. Four of the island's nine courses, including Poipu Bay—onetime home of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf—are the work of Jones, who maintains a home at Princeville. Combine these four courses with those from Jack Nicklaus, Robin Nelson, and local legend Toyo Shirai, and you'll see that golf sets Kauai apart from the other Islands as much as the Pacific Ocean does. Afternoon tee times at most courses can save you big bucks.

Kauai Lagoons Golf Club. Fhe Kiele Moana Nine (ocean) course now features a half-mile of oceanfront golf, the longest stretch of continuous ocean holes in Hawaii. Jack Nicklaus returned to do the initial design work and then saw it to completion. The Kiele Moana Nine is coupled with the Kiele Mauka (toward the mountain) Nine to offer players 18 championship-style holes of golf. For those looking for a more family- and kid-friendly layout, their Waikehe Nine inland course is an economical option. Marriott guests play for less. 3351 Hoolaulea Way, Lihue, HI, 96766. 808/241–6000 or 800/634–6400. From $150. 18 holes, 7156 yards, par 72.

Kauai Mini Golf. The only miniature golf course on the island, Kauai Mini Golf is also a small botanical garden. The 18-hole course was designed to be challenging, beautiful and family-friendly. Replacing the typical clown's nose and spinning wheels are some water features and tropical tunnels. Surrounding each hole is flora and plant life that walks players through different eras of Hawaiian history. A gift shop with local products and a concessions counter make it a fun activity for any time of day. 5-273 Kuhio Hwy., Kilauea, HI, 96754. 808/828–2118. $18. Daily 10–8.

Kiahuna Plantation Golf Course. A meandering creek, lava outcrops, and thickets of trees give Kiahuna its character. Robert Trent Jones Jr. was given a smallish piece of land just inland at Poipu, and defends par with smaller targets, awkward stances, and optical illusions. In 2003 a group of homeowners bought the club and brought Jones back to renovate the course (it was originally built in 1983), adding tees and revamping bunkers. The pro here boasts his course has the best putting greens on the island. This is the only course on Kauai with a complete set of junior's tee boxes. 2545 Kiahuna Plantation Dr., Koloa, HI, 96756. 808/742–9595. $95. 18 holes, 6341 yards, par 70.

Poipu Bay Golf Course. Poipu Bay has been called the Pebble Beach of Hawaii, and the comparison is apt. Like Pebble Beach, Poipu is a links course built on headlands, not true links land. There's wildlife galore. It's not unusual for golfers to see monk seals sunning on the beach below, sea turtles bobbing outside the shore break, and humpback whales leaping offshore. From 1994 to 2006, the course (designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.) hosted the annual PGA Grand Slam of Golf. Tiger Woods was a frequent winner here. Call ahead to take advantage of varying prices for tee times. 2250 Ainako St., Koloa, HI, 96756. 808/742–8711. $170–$240. 18 holes, 6127 yards, par 72.

Princeville Makai Golf Club. The 27-hole Princeville Makai Golf Club was named for its five ocean-hugging front holes. Designed by golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. in 1971, the 18-hole championship Makai Course underwent extensive renovations from 2008 to 2010, including new turf throughout, reshaped greens and bunkers, refurbished cart paths and comfort stations, and an extensive practice facility. Since the renovation the Makai Course has consistently been ranked a top golf course in the U.S. The Club offers free rounds for juniors (15 and under) when accompanied by one paying adult. A web check ( provides varying rates. 4080 Lei O Papa Rd., Princeville, HI, 96722. $239. 18-holes, 7223 yards, par 72; Woods Course: 9 holes, 3445 yards, par 36.

Prince Golf Course. The Prince Course reveals architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. at his finest as it meanders over 390 acres of natural splendor with fairytale vistas and jungly valleys. It's a challenging course that emphasizes touch and precision. Mountain and ocean views frame rolling plateaus and deep ravines with tropical birds and flora serving as natural backdrops. A high-end practice facility morphs into a kid and duffer friendly 6-hole, par 3 course after 4 pm daily. Celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi’s restaurant, The Tavern, complements the upscale ambience of the facility. 5-3900 Kuhio Hwy., 96722. 808/826–5001. $250. 18 holes, 7378 yds, par 72.

Wailua Municipal Golf Course. Considered by many to be one of Hawaii's best golf courses, this seaside course provides an affordable game with minimal water hazards, but it is challenging enough to have been chosen to host three USGA Amateur Public Links Championships. It was first built as a 9-holer in the 1930s. The second 9 holes were added in 1961. Course designer Toyo Shirai created a course that is fun but not punishing. The trade winds blow steadily on the East Side of the island and provide a game with challenges. An ocean view and affordability make this one of the most popular courses on the island. Tee times are accepted up to seven days in advance and must be paid in cash or traveler's checks. 3-5350 Kuhio Hwy., Lihue, HI, 96766. 808/241–6666. $48 weekdays, $60 weekends; cart rental $20. 18 holes, 6585 yards, par 72.


The best way to experience the aina—the land—on Kauai is to step off the beach and hike into the remote interior. You'll find waterfalls so tall you'll strain your neck looking, pools of crystal clear water for swimming, tropical forests teeming with plant life, and ocean vistas that will make you wish you could stay forever.

For your safety wear sturdy shoes—preferably water-resistant ones. All hiking trails on Kauai are free, so far. There's a development plan in the works that could turn the Waimea Canyon and Kokee state parks into admission-charging destinations. Whatever it may be, it will be worth it.

Hanalei-OkolehaoTrail. Okolehao basically translates to "moonshine" in Hawaiian. This trail follows the Hihimanu Ridge, which was established in the days of Prohibition, when this backyard liquor was distilled from the roots of ti plants. The 2-mile hike climbs 1,200 feet and offers a 360-degree view of Hanalei Bay and Waioli Valley. Your ascent begins at the China Ditch off the Hanalei River. Follow the trail through a lightly forested grove and then climb up a steep embankment. From here the trail is well marked. Most of the climb is lined with hala, ti, wild orchid, and eucalyptus. You'll get your first of many ocean views at mile marker 1. Hanalei, HI, 96714. Follow Ohiki Rd. (north of the Hanalei Bridge) 5 miles to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service parking area. Directly across street is a small bridge that marks trailhead.

Ho opii Falls. Tucked among the winding roads and grassy pastures of Kapahi, 3 mi inland from Kapaa town, is an easy hike to two waterfalls. A 10-minute walk will deliver you to the creek. Follow it around to see the first set of falls. The more impressive second falls are a mere 25 minutes away. The swimming hole alone is worth the journey. Just climb the rooted path next to the first falls and turn left on the trail above. Turn left on the very next trail to descend back into the canyon and follow the leafy path that zigzags along the creek. The falls and the swimming hole will lie below. Kapaa, HI, 96746. On the north end of Kapaa, ¼ mi past the last lookout, is a side road called Kawaihau. Follow the road up 3 miles, then turn right on Kapahi Rd. into a residential neighborhood. Kapahi Rd. dead-ends near the trailhead. Look for the yellow gate on your left.

Kalalau Trail. Of all the hikes on the island, Kalalau Trail is by far the most famous and in many regards the most strenuous. A moderate hiker can handle the 2-mile trek to Hanakapiai Beach, and for the seasoned outdoorsman, the additional 2 miles up to the falls is manageable. But be prepared to rock-hop along a creek and ford waters that can get waist high during the rain. Round-trip to Hanakapiai Falls is 8 miles. This steep and often muddy trail is best approached with a walking stick. If there has been any steady rain, waiting for drier days would provide a more enjoyable trek. The narrow trail will deliver one startling ocean view after another along a path that is alternately shady and sunny. Wear hiking shoes or sandals, and bring drinking water since the creeks on the trail are not potable. Plenty of food is always encouraged on a strenuous hike such as this one. If your plan is to venture the full 11 miles into Kalalau, you need to acquire a camping permit, which can be acquired either online or at the State Building in Lihue for $20 per person per night. It is advisable that you secure a permit well in advance of your trip. HI, 96714. Drive north past Hanalei to end of road. Trailhead is directly across from Kee Beach.

