Kauai’s East Side, North Shore and a Boat Tour
This is the final of three installments of our 12-day visit to Kauai. If you missed the first two, click here to read about our helicopter ride and here for our explorations in the South Shore and West Side. The yellow marks on the map below indicate places we visited while on the East Side and North Shore while the blue ones when we were in the South Shore and West Side. I couldn’t find an explanation as to why the North and South are described as “shores”, while the East and West are described as “sides”, so I just gave up and went with the flow 🙂
By the time we moved to Kapaʻa on the East Side, Hawaii was in the national news about their surging Covid19 cases, particularly on Oahu and Maui. So much so that the Governor implored tourists not to visit the islands at this time. Lucky for us we were already there and we had gone through hula hoops to be allowed in. So we were extra careful, socially distancing and wearing our facial covering whenever indoors to not let the restrictions dampen our visit. Having a condo with a kitchen helped, as we could cook our meals on the days that we didn’t get take-out. We didn’t eat dinner in a restaurant during our entire trip!
With an abundance of coconut trees, the East Side made me feel like I was at home in the Philippines. This region even got the monicker “The Coconut Coast”, and it was obvious why. We were fortunate that the weather was excellent during our stay. Intermittent rain storms interrupted beautiful sunshine, and we were able to occasionally watch rain clouds pass by as we got some raindrops and sunshine at the same time. Amazing!
The island is surrounded by miles of shimmering golden sand and unspoiled views. And with so many gorgeous beaches to choose from there was a beach for everyone, with most framed by tropical green all around. Many were packed with people, but we found several that were out of the way and/or challenging to access, and those were the ones we visited when we planted our beach chairs and enjoyed a cool drink as the waves rolled in.
Larsen’s Beach is a secluded stretch of undeveloped beach that requires scrambling down on a path to access. We learned that this beach fronts the massive property owned by the FB CEO. We accidentally drove into his estate thinking it was a beach access, until a security guard stopped us. Sorry, Mark!
Moloa’a Bay (Gilligan’s Island) is another out of the way beach featuring turquoise waters framed by deep greens. Lydgate State Beach Park was close to our airbnb and a popular family-friendly/kid-friendly beach.
Kauai has a vast range of outdoor activities, in addition to beautiful beaches for nature lovers like us. There were many hiking opportunities, and we had packed our boots to take advantage of as many as we could. Of the two hikes we planned in the area, the one to Nounou Mountain aka Sleeping Giant was definitely a winner. The trail took us on an ascent of almost 1,000′ over 3.2 miles, and we were rewarded with a view of Wailua Valley on the east side of the island and a good look inland at Mt. Waialeale:
The other trail we wanted to take on was Kilua Ridge Trail, a trek that would have taken us to a lush jungle setting with a good view into the heart of Kauai. It rained the night before and the trail was dangerously muddy so it was a bust. The volcanic soil here turns super slick when it gets wet, so not an option on many days. But before we turned around I hugged a rainbow eucalyptus tree and was mesmerized by the gigantic trees in the area that shadowed the road:
On our helicopter flight we had spotted countless waterfalls, many of them deep in the forest and requiring an adventurous hike or simply a view from afar. On the east side we viewed the Wailua falls from a lookout and were disappointed since it was obscured by vegetation. They say the falls were made famous in that old TV show that some of us may remember – Fantasy Island. Then we accidentally stumbled on the Opokue Falls on our way to the trailhead of the busted hike. Although the the lookout platform was a long distance away, we still got an impressive look:
Our trip would have been incomplete had we missed the Farmers Market, which showcased many tropical fruits. These are the fruits I grew up with in my home country and so I was in heaven when I saw them on display. Steve is not so much a fruit person, but he enjoyed them with me all the same. They were just bursting with flavor, nutrients and vitamins…yum yum!
