SIGHTS TO SEE IN KAUAI

November 10, 2013|  Article By : 

Sights To See In Kauai

National Tropical Botanical Garden

At the end of Lawa’i Road is one of the most magnificent gardens on Kaua’i, the National Tropical Botanical Garden. It is actually two gardens in one: the 252-acre McBryde Gardens and the 100-acre Allerton Gardens. The Allerton Gardens were once a private estate and are full of fountains, lush greenery, and interesting flowers. It is also home to the famous Moreton Bay fig trees that were featured in the movie” Jurassic Park.”

Tours of the garden are guided and normally last two hours. The fee is $30 and reservations are required. Visitors must check in at the Visitors Center across the street from Spouting Horn Beach Park. The McBryde Gardens are adjacent to the Allerton Gardens and are home to the world’s largest collection of native Hawaiian flora. The tours are not guided and reservations are not required. The fee is $15 for the 1-1.5 hour tour. A tram leaves for the garden from the Visitors Center. To contact the gardens, you can call 808-742-2623. Take Highway 50 from Hanapepe toward Lawa’i. Just past Mile Marker #11 turn right on Koloa Road (Highway 530). Continue to Po’ipu Road and turn right again. The road forks near the ocean, go right on Lawa’i Road. Entrance to the garden is located across the street from the Spouting Horn Park about one mile down Lawa’i Road on the right.  If you’re staying in one of our Poipu vacation rentals at Kuhio Shores, this attraction is within walking distance!

Spouting Horn

Spouting Horn Beach Park is located on Lawa’i Road in Po’ipu in south Kauai. The ocean attraction can be viewed from the top of a small hill with a guard-rail. This is a popular spot for tour buses, so expect to share some space at the rail. Like other blowholes, Spouting Horn is caused by a hole in a lava shelf. The ocean rushes under the shelf and up through the hole with a mighty force that sends water shooting into the air. What makes this blowhole slightly different is the addition of a second hole that only emits wind and creates a great moaning sound.

Spouting Horn puts on quite a show at high tide but is equally entertaining most of the time. It is possible, although not encouraged, to go beyond the guard-rail and explore the lava bench. This activity is done at your own risk as some unfortunate souls have been injured or killed when a large wave sucked them into the blowhole. There are rest rooms in the park. It seems that this area is also popular with local merchants who will set up booths of souvenirs. If you have some time, be sure to take a second to peruse your way through their booths. You might just find a treasure worth taking home. Take Highway 50 from Hanapepe toward Lawa’i. Just past Mile Marker #11 turn right on Koloa Road (Highway 530). Continue to Po’ipu Road and turn right again. The road forks near the ocean, go right on Lawa’i Road past the condos at Kuhio Shores and the Beach House Restaurant. Spouting Horn is approximately one mile down the road on the left. Park and walk down to the overlook.

Kokee and Waimea State Park Hiking Trails

Koke’e and Waimea State Parks are two of the premier parks on the island of Kauai. Inside these adjacent state parks exist some of the most stunning trails that exist in all of Hawai’i, and the diversity of the trails is unmatched.

Using the list below, you should be able to select the trails that interest you most. We have included the trail name, total mileage, time estimate, and a brief description with each listing. In the event we have photographs readily available for a specific hike (or have a third party source we like), we’ll also direct you to the appropriate gallery.

Additionally, some of the major trails in Koke’e and Waimea State Park we’ll post about in greater detail, so be sure to check our Kauai Hiking Trails section for additional information on these hikes (i.e.; Alakai Swamp Trail, Pihea Trail, Kukui Trail, etc).

As with many Kauai hikes, you may benefit from a guide who can educated you and your travel party about the history of the area, the plants, and animals of the trail. Where can you find such a guide? We highly recommend Scott at Kauai Hiking Adventures.

Kokee and Waimea State Park Map
If you’re looking for a good map of the area, we’ve created one (a PDF document) for you to download and print out at home. The Koke’e Lodge and Museum will also have maps available, but we’d definitely advise you to go ahead and review the map and become familiar with the area. The crisscrossing of trails and 4×4 roads can be confusing at first, but once you select your routes, it’s not too bad. We’ll be improving the map as time allows, and we’ll also add additional maps here in the near future. Feel free to contact us if you have specific questions.

View: Kokee and Waimea State Park Trail Map
Download PDF: Kokee and Waimea State Park Trail Map

Opaekaa Falls

Mauka on Highway 56, right around mile marker 6, you’ll cross over Wailua River. If you’re heading north, make sure you’re in the left lane as the right splits off onto its own unique little bridge. You’ll be looking for Kuamo’o Road (Highway 580) on the mauka side of the highway. Head up Kuamo’o Road until you see a pullout for Opaeka’a Falls on your right, shortly before the second mile marker. From this overlook, you can get a spectacular view of 150+ foot Opaeka’a Falls. The falls are at their best in full sunlight (late morning usually). So if you visit on a cloudy day, definitely try to return at a sunnier hour. Best of all, the falls are flowing year round. You’re always certain to see it in action.