Mahaulepu Heritage Trail. This trail offers the novice hiker an accessible way to appreciate the rugged southern coast of Kauai. A cross-country course wends its way along the water, high above the ocean, through a lava field and past a sacred heiau (stone structure). Walk all the way to Mahaulepu, 2 miles north for a two-hour round-trip. HI, 96756. Drive north on Poipu Rd., turn right at Poipu Bay Golf Course sign. The street name is Ainako, but sign is hard to see. Drive down to beach and park in lot.

Sleeping Giant Trail. An easily accessible trail practically in the heart of Kapaa, the moderately strenuous Sleeping Giant Trail—or simply Sleeping Giant—gains 1,000 feet over 2 miles. We prefer an early-morning—say, sunrise—hike, with sparkling blue-water vistas, up the east-side trailhead. At the top you can see a grassy grove with a picnic table. It is a local favorite with many east-siders meeting here to exercise. Haleilio Rd., off Rte. 56, Wailua (Kauai County), HI, 96766.

Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks. This park contains a 50-mile network of hiking trails of varying difficulty that take you through acres of native forests, across the highest-elevation swamp in the world, to the river at the base of the canyon, and onto pinnacles of land sticking their necks out over Napali Coast. All hikers should register at Kokee Natural History Museum, where you can find trail maps, current trail information, and specific directions.

The Kukui Trail descends 2½ miles and 2,200 feet into Waimea Canyon to the edge of the Waimea River—it's a steep climb. The Awaawapuhi Trail, with 1,600 feet of elevation gains and losses over 3¼ miles, feels more gentle than the Kukui Trail, but it offers its own huffing-and-puffing sections in its descent along a spiny ridge to a perch overlooking the ocean.

The 3½-mile Alakai Swamp Trail is accessed via the Pihea Trail or a four-wheel-drive road. There's one strenuous valley section, but otherwise it's a pretty level trail—once you access it. This trail is a bird-watcher's delight and includes a painterly view of Wainiha and Hanalei valleys at the trail's end. The trail traverses the purported highest-elevation swamp in the world on a boardwalk so as not to disturb the fragile plant- and wildlife. It is typically the coolest of the hikes due to the tree canopies, elevation and cloud coverage.

The Canyon Trail offers much in its short trek: spectacular vistas of the canyon and the only dependable waterfall in Waimea Canyon. The easy 2-mile hike can be cut in half if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The late afternoon sun sets the canyon walls ablaze in color. Kokee Natural History Museum, 3600 Kokee Rd., Kekaha, HI, 96752. 808/335–9975 for trail conditions.

Lilikoi Alert

If you're hiking in May and June, you'll see lilikoi—often referred to as passion fruit—scattered like yellow eggs among the ferns. It tastes as sweet and floral as it smells—bite the tip of the rind off and you'll see speckled jelly with tiny black seeds; then slurp it right out of the skin. If you miss lilikoi season, scout out delicious lilikoi mustards and jams sold by local grocers. Lilikoi pie is also served at a few Hawaiian eateries.


Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that is transmitted from animals to humans. It can survive for long periods of time in freshwater and mud contaminated by the urine of infected animals, such as pigs, rats, and goats.

The bacteria enter the body through the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and broken skin. To avoid infection, don't drink untreated water from the island's streams; don't wade in waters above the chest or submerge skin with cuts and abrasions in island streams or rivers.

Symptoms are often mild and resemble the flu—fever, diarrhea, chills, nausea, headache, vomiting, and body pains—and may occur 2 to 20 days after exposure. If you think you have these symptoms, see a doctor right away.

Equipment and Tours

Kauai Nature Tours. Father and son scientists started this hiking tour business. As such, their emphasis is on education and the environment. If you're interested in flora, fauna, volcanology, geology, oceanography, and the like, this is the company for you. They offer daylong hikes along coastal areas, beaches, and in the mountains. If you have a desire to see a specific location, just ask. They will do custom hikes to spots they don't normally hit if there is interest. Hikes range from easy to strenuous. Transportation is often provided from your hotel. 5162 Lawai Rd., Koloa, HI, 96756. 808/742–8305 or 888/233–8365. From $135.

Princeville Ranch Adventures. This 4-mi hike traverses Princeville Ranch, crossing through a rain forest and to a five-tier waterfall for lunch and swimming. Moderately strenuous hiking is required. Rte. 56, between mile markers 27 and 28, Princeville, HI, 96722. 808/826–7669 or 888/955–7669. $129.

Horseback Riding

Most of the horseback-riding tours on Kauai are primarily walking tours with little trotting and no cantering or galloping, so no experience is required. Zip. Zilch. Nada. If you're interested, most of the stables offer private lessons. The most popular tours are the ones including a picnic lunch by the water. Your only dilemma may be deciding what kind of water you want—waterfalls or ocean. You may want to make your decision based on where you're staying. The "waterfall picnic" tours are on the wetter North Shore, and the "beach picnic" tours take place on the South Side.

CJM Country Stables. Just past the Hyatt in Poipu, CJM Stables offers a three-hour picnic ride with noshing on the beach, as well as their more popular two-hour trail ride without the picnic break. The landscape here is rugged and beautiful, featuring sand dunes and limestone bluffs. CJM can get you as close as anyone to the secluded Mahaulepu bay. They sponsor seasonal rodeos that are free and open to the public and participate in other popular community events. Poipu Rd., 1½ mi from Grand Hyatt Kauai, Koloa, HI, 96756. 808/742–6096. From $105.

Esprit de Corps. If you ride, this is the company for you. Esprit De Corps Riding Academy now offers private two- and three-hour waterfall picnic rides for advanced riders at Silverfalls Ranch in Kilauea. Group rides at a walk, as well as a 90-minute custom ride are also featured. Lessons with a certified instructor are held in a covered arena for beginner through advanced riders ages six and up, both in English and Western saddles. Weddings on horseback can be arranged (in fact, Dale, the owner, is a wedding officiant and planner). Make sure to call ahead because they are by appointment only. 1491 Kualapa Pl., Kapaa, HI, 96746. 808/822–4688. From $99.

Princeville Ranch Adventures. A longtime kamaaina (resident) family operates Princeville Ranch. They originated the waterfall picnic tour, which runs 3½ hours and includes a short but steep hike down to Kalihiwai Falls, a dramatic three-tier waterfall, for swimming and picnicking. Princeville also has shorter, straight riding tours and private rides. A popular option is the three-hour combination Ride N' Glide tour with three ziplines. Kuhio Hwy., off Kapaka Rd., between mile markers 27 and 28, Princeville, HI, 96722. 808/826–7669. Ride only from $99; private tours from $245.


Every winter North Pacific humpback whales swim some 3,000 miles over 30 days, give or take a few, from Alaska to Hawaii. Whales arrive as early as November and sometimes stay through April, though they seem to be most populous in February and March. They come to Hawaii to breed, calve, and nurse their young.


Of course, nothing beats seeing a whale up close. During the season, any boat on the water is looking for whales; they're hard to avoid, whether the tour is labeled "whale-watching" or not. Consider the whales a benefit to any boating event that may interest you. If whales are definitely your thing, though, you can narrow down your tour boat decision by asking a few whale-related questions like whether there's a hydrophone on board, how long the captain has been running tours in Hawaii, and if anyone on the crew is a marine biologist or trained naturalist.