I’m also glad I tried the shave ice, an iconic frozen treat that traces its roots to Hawaii’s storied plantation past. In the early 1900’s, japanese immigrants in Hawaii used their tools to shave flakes off large blocks of ice, coating it with sugar or fruit juice to cool themselves off. In Pidgin vernacular, the refreshing treat became known as shave ice – not shaved ice. Today there are dozens of shave ice places across the Islands. Like poke, shave ice is yet another local thing to love about Hawaii.
I forgot what I ordered in my shave ice, but trust me it was very good!
One of the most enchanting things about Kauai is the abundance of flowers, and I really didn’t have to visit a botanical garden (although I did) for they were blooming everywhere. The tropical flowers were so gorgeous and exotic, from the Red Gingers dotting the landscape to the myriad of different colorful Bougainvilleas, Hibiscus and wild Gingers along the road. They were a feast for the eyes – beautiful and enchanting with scents that filled the air. I wished I could capture the scent of the White Ginger in a bottle to take home with me! You know whose eyes rolled as I repeatedly asked for the car to be pulled over so I could capture these beauties:
And for my bird-loving friends, I took notice of many feathered friends besides the chickens:
The North shore is only a short drive from Kapa’a and is less crowded. It gets more rain than the rest of the island and hence it is the most tropical. Had I not been worried about getting rained on constantly during our visit we probably would have stayed here for our final six days. There’s lush foliage everywhere and massive mountains tower over the stunning beaches between Princeville and Hanalei.
In my previous post I stated that we were unable to drive all the way to Hanalei and the rest of the most northern part of the island due to road construction. The landslide that occurred on March 21 on the hill above Hanalei had blocked the road and they were repairing it. So this time we entered the convoy line at 7:30am and got through an hour later:
Was it worth the wait? You bet it was! Hanalei is the prettiest town on Kauai, and the beaches from Hanalei to Ke’e are some of the finest we visited during our stay. We wanted to complete the drive to the end of the highway on the island which was the beginning of the Na Pali Coast:
We found a shady spot at Hanalei Beach and lingered for a couple of hours to enjoy the ocean breeze while listening to the lapping waves. Both of our condo units had supplied us with complete beach paraphernalia like beach chairs, coolers, umbrellas and more. Nice!
Next we drove to the end of the highway to Haena State Park, where we had failed to snag a parking reservation and a permit due to huge demand. This is also the access point to the Hanakapiai Trail, which is the first two and a half miles of the Na Pali coast. We really wanted to take this hike but could not get the permit and reservation on time. So, this will be a good reason to revisit one day!
Our rented Airbnb on the East Side allowed us a closer drive to the North Shore. Again we had ocean views and watched the people and critters in the ocean. We liked the proximity to the beaches, hiking trails, waterfalls and more:
Na Pali Coast by boat
I gushed previously about the stunning and jaw-dropping Na Pali Coast, the pride of Kauai. There are 3 ways to see it; by helicopter which we did (click here for my post); by hiking, which we missed, and lastly by boat. Seeing the coast from the water was another adventure so we booked a boat tour. Unlike the helicopter tour which hovered over the coast for a short time, the boat tour gave us a chance to take in the majesty of those emerald cliffs for several hours.
The boat weaved in and out of the inlets and sea caves, getting right up to the massive jagged cliffs. There was a light narration as they pulled the boat under cascading waterfalls, sailed along secluded coastline and pointed out the towering cathedral spires and emerald valleys. To add more excitement, Spinner Dolphins swam next to our boat and we saw many goats in the valleys along the shore. And as a finale Steve got to do a bit of snorkeling:
We both agreed being in the blue ocean and looking up at the incredible landscape was a unique perspective with a maximum wow factor. We highly recommend a boat tour with a caveat that if you get motion sickness and/or have a bad back you might want to skip this one. The ride back to the port was pretty brutal!
I will let the pictures (even if they don’t do justice) demonstrate just how majestic the Na Pali Coast is!
Despite pandemic restrictions and missing some reservations, we loved Kauai’s low-key vibe. Not having big shopping malls gave the island its allure. We were in awe of it’s beauty and the genuine hospitality of the people we met, especially that of my friend Leah. Our 12-day visit left us longing for more.