If you’re wondering about the origin of the name Opaeka’a, it dates back to days when shrimp roamed the river and were seen rolling in the turbulent waters at the base of the falls. “Opae” is the Hawaiian word for “shrimp,” and “ka’a” means “rolling.” You may hear about a “hidden” trail to the falls that begins beyond the overlook, right around the two mile marker past the guardrail. We do and have always advised against this trail, mainly because you have to cross a fairly deep stream, walk down a steep hill, and then get out again. The trail is supposedly all on state owned land, but it is not maintained. It is a very dangerous hike.  Unfortunately, in December 2006 two women died trying to take this hike; falling from near the top of the falls. The trail has been closed indefinitely. Please make note that this trail has nothing to do with the overlook mentioned above, and that the overlook is perfectly safe for all viewers. Just across the road from the falls overlook is another lookout over the Wailua River Valley. From this overlook you can get a good look at where Raiders of the Lost Ark was filmed, along with other big-name movies like “Jurassic Park” and “Outbreak.” If you look to the right you can also get a good look at Kamokila Hawaiian Village.

Kee Beach

The journey to the north shore ends at one of the most popular beaches on Kaua’i, Kee Beach, which is about one hour and forty minutes from Kuhio Shores in Poipu. The beach marks the end of Highway 560 and the portion of Kaua’i that can be seen by car. The rest of north Kaua’i is occupied by the Na Pali Coast, a series of rugged seaside cliffs stretching along the northwest shore that is not navigable by vehicle. Parking is available on either side of the road and near the coast. We’ve seen Ke’e at many times of day, and it is equally crowded. Parking may be difficult, but usually is not too much of a problem. Ke’e is very popular with snorkelers and families. One of the most striking aspects of this beach is its breathtaking view of the Na Pali Coast, which begins here. When you are facing the ocean, Na Pali can be glimpsed to your left. The best time for photographs is early morning (on a clear day) or right at sunset.  The winter surf is normally large and very very dangerous.  DO NOT ATTEMPT TO SWIM IN THE OCEAN AT THIS LOCATION ON BIG SURF DAYS!

At the far end of the beach on the Na Pali side is a trail that winds through the jungle to an ancient Hawaiian heiau (temple), Ka-ulu-Paoa Heiau. This heiau has been used as a hula school for over 1,000 years. Public rest rooms and showers are available at the beach. And though of no real value, the wild Kaua’i chickens that roost around the beach are entertaining to watch. How often do you see a chicken on the beach? The famous Kalalau Trail also begins at Ke’e Beach. To get there take Highway 560 east past Ha’ena all the way to the end of the road.

Tunnels Beach

If you are looking to try your hand at snorkeling, this is a great spot. It is a supreme snorkeling location because it has a massive reef that is so large that it can be seen from space. The waters are generally calm in the summer, which also makes the beach popular for scuba divers. There is a slight rip current, but most of the time it is weak. In the winter, everything changes due to the large surf.  Use caution and if in doubt, DON’T GO OUT!  Two roads provide beach access.  One road is 4/10 mile past mile marker 8 and the other 6/10 mile past mile marker 8 (the latter is the better of the two). Parking can be a hassle because you will have to park along the side of a narrow road. The roads are a bit hard to find, but there are a few signs placed by residents that let you clearly know which roads do NOT lead to Tunnels Beach. Please show aloha and don’t park at those spots.

The beach itself is nearly directly across from mile marker 8 on Highway 560, but it’s highly recommend that you do NOT park on the street, the police will ticket you for doing so. Attempt to visit this spot earlier in the day so that you’ll get a parking spot at the locations mentioned above. There is one last spot available to park, but it requires some walking. Before the 8 mile marker is Alealea Street where parking is usually available near the sand. It’s a half mile walk to Tunnels Beach (heading west) from here. Also please keep in mind that like most north shore beaches, the conditions in the winter may, and likely will be, rougher than in the summer months. Take Highway 560 east from Hanalei toward Ha’ena. Two short dirt roads, just past Mile Marker #8, lead to the parking area for the beach.

Hanalei Beach Park

Hanalei Bay is a gorgeous crescent bay ringed by a slithering sandy beach. There are actually four beaches that make up this ring, all with very diverse ocean conditions. They are outlined below. The waves at Hanalei Bay draw surfers from all over the World to enjoy the surf. Even if you don’t go in the water, Hanalei offers a striking mixture of green-draped mountains behind you and clear blue ocean in front. It is one of the best beaches, if not the best beach, in all of Hawaii. Waikoko Beach This reef-protected beach is located between the 4 and 5 mile markers on Highway 560. Located on the west side of the bay, this beach can be quite popular during moderate surf. During large surf, the water is dangerous. The path to the beach is near the 15 mile per hour sign.