Several boat operators will add two-hour, afternoon whale-watching tours during the season that run on the South Shore (not Napali). Operators include Blue Dolphin, Catamaran Kahanu, HoloHolo, and Napali Explorer. Trying one of these excursions is a good option for those who have no interest in snorkeling or sightseeing along Napali Coast, although keep in mind, the longer you're on the water, the more likely you'll be to see the humpbacks.

One of the more unique ways to, possibly, see some whales is atop a kayak. For such an encounter, try Outfitters Kauai's South Shore kayak trip. There are a few lookout spots around the island with good land-based viewing: Kilauea Lighthouse on the North Shore, the Kapaa Scenic Overlook just north of Kapaa town on the East Side, and the cliffs to the east of Keoniloa (Shipwreck) Beach on the South Shore.

Mountain Tubing

For the past 40 years, Hawaii's sugarcane plantations have closed one by one. In the fall of 2009, Gay & Robinson announced the closure of Kauai's last plantation, leaving only one in Maui, the last in the state. The sugarcane irrigation ditches remain, striating these islands like spokes in a wheel. Inspired by the Hawaiian auwai, which diverted water from streams to taro fields, these engineering feats harnessed the rain. One ingenious tour company on Kauai has figured out a way to make exploring them an adventure: float inflatable tubes down the route.

Kauai Backcountry Adventures. Both zipline and tubing tours are offered. Popular with all ages, the tubing adventure can book up two weeks in advance in busy summer months. Here's how it works: you recline in an inner tube and float down fern-lined irrigation ditches that were built more than a century ago—the engineering is impressive—to divert water from Mt. Waialeale to sugar and pineapple fields around the island. They'll even give you a headlamp so you can see as you float through five covered tunnels. The scenery from the island's interior at the base of Mt. Waialeale on Lihue Plantation land is superb. Ages five and up are welcome. The tour takes about three hours and includes a picnic lunch and a swim in a swimming hole. You'll definitely want to pack water-friendly shoes (or rent some from the outfitter), sunscreen, a hat, bug repellent, and a beach towel. Tours are offered four times daily. 3-4131 Kuhio Hwy., across from gas station, Hanamaulu, HI, 96716. 808/245–2506 or 888/270–0555. $102 per person.


If you're a full-throttle adrenaline junkie, it doesn't get any better than jumping out of an airplane over an island—oh, the views—and floating peacefully back down to earth tethered to a parachute. There aren't many options, though, on Kauai; in fact, there's just one.

Skydive Kauai. Ten thousand feet over Kauai and falling at a rate of 120 mph is probably as thrilling as it gets while airborne. First, there's the 25-minute plane ride to altitude in a Cessna 182, then the exhilaration of the first step into sky, the sensation of sailing weightless in the air over Kauai, and finally the peaceful buoyancy beneath the canopy of your parachute. A tandem free-fall rates among the most unforgettable experiences of a lifetime. Wed that to the aerial view over Kauai and you've got a winning marriage that you can relive with an HD video memory. Port Allen Airport, 3666 Kuiloko Rd., Hanapepe, HI, 96716. 808/335–5859. Tandem dive $239.


Several years ago, the latest wave-riding craze to hit the Islands was kiteboarding, and the sport is still going strong. As the name implies, there's a kite and a board involved. The board you strap on your feet; the kite is attached to a harness around your waist. Steering is accomplished with a rod that's attached to the harness and the kite. Depending on conditions and the desires of the kiteboarder, the kite is played out some 30 to 100 feet in the air. The result is a cross between waterskiing—without the boat—and windsurfing. Speeds are fast and aerobatic maneuvers are involved. Unfortunately, neither lessons nor rental gear is available for the sport on Kauai (Maui is a better bet), so if you aren't a seasoned kiteboarder already, you'll have to be content with watching the pros—who can put on a pretty spectacular show. The most popular year-round spots for kiteboarding are Kapaa Beach Park, Anini Beach Park, and Mahaulepu Beach. Many visitors come to Kauai dreaming of parasailing. If that's you, make a stop at Maui or the Big Island. There's no parasailing or commercial jet skiing on Kauai.

Scuba Diving

The majority of scuba diving on Kauai occurs on the South Shore. Boat and shore dives are available, although boat sites surpass the shore sites for a couple of reasons. First, they're deeper and exhibit the complete symbiotic relationship of a reef system, and second, the visibility is better a little farther offshore.

The dive operators on Kauai offer a full range of services, including certification dives, referral dives, boat dives, shore dives, night dives, and drift dives. As for certification, we recommend completing your confined-water training and classroom testing before arriving on the island. That way, you'll spend less time training and more time diving.

Best Spots

The best and safest scuba-diving sites are accessed by boat on the South Shore of the island, right off the shores of Poipu. The captain selects the actual site based on ocean conditions of the day. Beginners may prefer shore dives, which are best at Koloa Landing on the South Shore year-round and Makua (Tunnels) Beach on the North Shore in the calm summer months. Keep in mind, though, that you'll have to haul your gear a ways down the beach.

For the advanced diver, the island of Niihau—across an open ocean channel in deep and crystal clear waters—beckons and rewards, usually with some big fish. Seasport Divers, Fathom Five, and Bubbles Below venture the 17 miles across the channel in summer when the crossing is smoothest. Divers can expect deep dives, walls, and strong currents at Niihau, where conditions can change rapidly. To make the long journey worthwhile, three dives and Nitrox are included.

Equipment, Lessons, and Tours

Bubbles Below. Marine ecology is the emphasis here aboard the 36-foot, eight-passenger Kai Manu. This longtime Kauai company discovered some pristine dive sites on the West Side of the island where white-tip reef sharks are common—and other divers are not. Thanks to the addition of a 32-foot powered catamaran—the six-passenger Dive Rocket—the group also runs Niihau, Napali, and North Shore dives year-round (depending on ocean conditions, of course). They're still known for their south side trips and lead dives at the east side walls as well, so they truly do circumnavigate the island. A bonus on these tours is the wide variety of food served between dives. Open-water certification dives, check-out dives, and intro shore dives are available upon request. Port Allen Small Boat Harbor, 4353 Waialo Rd., Eleele, HI, 96705. 808/332–7333. $135 for 2-tank boat dive; $90 for rider/snorkeler; Niihau charter $345.

Kauai Down Under Dive Team. This company offers boat dives, but specializes in shore diving, typically at Koloa Landing (year-round) and Tunnels (summers). They're not only geared toward beginning divers—for whom they provide a thorough and gentle certification program as well as the Discover Scuba program—but also offer night dives and scooter (think James Bond) dives. Their main emphasis is a detailed review of marine biology, such as pointing out rare dragon eel and harlequin shrimp tucked away in pockets of coral. Hands down, we recommend Kauai Down Under for beginners, certification (all levels), and refresher dives. One reason is that their instructor-to-student ratio never exceeds 1:4—that's true of all their dive groups. All dive gear included. Sheraton Kauai Resort, 2440 Hoonani Rd., Koloa, HI, 96756. 877/538–3483 or 808/742–9534. From $79 for a one-tank certified dive; $450 for certification.

Ocean Quest Watersports/Fathom Five. This operator offers it all: boat dives, shore dives, night dives, certification dives. They pretty much do what everyone else does with a few twists. First, they offer a three-tank premium charter for those really serious about diving. Second, they operate a Nitrox continuous-flow mixing system, so you can decide the mix rate. Third, they add on a twilight dive to the standard, one-tank night dive, making the outing worth the effort. Fourth, their shore diving isn't an afterthought. Finally, we think their dive masters are pretty darn good, too. They even dive Niihau in the summer aboard their 35-foot Force. In summer, book well in advance. 3450 Poipu Rd., Koloa, HI, 96756. 808/742–6991 or 800/972–3078. From $130 for boat dives; from $75 for shore dives; $40 for gear rental, if needed.

