Exploring Kauai’s West Side and South Shore

Once we’d seen the lay of the island from the air, we were ready to rock and roll via land and water. Click here if you missed our epic helicopter flight, to get a glimpse of the greenest of the Hawaiian Islands. In the planning phase of our trip we learned that Kauai has four major geographic areas from which to select where to stay; the sunny south shore, the drier west side, the verdant north shore and the Coconut Coast on the east side. I didn’t think we could go wrong whatever we chose, so we rented a VRBO unit in the south shore area to explore the south and west areas of the island for our first six days. To explore the east and north areas we moved to an Airbnb unit on the east side for our final six days (more on that later).

The tunnel of trees was a welcoming sight that immediately caught our attention when we arrived. We later learned there are 500 Eucalyptus trees planted along a one-mile stretch of the highway. The original trees were planted in 1911, but many were blown away in 1982 by Hurricane Iwa. They were replaced, and here they were now as the natural gateway leading us to the south shore.

There are no roads in the incredible Na Pali cliffs area, it’s far too steep and treacherous for a roadway. However, one can drive from the northern end of the island to the southwestern end in a couple of hours – depending on traffic, of course. Below is the island’s map, showing the places we visited during our stay at the south shore:

Having a friend who’s lived in this tropical paradise and whom I had not seen for decades added a new dimension to our visit. Leah moved here from California almost 20 years ago, fell in love with the island, and never left – who can blame her? She was so gracious, carving out two days of her time to drive us all around the island on a grand tour. She made our trip so much more awesome, thank you, Leah! The Covid restrictions on the island were very strict, and being a nurse she was able to tell us that her small clinic had received no Covid patients during the past few months.

At the Waimea Canyon lookout with Leah, our gracious hostess

Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park are practically in Leah’s back yard, so they were our first outing. The drive on the scenic route took us above 3,000′ and it was nice and cool there. It was exciting to get up close to what we had seen from the helicopter and actually touch the red dirt:

Do you see Waipoo Falls on the upper left? We hiked out 2 miles to it a while later

The horizontal layers and colors on the walls reflect a series of lava flows that occurred over the past 4-5 million years. The reddish hues show the varying levels of iron oxide and the chemical make-up of the lava that is present. The red soil is what’s used to dye the T-shirts sold at the Red Dirt stores here.

Unlike the Grand Canyon we couldn’t hike down, but there are several trails around the rim which begin at nearby Koke’e State Park. Leah led us to one that went to the top of 800′ Waipoo Falls, the signature feature of Waimea Canyon. We went to the top of the waterfall but couldn’t see it cascading all the way to the bottom. But what a view! It was a popular trail, and tough enough that some people gave up before making it to the falls. It took us a couple of hours to finish the beautiful 4-mile round trip journey:

After the hike we drove further, up to the highest point of the canyon at over 4,000′. We took a quick hike at Pihea Trail, which offered expansive views from a ridge looking down into the lush oasis of Kalalau Valley. We stopped at the Pihea Overlook, which is the highest rim point of Kalalau Valley.

Did I mention it’s green everywhere?
In Kalalau Valley the distinctive fluted basalt ridges have been sculpted by waterfalls

The next morning Leah drove us from the end of the road on the west side to almost the end of the road on the north shore (see the map). We were a bit disappointed that we missed the coffee tour at the Kauai Coffee Company because we didn’t have a reservation. But coffee tasting was available and we grabbed a pound of coffee grown and produced in America!

At the northern end of the island, access to Hanalei Bay at the most northern point was restricted due to a landslide across the road and ongoing repairs. We didn’t want to sit there and wait so we headed back to the south shore. Leah pointed out several points of interest along the way that we could check out later.

And that’s exactly what we did during the next few days!

I love botanical gardens, and Kauai has seven of them – two of which were located near our rented unit. The Allerton and McBryde Gardens are part of the network of five botanical gardens under the National Tropical Botanicals with locations in Hawaii and Florida. I wanted to check out the home of the famous tree in which the dinosaur’s egg was found in “Jurassic Park” at Allerton Garden. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, visits to the garden were by timed access appointment only and it was fully booked. Lucky for me there was one spot available at Mcbryde Botanical Garden, so off I went!

So lush, and all shades of green throughout the property

With a limited number of visitors every two hours, the sprawling garden was a huge relief from the required face covering. I could breathe fresh air and smell the fragrance of the tropical flowers. Being here also reminded me of my mom’s garden in the Philippines which was full of Hibiscus:

Neither of us is into surfing or ocean swimming, but the south shore is a hotspot for those activities with several beaches to choose from. All beaches are public in Kauai, so public access must be included even if the beach fronts a resort or private home.

