I based my itinerary to the island of Kauai on The Belle Voyage’s recommendations and feel like she was spot on for the most part. My wife and I stayed four nights in Princeville in the north and two nights in Poipu in the south. Ideally, I think you’re better off spending more nights on the south shore than the north, though, despite Poipu hotels being more expensive.
One of the reasons why we opted for more days in the north was because we wanted to tour the Na Pali coast departing from Hanalei Bay. Supposedly, the northern boat tours let you see more of the coast and, in good weather, will venture into some of the sea caves. We went with Na Pali Catamaran. They were great. The coast was amazing. But tickets were also really expensive. That said, I would probably go for a southern tour if I could do it over.
The other part of the trip I would have done differently was our visit to Ha’ena State Park. There are two things to do here: Ke’e Beach and the Kalalau Trail. The Kalalau Trail is notoriously difficult and requires a camping permit to hike the whole thing. You don’t need a permit for the first two miles to Hanakapi’ai Beach, but the first two miles are still very strenuous. It’s rocky, muddy, and up-and-down the whole way. My wife and I didn’t even make it all the way to Hanakapi’ai Beach before needing to turn back to catch our parking deadline.
Unfortunately, to park at Ha’ena State Park, you need to make reservations ahead of time, and if you aren’t quick enough on the draw, all of the back-to-back time slots will be taken. There’s also a shuttle that goes to the park, but a guaranteed seat still requires a reservation. It’s too bad this area of the island has become so congested, because Ke’e Beach and the few glimpses you get of the Na Pali coast from the Kalalau Trail are definitely pretty:
But don’t worry; if you have to skip Ha’ena State Park, there’s still some great hiking in other areas of the island. The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail near Poipu Beach offers some beautiful (and scary!) views of the rocky coastline. This hike can be as hard or easy (and as long or short) as you want to make it.
The other hiking you’ll want to do is within Waimea Canyon. Billed as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” this was probably the highlight of the trip for me. It’s a beautiful and impressive place. Go early and go straight to the first scenic overlook before driving to the top for overhead views of the Na Pali coast. Clouds tends to roll in by afternoon and can obscure views at both locations.
When you’re ready to hike, the most popular trail seems to be the Canyon Trail. Unfortunately, getting there requires parking on the side of the highway and walking down the Halemanu dirt road before the trail even starts. Like the Kalalau Trail, the Canyon Trail is also rocky and muddy and up-and-down the whole way, but you won’t be as pressed for time. And the view at the end is worth it:
Finally, it wouldn’t be a trip to Hawaii without some snorkeling. We tried snorkeling in a few different places. The catamaran boat tour included a snorkeling stop, which was… okay. Lydgate Park on the east coast was disappointing albeit non-swimmer friendly. Anini Beach in the north had some really cool snorkeling, but you had to swim pretty far from shore to see it. The tree in the following picture of Anini is about how far out you have to swim for the good stuff:
And then there’s Poipu Beach, which was both very accessible and booming with sea life. If you’re gonna snorkel at all in Kauai, skip the other beaches and go straight to Poipu!