Seasport Divers. Rated highly by readers of Scuba Diving magazine, Seasport Divers' 48-foot Anela Kai tops the chart for dive-boat luxury. But owner Marvin Otsuji didn't stop with that. A second boat—a 32-foot catamaran—is outfitted for diving, but we like it as an all-around charter. The company does brisk business, which means it won't cancel at the last minute because of a lack of reservations, like some other companies, although they may book up to 18 people per boat. There are slightly more challenging trips in the morning; mellower dive sites are in the afternoon. The company runs a good-size dive shop for purchases and rentals, as well as a classroom for certification. Night dives are offered, and Niihau trips are available in summer. There's also an outlet in Kapaa. 2827 Poipu Rd., look for yellow submarine in parking lot, Poipu, HI, 96756. 808/742–9303 or 808/823–9222. From $133, includes gear.


Generally speaking, the calmest water and best snorkeling can be found on Kauai's North Shore in summer and South Shore in winter. The East Side, known as the windward side, has year-round, prevalent northeast trade winds that make snorkeling unpredictable, although there are some good pockets. The best snorkeling on the West Side is accessible only by boat.

A word on feeding fish: Don't. As Captain Ted with HoloHolo Charters says, fish have survived and populated reefs for much longer than we have been donning goggles and staring at them. They will continue to do so without our intervention. Besides, fish food messes up the reef and—one thing always leads to another—can eliminate a once-pristine reef environment. As for gear, if you're snorkeling with one of the Napali boat-tour outfitters, they'll provide it; however, depending on the company, it might not be the latest or greatest. If you have your own, bring it. On the other hand, if you're going out with SeaFun or Z-Tourz, the gear is top-notch. If you need to rent, hit one of the "snorkel-and-surf" shops such as Snorkel Bob's in Koloa and Kapaa, Nukumoi in Poipu, or Seasport in Poipu and Kapaa, or shop Wal-Mart or Kmart if you want to drag it home. Typically, though, rental gear will be better quality than that found at Wal-Mart or Kmart. If you wear glasses, you can rent prescription masks at the rental shops—just don't expect them to match your prescription exactly.

Best Spots

Just because we say these are good places to snorkel doesn't mean that the exact moment you arrive, the fish will flock—they are wild, after all.

Beach House (Lawai Beach. Don't pack the beach umbrella, beach mats, or cooler for snorkeling at Beach House. Just bring your snorkeling gear. The beach—named after its neighbor the Beach House restaurant—is on the road to Spouting Horn. It's a small slip of sand during low tide and a rocky shoreline during high tide; however, it's right by the road's edge, and its rocky coastline and somewhat rocky bottom make it great for snorkeling. Enter and exit in the sand channel (not over the rocky reef) that lines up with the Lawai Beach Resort's center atrium. Stay within the rocky points anchoring each end of the beach. The current runs east to west. 5017 Lawai Rd., makai side of Lawai Rd. Park on road in front of Lawai Beach Resort, Koloa.

Kee Beach. Although it can get quite crowded, Kee Beach is quite often a good snorkeling destination if the water conditions are right. Just be sure to come during the off-hours, say early in the morning or later in the afternoon, or you will have difficulty finding a parking spot. Snorkeling here in winter can be hazardous. Summer is the best and safest time, although you should never swim beyond the reef. During peak times, a parking lot is available back down the road away from the beach. At end of Rte. 560, Haena.

Lydgate Beach Park. Lydgate Beach Park is typically the safest place to snorkel on Kauai, though not the most exciting. With its lava-rock wall creating a protected swimming pool, it's a good spot for beginners, young and old. The fish are so tame here it's almost like swimming in a saltwater aquarium. There is also a lifeguard, a playground for children, plenty of parking, and full-service restrooms with showers. 4470 Nalu Rd., just south of Wailua River, turn makai off Rte. 56 onto Lehu Dr. and left onto Nalu Rd., Kapaa.

Niihau. With little river runoff and hardly any boat traffic, the waters off the island of Niihau are some of the clearest in all Hawaii, and that's good for snorkeling and excellent for scuba diving. Like Nualolo Kai, the only way to snorkel here is to sign on with one of the tour boats venturing across a sometimes rough open ocean channel: Blue Dolphin Charters and HoloHolo.

Nualolo Kai. Nualolo Kai was once an ancient Hawaiian fishpond and is now home to the best snorkeling along Napali Coast (and perhaps on all of Kauai). The only way to access it is by boat, including kayak. Though many boats stop offshore, only a few Napali snorkeling-tour operators are permitted to come ashore. We recommend Napali Explorer and Kauai Sea Tours.

Poipu Beach Park. You'll generally find good year-round snorkeling at Poipu Beach Park, except during summer's south swells (which are not nearly as frequent as winter's north swells). The best snorkeling fronts the Marriott Waiohai Beach Club. Stay inside the crescent created by the sandbar and rocky point, and within sight of the lifeguard tower. The current runs east to west. Hoone Rd. From Poipu Rd., turn right onto Hoone Rd.

Tunnels (Makua). The search for Tunnels (Makua) is as tricky as the snorkeling. Park at Haena Beach Park and walk east—away from Napali Coast—until you see a sand channel entrance in the water, almost at the point. Once you get here, the reward is fantastic. The name of this beach comes from the many underwater lava tubes, which always attract marine life. The shore is mostly beach rock interrupted by three sand channels. You'll want to enter and exit at one of these channels (or risk stepping on a sea urchin or scraping your stomach on the reef). Follow the sand channel to a drop-off; the snorkeling along here is always full of nice surprises. Expect a current running east to west. Snorkeling here in winter can be hazardous; summer is the best and safest time for snorkeling. Haena Beach Park. Near end of Rte. 560, across from lava-tube sea caves, after stream crossing.


SeaFun Kauai. This guided snorkeling tour, for beginners and intermediates alike, is led by a marine expert, so there's instruction plus the guide actually gets into the water with you and identifies marine life. You're guaranteed to spot tons of critters you'd never see on your own. This is a land-based operation and the only one of its kind on Kauai. (Don't think those snorkeling cruises are guided snorkeling tours—they rarely are. A member of the boat's crew serves as lifeguard, not a marine life guide.) A half-day tour includes all your snorkeling gear—and a wet suit to keep you warm—and stops at one or two snorkeling locations, chosen based on ocean conditions. They will pick up customers at some of the resorts, depending on locale and destination. 1702 Haleukana St., Lihue, HI, 96766. 808/245–6400 or 800/452–1113. $80.

Stand-Up Paddling

Unlike kiteboarding, this is a new sport that even a novice can pick up—and have fun doing. Technically, it's not really a new sport but a reinvigorated one from the 1950s. Beginners start with a heftier surfboard and a longer-than-normal canoe paddle. And, just as the name implies, stand-up paddlers stand on their surfboards and paddle out from the beach—no timing a wave and doing a push-up to stand. The perfect place to learn is a river (think Hanalei or Wailua) or a calm lagoon (try Anini or Kalapaki). But this sport isn't just for beginners. Tried-and-true surfers turn to it when the waves are not quite right for their preferred sport, because it gives them another reason to be on the water. Stand-up paddlers catch waves earlier and ride them longer than long-board surfers. In the past couple of years, professional stand-up paddling competitions have popped up, and surf shops and instructors have adapted to its quick rise in popularity.

Equipment and Lessons

Not all surf instructors teach stand-up paddling, but more and more are, like Blue Seas Surf School and Titus Kinimaka Hawaiian School of Surfing.