Poipu Beach, where Green Sea Turtles nap. These guys are big!
Shipwreck Beach by the Hyatt Hotel

We walked the coastal Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail that began at Shipwreck Beach near the Grand Hyatt in Keoneloa Bay. It led us to what looked like an alien landscape. The rock formations were created over thousands of years from sand dunes weathered by crashing wave action, and carved sharp ridges with deep pockets were the result. The scientific explanation is fascinating, in that lithification occurred when sediments compacted, filling pores with ground water containing high levels of minerals. It all translates to spectacular and unusual formations like none we’ve seen before.

An archeological site could be found along the trail

Just 5 minutes from our condo was another natural phenomenon, the Spouting Horn. The explanation was that it formed because of the repeated waves crashing onto the lava rocks and forming narrow openings in them. Every time a wave hits the rocks the water is forced into this narrow opening and shoots up into the air:

Spouting Horn

We couldn’t help but notice there were chickens everywhere we went! Unlike in Key West where we occasionally saw roosters roaming around, Kauai seems to be overrun by them. They don’t just cross the road – they walk through parking lots, bring their chicks to the beach, and flock in the forests and on the golf courses – all the while crowing day and night. Steve kept shaking his head when I told him to pull over so I could take pictures of them.

The locals say the Kauai chickens are descendants of birds that escaped their coops when Hurricane Iwa struck in 1982 and again when Hurricane Iniki hit in 1992. At the rate they’re multiplying they could become a real problem in a few years.

The south shore area and the entire island has no shortage of bright vibrant flowering trees lining the streets, towering majestic trees everywhere and beautiful green mountains. Driving in and around the west and south areas we could really feel we were in a tropical paradise. These are my drive-by photos as we cruised along:

We enjoyed our stay and loved our rented condo at Koloa in the south shore area. We think it was a perfect home base for six days, with close proximity to the activities we did. Not to mention the ocean and rainbow views, surfer action and wonderful sunsets. It was a winner!

Kuhio Shores Condominium, red arrow is unit 219
The manic surfers were fun to watch
Sometimes we went down to the lawn for an even better sunset view
One of the many rainbows we saw from our lanai

Next up: Moving to the east side


  1. You take gorgeous photos, so beautiful. We like botanical gardens too. Looks like a tropical paradise!

  2. I have been traveling vicariously through your pictures and commentary and enjoying them so much. Thank you! Bev Kawalec, Viking World Tour

  3. So glad you got to explore Kauai! We stayed at Prince Kuhio condos just across the road from you in 2003. We had plenty of time to enjoy all that Kauai had to offer. I often think about our visit there and your posts are bringing those happy memories back to me.

  4. I didn’t know neither of you were ocean swimmers! Can’t say as I blame you, though Kauai was an exception for some snorkeling, boogie boarding, and a favorite time at Queen’s Bath. Those botanical gardens sure are pretty. I loved all the chickens, too, but you’re right that they’ll need to do something about them soon. Did you see many feral cats? We noticed a plethora of yellow ones! 😄

  5. Nothing better than a local to show you around. And how nice to catch up with a friend after so long. Beautiful photos, ML, as always. I love that you found two arches!! That first one on the edge is really neat. Thanks for shring with us.

  6. Not only is that whole island beautiful, but there’s plenty of fun and interesting stuff to keep visitors occupied. From the gardens to the coffee farms to the interesting rock formations to the beachside turtle napping, there is just so much to see! Your photos are wonderful as always and you really have my interest peaked in visiting this one-of-a-kind place. Speaking of which, the VRBO you rented looks ideal. What a perfect spot to use as a home base!

  7. Glad you remembered to continue your Hawaiii series, we were waiting! What a beautiful place, it looks like you saw the best of it. I love all your pictures, but the botanical garden’s flowers are really special. I can just smell them from here!

  8. First of all…the sea turtle!!! I want to go to the island just so I can see a sea turtle napping on the beach. 🙂 The entire island looks surreal, with those sculpted colorful mountains and lush green forests of ferns. How wonderful that you were able to reconnect with a good friend who could show you all of the special local treasures. We love botanical gardens, too, and visit them wherever we find them in our travels. Loved seeing your collection of tropical flowers! And your photos, as always, are gorgeous.

    • I heard that a bunch of them are actually there early evening until morning! I wished I could go to all the botanical gardens but was late with making reservations. I know you will love Kauai!

  9. Lovely post and great pictures. I’m glad you’re posting again. Kauai is my favorite island, my husband loves the Big island. Looking forward to the East side post. Happy travels.

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