Wai’oli Beach The waters are nearly always treacherous for swimming here. If you decide to relax at this beach, access is available by Weke Road which runs parallel to the curve of the bay.Hanalei (Pavilion) Beach Park Also accessed via Weke Road, this beach offers a lifeguard, facilities and plenty of action for body surfers and boogie boarders. Black Pot and Hanalei Pier Sounds bizarre, but the beach has nothing ominous about it. This is where the Hanalei River empties into the ocean and you may see some kayakers entering for a trip up the river. Hanalei is about one hour and twenty minutes from Kuhio Shores in Poipu.

Hanalei Valley Overlook

Hanalei Valley on the north shore of Kauai is one of the most attractive places on the entire island. The backdrop of beautiful mountains with waterfalls tumbling down the walls is a beautiful stage for the sleepy town of Hanalei. The most scenic view is here at Hanalei Valley Overlook, which peers over the taro fields of Hanalei Valley below. The valley is a designated Wildlife Sanctuary rich in native water birds including the Hawaiian coot, duck and stilt. The dramatic patchwork of neat taro farms bisected by the wide Hanalei River make this one of Hawaii’s loveliest sights. The fertile soils of Hanalei Valley have been planted with taro since perhaps as far back as AD 700.

Kilauea Lighthouse

As you continue to drive north past Kapa’a you’ll pass through the town of Anahola around mile marker 13. Continue north along the Kuhio Highway (Hwy 56) until you come to Kolo Road shortly after mile marker 23. The road will be on your right. After you have turned onto Kolo Road you are going to want to take Kilauea Road makai (towards the ocean) to Kilauea Lighthouse and the national wildlife refuge that has been set up there. You have also now officially entered North Kaua’i. Before heading down to the lighthouse parking lot on the peninsula, take a moment to stop at the upper lot and view the lighthouse from the overlook. Then continue on down to the lower parking lot. Kilauea Lighthouse is the northernmost point of the main Hawaiian Islands. The lighthouse was built in 1913 with the largest hand blown clamshell lens in the world. It was later replaced with a beacon in the 1970’s. The lighthouse is open to look around on the ground level. Today the lighthouse remains one of Kaua’i’s most popular attractions. Native vegetation and an informative visitor center attracts thousands of tourists to this site to bird watch, view the sweeping cliff and ocean vistas, and revel in Kaua’i’s past.

Nearby is the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, home to a diverse population of nesting seabirds and the only such sanctuary in the islands. Residents include red-footed boobies, the Laysan albatross, the red and white-tailed tropic bird, and the great frigate bird with its 8-foot wingspan. During certain seasons green-sea turtles, humpback whales, and dolphins can be seen frolicking in the waters. The refuge is open daily 10am – 4pm (subject to change). Take Highway 56 north from Anahola. Turn right onto Kilauea Road just after Mile Marker #23. Follow the road to the end. There is plenty of paved parking available near the visitor center. There is a short hike out to the lighthouse and great views of the entire area above the peninsula at the lookout.

Wailua Falls

If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing a double-tiered waterfall, then you’re about to bring that dream to life at gorgeous Wailua Falls. Right after mile marker 1 on Highway 56 there will be a road on your left, Ma’alo Road (Highway 583), accompanied by a sign pointing you in the direction of the falls. Take the short drive up this road which will end at a parking lot overlooking the falls. If you’re lucky, the sun will be at the right angle, and you’ll get a beautiful rainbow extending out from the base of the falls in the mist. Wailua Falls is approximately 85 feet high (not 170+ feet as some books have reported) and drops into a pool over 30 feet deep. We would highly recommend that you don’t even think of diving off this waterfall as the leap can be, and has been proven, fatal. Ancient Hawaiians once learned as much when proving their manhood (or foolishness… take your pick).

If you have to get to the bottom of the falls (which, mind you, the county advises against) then there are two trails that make the journey quite a bit safer than jumping off. You’ll notice the first trail by the guard rail at the end of the parking lot. This is the steeper and often muddier trail. We advise against using this trail at all costs. If you head a little over a quarter mile back down the road however you’ll find a easier, less steep, trail. It’s longer than the first trail, but it’s a lot easier to hike, though please keep in mind again that the county advises against the hike. The signs erected at each trail are a testament to this fact. In our opinion, the falls are best seen safely from above at the overlook. Please don’t throw rocks and other items into the pool below (which likely will be partially out of view). County warning or not, some people DO hike to the bottom of the falls and likely won’t like being showered with anything but water. If you visit during a time of especially high precipitation on the island, the falls can actually turn into a single giant and raging falls. During high flow the falls often also has a third tier flow. We believe the falls is most beautiful when it has a moderate flow. When seen from the air (image directly above), it is fascinating to see what the topography around the falls looks like.