Back Door Surf Co.. Along with its sister store across the street–Hanalei Surf Shop–Back Door Surf Co. provides just about all the rentals necessary for a fun day at Hanalei Bay, along with clothing and new boards. Ching Young Village, 5-5161 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei, HI, 96714. 808/826–9000.

Hawaiian Surfing Adventures. This Hanalei location has a wide variety of stand-up boards and paddles for rent, with a few options depending on your schedule. Check in at the storefront and then head down to the beach, where your gear will be waiting. Lessons are also available on the scenic Hanalei River or in Hanalei Bay, and include one hour of instruction and two hours to practice with the board. This Native Hawaiian-owned company also offers surfboard rentals and surfing lessons. 5134 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei, HI, 96714. 808/482–0749. Paddleboard rental, $30; surfboards from $20; lessons from $100.

Kauai Beach Boys. This outfitter is right on the beach at Kalapaki, so there's no hauling your gear on your car. Classes are also held at Poipu Beach, at the Marriott Waiohai. Stand-up paddle and sailing lessons can be arranged, too. 3610 Rice St., Lihue, HI, 96766. 808/742–4442 or 808/246–6333. $75 for 1½-hr surfing lesson.


Good ol' stand-up surfing is alive and well on Kauai, especially in winter's high-surf season on the North Shore. If you're new to the sport, we highly recommend taking a lesson. Not only will this ensure you're up and riding waves in no time, but instructors will provide the right board for your experience and size, help you time a wave, and give you a push to get your momentum going. You don't need to be in top physical shape to take a lesson. Because your instructor helps push you into the wave, you won't wear yourself out paddling. If you're experienced and want to hit the waves on your own, most surf shops rent boards for all levels, from beginners to advanced.


If you're interested in booking some court time on Kauai, there are public tennis courts in Waimea, Kekaha, Hanapepe, Koloa, Kalaheo, Puhi, Lihue, Wailua Homesteads, Wailua Houselots, and Kapaa New Park.

Many hotels and resorts have tennis courts on property; even if you're not staying there, you can still rent court time. Rates range from $10 to $20 per person per hour. On the South Shore, try the Grand Hyatt Kauai (808/742–1234) and Poipu Kai Tennis. On the North Shore try the Hanalei Bay Resort (808/826–6522 Ext. 8225) or Princeville Racquet Club (808/826–1863).

For specific directions or more information, call the County of Kauai Parks and Recreation Office (808/241–4463).

Zipline Tours

The latest adventure on Kauai is "zipping," or "ziplining." Regardless of what you call it, chances are you'll scream like a rock star while trying it. Strap on a harness, clip onto a cable running from one side of a river or valley to the other, and zip across. The step off is the scariest part. Pack knee-length shorts or pants, athletic shoes, and courage for this adventure.

Just Live. When Nichol Baier and Julie Lester started Just Live in 2003, their market was exclusively school-age children, but soon they added visitor tours. Experiential education through adventure is how they describe it. Whatever you call it, sailing 70 feet above the ground for three-plus hours will take your vacation to another level. This is the only treetop zipline on Kauai where your feet never touch ground once you're in the air: Seven zips and four canopy bridges make the Tree Top Tour their most popular one. For the heroic at heart, there's the Zipline Eco Adventure, which includes three ziplines, two canopy bridges, a climbing wall, a 100-foot rappelling tower, and a "Monster Swing." If you're short on time—or courage—you can opt for the Wikiwiki Zipline Tour, which includes three ziplines and two canopy bridges in about two hours. They now have a shop with outdoor gear specifically for the island's activities, although their primary focus remains community programming. Enjoy knowing that money spent here serves Kauai's children. Nawiliwili, Anchor Cove, Lihue, HI, 96756. 808/482–1295. From $79.

Outfitters Kauai. This company offers a half-day, multisport adventure of ziplining, suspension bridge crossings, and aerial walkways with hiking in between. Their most popular tour (Zipline Trek Nui Nui Loa) features an 1,800-foot tandem zip—that's right, you don't have to go it alone. Plus, a unique WaterZip cools things off if you work up a sweat. A shorter version of this adventure—the Zipline Lele Eono—is also offered. Outfitters Kauai also includes ziplining as part of its Kipu Safari tour. 2827-A Poipu Rd., Poipu, HI, 96756. 808/742–9667 or 888/742–9887. From $116 to $186.

Princeville Ranch Adventures. The North Shore's answer to ziplining is a nine-zipline course with a bit of hiking, and suspension bridge crossing thrown in for a half-day adventure. The 4½-hour Zip N' Dip tour includes a picnic and swimming at a waterfall pool, while the Zip Express whizzes you through the entire course in three hours. Both excursions conclude with a 1,200-foot tandem zip across a valley. There's also a moonlight dip around the full moon. Guides are energetic and fun. This is as close as it gets to flying; just watch out for the albatross. Rte. 56, between mile markers 27 and 28, Princeville, HI, 96722. 808/826–7669 or 888/955–7669. From $145.

Boat Tours

Deciding to see Napali Coast by boat is an easy decision. Choosing the outfitter to go with is not. There are numerous boat-tour operators to choose from, and, quite frankly, they all do a good job. Before you even start thinking about whom to go out with, answer these three questions: What kind of boat do I prefer? Where am I staying? Do I want to go in the morning or afternoon? Once you settle on these three, you can easily zero in on the tour outfitter.

First, the boat. The most important thing is to match your personality and that of your group with the personality of the boat. If you like thrills and adventure, the rubber, inflatable rafts—often called Zodiacs, which Jacques Cousteau made famous and which the U.S. Coast Guard uses—will entice you. They're fast, likely to leave you drenched and windswept, and quite bouncy. If you prefer a smoother, more leisurely ride, then the large catamarans are the way to go. The next boat choice is size. Both the rafts and catamarans come in small and large. Again—think smaller, more adventurous; larger, more leisurely. Do not choose a smaller boat because you think there will be fewer people. There might be fewer people, but you'll be jammed together sitting atop strangers. If you prefer privacy over socializing, go with a larger boat, so you'll have more room to spread out. The smaller boats will also take you along the coast at a higher rate of speed, making photo opportunities a bit more challenging. One advantage to smaller boats, however, is that—depending on ocean conditions—some may slip into a sea cave or two. If that sounds interesting to you, call the outfitter and ask their policy on entering sea caves. Some won't, no matter the conditions, because they consider the caves sacred or because they don't want to cause any environmental damage.

Boats leave from three points around the island (Hanalei, Port Allen, and Waimea), and all head to the same spot: Napali Coast. Here's the inside skinny on which is the best: If you're staying on the North Shore, choose to depart out of the North Shore. If you're staying anywhere else, depart out of the West Side. It's that easy. Sure, the North Shore is closer to Napali Coast; however, you'll pay more for less overall time. The West Side boat operators may spend more time getting to Napali Coast; however, they'll spend about the same amount of time along Napali, plus you'll pay less. Finally, you'll also have to decide whether you want to go on a morning tour, which includes a deli lunch and a stop for snorkeling, or an afternoon tour, which does not always stop to snorkel but does include a sunset over the ocean. The morning tours with snorkeling, more popular with families and those who love dolphins, enjoy the "waves" created by the front of the catamarans and might just escort you down the coast. The winter months will also be a good chance to spot some whales breaching, though surf is much rougher along Napali. You don't have to be an expert snorkeler or even have any prior experience, but if it is your first time, note that although there will be some snorkeling instruction, there might not be much. Hawaiian spinner dolphins are so plentiful in the mornings that some tour companies guarantee you'll see them, though you won't get in the water and swim with them. The afternoon tours are more popular with nonsnorkelers—obviously—and photographers interested in capturing the setting sunlight on the coast. No matter which tour you select, book it online whenever possible. Most companies offer Web specials, usually around $10 to $20 off per person.

Catamaran Tours

Blue Dolphin Charters. Blue Dolphin operates 65-foot sailing (rarely raised and always motoring) catamarans designed with three decks of spacious seating with great visibility, as well as motorized rafts. The lower deck is best for shade seekers. On Tuesday and Friday a tour of Napali Coast includes a detour across the channel to Niihau for snorkeling and diving. Morning snorkel tours of Napali include a deli lunch. Sunset sightseeing tours include a Hawaiian-style buffet. North Shore and South shore rafting tours are also available, and daily sport fishing charters of four-to-eight hours for no more than six guests. Blue Dolphin promises dolphin-sightings and the best mai tais "off the island." Book online for cheaper deals on every tour offered. 4353 Waialo Rd., #2-6B7B, Eleele, HI, 96705. 808/335–5553 or 877/511–1311. From $100–$185. Two-hour whale-watching/sunset tours, winter only, $75.

Capt. Andy's Sailing Adventures. Departing from Port Allen and running two 55-foot sailing catamarans, Capt. Andy's offers five-hour snorkeling and four-hour sunset tours along Napali Coast. Unlike other charters, they have a 24-foot Zodiac raft that uses hydrophones to hear whales and other underwater sounds. The longtime Kauai company also operates a snorkel BBQ sail and dinner sunset sail aboard its Southern Star yacht, originally built for private charters. This boat now operates as host for two of Capt. Andy's daily sailing trips for an upgraded feel. For a shorter adventure, they have a two-hour sunset sail, embarking out of Kukuiula Harbor in Poipu along the South Shore—with live Hawaiian music—on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. If the winds and swells are up on the North Shore, this is usually a good choice—especially if you're prone to seasickness. This is the only tour boat operator that allows infants on board—but only on the two-hour trip. Note, if you have reservations for the shorter tour, you'll check in at their Kukuiula Harbor office. 4353 Waiola Rd., Suite 1A-2A, Eleele, HI, 96705. From $79, discounts for online booking.

Captain Sundown. Sundown has one of the few permits to sail from Hanalei Bay and operates the only sailing catamaran there. Captain Bob has been cruising Napali Coast since 1971—six days a week, sometimes twice a day. (And right alongside Captain Bob is his son, Captain Larry.) To say he knows the area is an understatement. Here's the other good thing about this tour: they take only 15 to 17 passengers on the 40-foot boat. The breathtaking views of the waterfall-laced mountains behind Hanalei and Haena start immediately, and then it's around Kee Beach and the magic of Napali Coast unfolds before you. All the while, the captains are trolling for fish, and if they catch any, guests get to reel 'em in. Afternoon sunset sails (summertime only) run three hours and check in around 3 pm—these are BYOB. 5-5134 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei, HI, 96714. 808/826–5585. From $150.

Catamaran Kahanu. Hawaiian-owned-and-operated, Catamaran Kahanu has been in business since 1985 and runs a 40-foot power catamaran with 18-passenger seating. It offers seasonal whale-watching, snorkeling, and sunset cruises, ranging from two to five hours, and departs from Port Allen. The five-hour tour includes snorkeling at Nualolo Kai, plus a deli lunch and soft drinks. The four-hour afternoon tour takes in the sunset and includes a hot dinner. The boat is smaller than most and may feel a tad crowded, but the tour feels more personal, with a laid-back, ohana style. Guests can witness the ancient cultural practice of coconut weaving or other Hawaiian craft demonstrations on board. There's no alcohol allowed. 4353 Waialo Rd., near Port Allen Marina Center, Eleele, HI, 96705. 808/645–6176 or 888/213–7711. From $79.

HoloHolo Charters. Choose between the 50-foot catamaran called "Leila" for a morning snorkel sail to Napali Coast, or the 65-foot "HoloHolo" seven-hour catamaran trip to the "forbidden island" of Niihau. Both boats have large cabins and little outside seating. HoloHolo also offers a seasonal voyage of Napali from Hanalei Bay on its rigid-hull inflatable rafts, specifically for diving and snorkeling. Originators of the Niihau tour, HoloHolo Charters built their 65-foot powered catamaran with a wide beam to reduce side-to-side motion, and twin 425 HP turbo diesel engines specifically for the 17-mile channel crossing to Niihau. It's the only outfitter running daily Niihau tours. The Holo Holo also embarks on a daily sunset and sightseeing tour of the Napali Coast. Leila can hold 37 passengers, while her big brother can take a maximum of 49. Check in is at Port Allen Marina Center. 4353 Waialo Rd., Suite 5A, Eleele, HI, 96705. 808/335–0815 or 800/848–6130. From $100.

Kauai Sea Tours. This company operates the Lucky Lady, a 60-foot sailing catamaran designed almost identically to that of Blue Dolphin Charters—with all the same benefits—including great views and spacious seating. Snorkeling tours anchor near Makole (based on the captain's discretion). If snorkeling isn't your thing, try the four-hour sunset tour, with beer, wine, mai tais, pu pus, and a hot buffet dinner. Seasonal tours of Napali are offered on inflatible rafts. Check in at Port Allen Marina Center. 4353 Waialo Rd., Eleele, HI, 96705. 808/826–7254 or 800/733–7997. From $135.

Liko Kauai Cruises. There are many things to like about Liko Kauai Cruises. The 49-foot powered cat will enter sea caves, ocean conditions permitting. Sometimes, even Captain Liko himself—a Native Hawaiian—still takes the captain's helm. We particularly like the layout of his boat—most of the seating is in the bow, so there's good visibility. A maximum of 32 passengers make each trip, which last five hours and include snorkeling, food and soft drinks. Trips usually depart out of Kikiaola Harbor in Waimea, a bit closer to Napali Coast than those leaving from Port Allen. 4516 Alawai Rd., Waimea (Kauai County), HI, 96796. 808/338–0333 or 888/732–5456. $140.

Napali Catamaran. One of the few tour groups departing Hanalei, this company, formerly known as Whitey's, has been around since 1973. Once onboard, it takes about five minutes before you're witnessing the magnificence of Napali Coast. Taking a maximum of 16 passengers, its 34-foot powered catamaran is small enough—and with no mast, short enough—to dip into sea caves. Between March and October, they run two four-hour snorkeling tours per day, stopping at the best snorkeling site along Napali—Nualolo Kai. If it weren't for the bench seating bisecting the boat—meaning one group of passengers enjoys unobstructed views of the open ocean instead of Napali either on the way out or back—we'd really be happy. The rate's a bit pricey; the four-hour tour includes a deli-style lunch. Ching Young Village, 5-5190 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei, HI, 96714. 808/826–6853 or 866/255–6853. $175.

Best Boat Tours

Best for snorkeling: Z-Tourz

Best for romance: Capt. Andy's Poipu Sail

Best for thrill seekers: Napali Explorer (Zodiac 1)

Best for mai tais: Blue Dolphin Charters

Best for pregnant women: Capt. Andy's

Best for charters: Captain Sundown

Best for price: Napali Riders

Raft Tours

Capt. Andy's Rafting Expeditions. Departing out of Kikiaola Harbor in Kekaha, Capt. Andy's Rafting offers both snorkeling and beach-landing excursions. The Zodiac rafts are on the smaller side—24 feet with a maximum of 14 passengers—and all seating is on the rubber hulls, so hang on. They operate three different rafts, so there's a good chance of availability. Trips include snorkeling at Nualolo Kai (ocean conditions permitting), sightseeing along Napali Coast, a hiking tour through an ancient Hawaiian fishing village, and a buffet lunch on the beach. A shorter snorkeling tour is also offered. You're closer to the water on the Zodiacs, so you'll have great views of humpbacks, spinner dolphins, sea turtles, and other wildlife. Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor, Hwy. 50, Waimea, HI, 96796. 808/335–6833 or 800/535–0830. From $139.