Kalihiwai Beach

In the summer you can have a picnic underneath the Ironwood trees and in the winter you can catch some great waves at Kalihiwai Beach in north Kauai. The swimming is usually good here. Even the kids should be safe, just monitor conditions carefully. Waves tend to be harsher during the winter, there are also a few slippery rocks and some coral you should watch out for. To reach take Highway 56 west from Kilauea toward Princeville. Turn right on Kalihiwai Road just before mile marker 24. Parking is located near the end of the road. There is no lifeguard and no facilities.

Coconut Grove

Thousands of coconut trees were planted years ago along the coast of East Kauai giving it’s nickname The Coconut Coast. This grove of coconut trees is across the street from the Coconut Market. It could be a dangerous stroll…beware of falling coconuts. Take Highway 56 north from Lihu’e toward Kapa’a. Coconut Grove is located between Mile Marker #6 and 7.

Wailua River

The Wailua River is the only navigable river in the islands. It begins at Kauai’s heart and the wettest place on earth, Mt. Waialeale, and flows all the way to the ocean. Along the way other smaller streams feed in. The river’s many forks create several waterfalls, such as Wailua, a 900-ft double spouted waterfall at the southern end of the river. Kayaking is one of the major activities on the Wailua as well as boat tours and water skiing. Near the mouth of the river are several large rocks with ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs. The river enters the ocean at Wailua Bay near the town of Wailua on Highway 56. There is an excellent lookout for the Wailua River just before mile marker 2 on Kuamo’o Road (Highway 580).

Polihale State Park

Polihale State Park encompasses nearly 140 acres of coastal lands at the western end of the Na Pali coast. The park consists of a large sand beach (Polihale Beach), Polihale cliff and a traditional heiau. This is a typically hot and arid, almost desert-like setting. The road to Polihale may seem a little less like a tropical island and a little more like a desert highway. On a bright sunny day the flat stretch of Highway 50 between Highway 552 and Polihale Beach can create a mirage that looks more suited to Arizona than Hawai’i. Near mile marker 30 take a look to your left and observe the high security of the Pacific Missile Range Facility (yet another thing that isn’t quite so “tropical”). Once you pass mile marker 32, the highway ends and you will have to take a right inland. The first road on your left will take you to Polihale. Be warned, this is no pleasure ride in a small vehicle. The drive is a long, bumpy sand road which can be a bear in a normal car. Fragments of front bumpers are strewn along the road as testament to motorists who were ill-prepared for some deep ditches. Keep your eyes on the road, and you should be fine. After a little over three miles, the road ends at a massive monkeypod tree. After you reach the tree bear right and drive until you see an area where a lot of other rental cars are parked. Then it is just a short hike up the dunes to the breathtaking vastness of Polihale. In the winter, this is one of the most dangerous beaches in Hawaii.  The currents are very swift on big surf days.  In the winter, the surf can reach 30-40 feet. The breaking waves sound like a cannon going off and the beach shakes. More people drown at this beach than at any other beach in Hawaii.  Only experienced surfers and fools that are more likely to drown, than have a great vacation, go in the water beyond knee deep on large surf days.  On December 5, 2013, this writer and a friend (Steve Childers) helped save the life of a 20 year old Chicago girl who ignored the warning signs posted in the area. Life guards do NOT work this area and any help is typically 30 minutes away. Poihale is about a one and a half hour drive from our Poipu condo rentals at Kuhio Shores.

To the right of the large monkeypod tree are the majestic cliffs of Na Pali and to the left you can see the forbidden island of Ni’ihau in the distance. The pristine sands of Polihale can sometimes form 100-foot dunes. Local residents often drive their trucks and SUVs right onto the beach for camping or lounging. We advise you to NOT do the same with your rental vehicle, unless you have a 4×4. We’ve seen people get stuck in the sand in rental cars. Polihale and Barking Sands Beach are 17 miles long, which makes them the longest beaches in Hawai’i. Polihale is the end of the road on the west side of Kaua’i. The cliffs stretch all the way around the island back to the north shore at Ke’e Beach. If the weather is cooperating, this is a good location to also catch a glimpse of Ni’ihau on the horizon. The views from the Ni’ihau Lookout on Waimea Canyon Drive are good, but we’ve found the best view from this beach. It’s probably as close as you’ll ever come to the forbidden shores of the island. Polihale is a mysterious place. Legend has it that the steep cliffs at the end of Polihale are the “jumping off” place for all spirits that have entered Po, or the underworld.

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