Kauai Sea Tours. This company holds a special permit from the state to land at Nualolo Kai along Napali Coast, ocean conditions permitting. Here, you'll enjoy a picnic lunch, as well as an archaeological tour of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village, ocean conditions permitting. Kauai Sea Tours operates four 24-foot inflatable rafts—maximum occupancy 14. These are small enough for checking out the insides of sea caves and the undersides of waterfalls. Four different tours are available, including whale watching, depending on the season. Port Allen Marina Center, 4353 Waialo Rd., Eleele, HI, 96705. 808/826–7254 or 800/733–7997. From $115.

Napali Explorer. These tours operate out of Waimea, a tad closer to Napali Coast than most of the other West Side catamaran tours. The company runs two different sizes of inflatable rubber raft: a 48-foot, 36-passenger craft with an onboard toilet, freshwater shower, shade canopy, and seating in the stern (which is surprisingly smooth and comfortable) and bow (which is where the fun is); and a 26-foot, 14-passenger craft for the all-out fun and thrills of a white-knuckle ride in the bow. The smaller vessel stops at Nualolo Kai and ties up onshore for a tour of the ancient fishing village. Charters are available. 9643 Kaumalii Hwy., Waimea (Kauai County), HI, 96796. 808/338–9999 or. From $139.

Napali Riders. This tour-boat outfitter distinguishes itself in two ways. First, it cruises the entire Napali Coast, clear to Kee Beach and back. Second, it has a reasonable price, because it's a no-frills tour—no lunch provided, just beverages and snacks. The company runs morning and afternoon four-hour snorkeling, sightseeing and whale-watching trips out of Kikiaola Harbor in Waimea on a 30-foot inflatable raft with a 28-passenger maximum—that's fewer than they used to take, but can still be a bit cramped. 9600 Kaumualii Hwy., Waimea (Kauai County), HI, 96796. 808/742–6331. $149.

Z-Tourz. What we like about Z-Tourz is that it's a boat company that makes snorkeling its priority. Its two-hour tours include South Shore's abundant offshore reefs, as well as Napali Coast. If you want to snorkel with Hawaii's tropical reef fish and turtles (pretty much guaranteed), this is your boat. The craft is a 26-foot rigid-hull inflatable (think Zodiac) with a maximum of 16 passengers. These snorkel tours are guided, so someone actually identifies what you're seeing. Rates include lunch and snorkel gear. 3417 Poipu Rd., Poipu, HI, 96756. 808/742–7422 or 888/998–6879. From $99.

Riverboat Tours to Fern Grotto

Smith's Motor Boat Services. This 2-mile trip up the lush and lovely Wailua River, the only navigable waterway in Hawaii, culminates at the infamous Fern Grotto, a yawning lava tube that is covered with fishtail ferns. During the boat ride, guitar and ukulele players regale you with Hawaiian melodies and tell the history of the river. It's a kitschy, but fun, bit of Hawaiiana and the river scenery is beautiful. Flat-bottom, 150-passenger riverboats (that rarely fill up) depart from Wailua Marina at the mouth of the Wailua River. Round-trip excursions take 1½ hours, including time to walk around the grotto and environs. Tours run at 9:30, 11, 2, and 3:30 daily. 5971 Kuhio Hwy., Kapaa, HI, 96746. 808/821–6895. $18.

Body Boarding and Bodysurfing

The most natural form of wave riding is bodysurfing, a popular sport on Kauai because there are many shore breaks around the island. Wave riders of this style stand waist-deep in the water, facing shore, and swim madly as a wave picks them up and breaks. It's great fun and requires no special skills and absolutely no equipment other than a swimsuit. The next step up is body boarding, also called Boogie boarding. In this case, wave riders lie with their upper body on a foam board about half the length of a traditional surfboard and kick as the wave propels them toward shore. Again, this is easy to pick up, and there are many places around Kauai to practice. The locals wear short-finned flippers to help them catch waves, which is a good idea to enhance safety in the water. It's worth spending a few minutes watching these experts as they spin, twirl, and flip—that's right—while they slip down the face of the wave. Of course, all beach safety precautions apply, and just because you see wave riders of any kind in the water doesn't mean the water is safe for everyone. Any snorkeling-gear outfitter also rents body boards.

Some of our favorite bodysurfing and body-boarding beaches are Brennecke, Wailua, Kealia, Kalihiwai, and Hanalei.

Deep-Sea Fishing

Simply step aboard and cast your line for mahimahi, ahi, ono, and marlin. That's about how quickly the fishing—mostly trolling with lures—begins on Kauai. The water gets deep quickly here, so there's less cruising time to fishing grounds. Of course, your captain may elect to cruise to a hot location where he's had good luck lately.

There are oodles of charter fishermen around; most depart from Nawiliwili Harbor in Lihue, and most use lures instead of live bait. Inquire about each boat's "fish policy," that is, what happens to the fish if any are caught. Some boats keep all; others will give you enough for a meal or two, even doing the cleaning themselves. On shared charters, ask about the maximum passenger count and about the fishing rotation; you'll want to make sure everyone gets a fair shot at reeling in the big one. Another option is to book a private charter. Shared and private charters run four, six, and eight hours in length.

Boats and Charters

Captain Don's Sport Fishing & Ocean Adventure. Captain Don is very flexible and treats everyone like family—he'll stop to snorkel or whale-watch if that's what the group (four to six) wants. Saltwater fly-fishermen (bring your own gear) are welcome. He'll even fish for bait and let you keep part of whatever you catch. The June Louise is a 34-foot twin diesel. Nawiliwili Small Boat Harbor, off Nawiliwili Rd., Nawiliwili, HI, 96766. 808/639–3012. From $140 (shared); from $600 (private).

Hana Paa. The advantage with Hana Paa is that it takes fewer people (minimum two, maximum four for a nonprivate excursion), but you pay for it. Charters can accommodate up to six people. The company's fish policy is flexible, and the boat is roomy. The Maka Hou II is a 38-foot Bertram. Nawiliwili Small Boat Harbor, off Nawiliwili Rd., Nawiliwili, HI, 96766. 808/823–6031 or 866/776–3474. From $310 (shared); from $600 (private).

Kai Bear. The father of this father-and-son duo has it figured out: He lets the son run the business and do all the work. Or so he says. Fish policy: Share the catch. Trips run from a four-hour, shared charter (six fishermen max) up to an eight-hour, keep-all-the-fish-you-want exclusive. What's particularly nice about this company are the boats: the 38-foot Bertram Kai Bear and the 42-foot Bertram Grander. Very roomy. Nawiliwili Small Boat Harbor, off Nawiliwili Rd., Nawiliwili, HI, 96766. 808/652–4556. From $129.

Niihau: The Forbidden Isle

Seventeen miles from Kauai, across the Kaulakahi Channel, sits the privately owned island of Niihau. It's known as the Forbidden Isle, because access is limited to the Robinson family, which owns it, and the 200 or so Native Hawaiians who were born there.

Niihau was bought from King Kamehameha in 1864 by a Scottish widow, Eliza Sinclair. Sinclair was introduced to the island after an unusually wet winter; she saw nothing but green pastures and thought it would be an ideal place to raise cattle. The cost was $10,000. It was a real deal, or so Sinclair thought.

Unfortunately, Niihau's usual rainfall is about 12 inches a year, and the land soon returned to its normal, desertlike state. Regardless, Sinclair did not abandon her venture, and today the island is owned by Bruce and Keith Robinson, Eliza Sinclair's great-great-grandsons.

Visits to the island are restricted to custom hunting expeditions and flightseeing tours through Niihau Helicopter. Tours depart from Kaumakani and avoid the western coastline, especially the village of Puuwai. There's a five-passenger minimum for each flight, and reservations are essential. A picnic lunch on a secluded Niihau beach is included, with time for swimming, beachcombing, and snorkeling. The half-day tour is $385 per person.

For more information, contact Niihau Tours (Box 690370, Makaweli 808/335–3500 or 877/441–3500


Kauai is the only Hawaiian island with navigable rivers. As the oldest inhabited island in the chain, Kauai has had more time for wind and water erosion to deepen and widen cracks into streams and streams into rivers. Because this is a small island, the rivers aren't long, and there are no rapids, which makes them generally safe for kayakers of all levels, even beginners, except when rivers are flowing fast from heavy rains.

For more advanced paddlers, there aren't many places in the world more beautiful for sea kayaking than Napali Coast. If this is your draw to Kauai, plan your vacation for the summer months, when the seas are at their calmest. Tour and kayak-rental reservations are recommended at least two weeks in advance during peak summer and holiday seasons. In general, tours and rentals are available year-round, Monday through Saturday. Pack a swimsuit, sunscreen, a hat, bug repellent, water shoes (sport sandals, aqua socks, old tennis shoes), and motion sickness medication if you're planning on sea kayaking.

River Kayaking

Tour outfitters operate on the Huleia, Wailua, and Hanalei rivers with guided tours that combine hiking to waterfalls, as in the case of the first two, and snorkeling, as in the case of the third. Another option is renting kayaks and heading out on your own. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but it boils down as follows:

If you want to swim at the base of a remote 100-foot waterfall, sign up for a five-hour kayak (4-mile round-trip) and hiking (2-mile round-trip) tour of the Wailua River. It includes a dramatic waterfall that is best accessed with the aid of a guide, so you don't get lost. Remember—it's dangerous to swim under waterfalls no matter how good a water massage may sound. Rocks and logs are known to plunge down, especially after heavy rains.

If you want to kayak on your own, choose the Hanalei River. It's most scenic from the kayak itself—there are no trails to hike to hidden waterfalls. And better yet, a rental company is right on the river—no hauling kayaks on top of your car.

If you're not sure of your kayaking abilities, head to the Huleia River; 3½-hour tours include easy paddling upriver, a nature walk through a rain forest with a cascading waterfall, a rope swing for playing Tarzan and Jane, and a ride back downriver—into the wind—on a motorized, double-hull canoe.

As for the kayaks themselves, most companies use the two-person sit-on-top style that is quite buoyant—no Eskimo rolls required. The only possible danger comes in the form of communication. The kayaks seat two people, which means you'll share the work (good) with a guide, or your spouse, child, parent, or friend (the potential danger part). On the river, the two-person kayaks are known as "divorce boats." Counseling is not included in the tour price.

Sea Kayaking

In its second year and second issue, National Geographic Adventure ranked kayaking Napali Coast second on its list of America's Best 100 Adventures, right behind rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. That pretty much says it all. It's the adventure of a lifetime in one day, involving eight hours of paddling. Although it's good to have some kayaking experience, feel comfortable on the water, and be reasonably fit, it doesn't require the preparation, stamina, or fortitude of, say, climbing Mt. Everest. Tours run May through September, ocean conditions permitting. In the winter months sea-kayaking tours operate on the South Shore—beautiful, but not as dramatic as Napali.

Equipment and Tours

Kayak Kauai. Based in Hanalei, this company pioneered kayaking on Kauai. It offers guided tours on the Hanalei and Wailua rivers, and along Napali Coast in season. It has a great shop right on the Hanalei River for kayak rentals and camping gear. The guided Hanalei River Kayak and Snorkel Tour starts at the shop and heads downriver, so there's not much to see of the scenic river valley. (For that, rent a kayak on your own.) Instead, this three-hour tour paddles down to the river mouth, where the river meets the sea. Then, it's a short paddle around a point to snorkel at either Princeville Hotel Beach or, ocean conditions permitting, a bit farther at Hideaways Beach. This is a great choice if you want to try your paddle at a bit of ocean kayaking.

A second location on Kuhio Highway in Kapaa offers access to the Kapaa reef and standup paddling on the Kapaa River, while the Wailua River Marina locale gives access to the river and bay. It's not right on the river, however, so shuttling is involved. For rentals, the company provides the hauling gear necessary for your rental car. Snorkel gear, body boards, and standup paddle boards also can be rented. 5-5070 Kuhio Hwy., 1 mile past Hanalei Bridge, Hanalei, HI, 96714. 808/826–9844 or 888/596–3853. From $45 (river tours) and $145 (sea tours); kayak rentals from $29 per day. 4-1604 Kuhio Hwy, Kapaa, 96746.

Kayak Wailua. We can't quite figure out how this family-run business offers pretty much the same Wailua River kayaking tour as everyone else—except for lunch and beverages, which are BYO—for the lowest price, but it does. They say it's because they don't discount and don't offer commissions to activities and concierge desks. Their trips, a 4½-hour kayak, hike, and waterfall swim, are offered four times a day, beginning at 9 am, with the last at 1 pm. With the number of boats going out, large groups can be accommodated. No tours are allowed on Wailua River on Sunday. 4565 Haleilio Rd., behind old Coco Palms hotel, Kapaa, HI, 96746. 808/822–3388. $50.

Napali Kayak. A couple of longtime guides ventured out on their own to create this company, which focuses solely on a 17-mile sea kayaking padde along Napali Coast from April to October. These guys are highly experienced and still highly enthusiastic about their livelihood—so much so that REI Adventures hires them to run their multiday, multisport tours. If you're an experienced kayaker and want to try camping on your own at Kalalau (you'll need permits), Napali Kayak will provide kayaks outfitted with dry bags, extra paddles, and seat backs, while also offering transportation drop-off and pickup. It also rents camping equipment and first-aid kits. 5-5075 Kuhio Hwy., next to Postcards Café, Hanalei, HI, 96714. 808/826–6900 or. From $225.

Outfitters Kauai. This well-established tour outfitter operates year-round river-kayak tours on the Huleia and Wailua rivers, as well as sea-kayaking tours along Napali Coast in summer and the South Shore in winter. Outfitters Kauai's specialty, however, is the Kipu Safari. This all-day adventure starts with kayaking up the Huleia River and includes a rope swing over a swimming hole, a wagon ride through a working cattle ranch, a picnic lunch by a private waterfall, hiking, and two "zips" across the rain-forest canopy (strap on a harness, clip into a cable, and zip over a quarter of a mile). They then offer a one-of-a-kind Waterzip Zipline at their mountain stream-fed blue pool. The day ends with a ride on a motorized double-hull canoe. It's a great tour for the family, because no one ever gets bored. 2827-A Poipu Rd., Poipu, HI, 96756. 808/742–9667 or 888/742–9887. Kipu Safari $186.

Wailua Kayak & Canoe. This is the only purveyor of kayak rentals right on the Wailua River, which means no hauling your kayak on top of your car (a definite plus). Guided waterfall tours are also offered. This outfitter promotes itself as "Native Hawaiian owned and operated." No Wailua River tours are offered on Sunday. 169 Wailua Rd., Kapaa, HI, 96746. 808/821–1188. $50 for a single, $85 for a double; guided tours from $65.

Hawaii State Sport: Canoe Paddling

In summer, it's not unusual to see Hawaii's state sport in action: outrigger canoe racing. These are the same styles of canoes ancient Hawaiians paddled in races that pitted one chief's warriors against another's. Summer is regatta season, and the half dozen or more canoe clubs around the island gather to race in ¼-mile, ½-mile, and longer races. You can catch the hundreds of paddlers lining the beaches and cheering on their clubs, oftentimes in Hanalei, Kalapaki, and Waimea Bay, as well as the Wailua River.