Description - Kauai is the oldest and northernmost of the major islands in the Hawaiian archipelago. It is composed of a central volcanic peak, Mt. Waialeale, which has been documented as the wettest place on Earth. Kauai is the least developed of the four largest islands in Hawaii and its interior is a rugged, mountainous region protected within the forest reserve system.
Copyright: US Fish and Wildlife Service
Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
- A belt road circles most of the island excluding the Na Pali coast, which lies in the northwest. The western coast of the island is arid and the least developed. Along the coast lies the Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range Facility. Beaches on the military installation are often open for civilian use, but a call before traveling there is advised. North of the military base is Polihale State Park. The park marks the western end of Kauai's belt road and once you reach the park you'll see the cliffs and understand why the road ends here.
Other sites in western Kauai include Waimea Canyon. To reach this rugged gorge take Waimea Canyon Drive north from the coastal community of Waimea. This road extends 19 miles north and provides a number of scenic overlooks into the valley and over the cliffs to the ocean. It also provides access to Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park. These preserves are thick with recreation opportunities and access to the rugged interior of the island.
The western shoreline has a number of expansive sandy beaches, including those at Kekaha and Salt Pond Beach Park. Other highlights of this area are Russian Fort Elizabeth State Historical Park, which interprets an interesting, but short expanse of Kauai's history; and Hanapepe Valley Lookout, which provides views of the Hanapepe River Valley and the sugar cane and coffee fields of the region.
Kaumuali Highway skirts the southern shore of the island leading somewhat inland through this region. The largest resort in this region is Poipu, which lies on the southern point of the island. Baby Beach, Lawai Beach, Koloa Point, Poipu Beach, Poipu Beach Park, Brennecke's Beach Park, Shipwreck Beach and Mahaulepu Beach comprise the coastal areas around Poipu. Other sites of interest in the area are Spouting Horn Beach Park and Prince Kuhio Park, which preserve natural and cultural features respectively.
Traveling northward from the Poipu area is Lihue. This is the commercial, transportation and political center of the island. Southeast of the city is Kalapaki Beach, Nawiliwili Harbor, Menehune Fishpond and Huleia National Wildlife Refuge. Each site providing opportunities for recreation opportunities and overlooks of natural and historical significance.
North of Lihue the eastern shore of the island begins. Wailua has a number of attractions for outdoor enthusiasts. The Wailua River State Park incorporates six heiaus, hiking trails, a fern grotto and several overlooks. Highway 580 leads into the interior of Kauai along the Wailua River and provides access to many of the state park sites. The Wailua River is the only navigable river on the island and boat tours and a boat ramp are available at its mouth. Lydgate Beach Park also lies at the mouth of the Wailua River and provides good swimming conditions in most seasons.
Driving north along the eastern coast of Kauai you'll pass a few resort areas then the rural and agricultural lands extend from Kapaa to Kilauea. Between these communities are Kealia Beach and Anahola Beach Park, which are good places for surfing. Farther north are Moloaa Beach and Larsens Beach, which are good for swimming, snorkeling and exploring.
The northern shore of Kauai extends from Kilauea Point to Na Pali Coast State Park. Kilauea Point is the northernmost point in the Hawaiian Islands. It supports a national wildlife refuge and historic lighthouse. The next beach area west of the wildlife refuge is Kalihiwai Beach, which lies at the mouth of the Kalihiwai River. The river is navigable for kayakers and the beach is a popular place for many activities. Following Highway 56 west, Princeville is the next community on the north shore. Here Kuhio Highway changes from 56 to 560. Along the shoreline north of Princeville is Anini Beach Park, which supports camping, picnicking and water activities.
Hanalei lies in the middle of the north shore region of Kauai on a large, rounded bay. The Hanalei River Valley leads south from the shoreline towards the interior of the island. Hanalei Beach Park lies at the mouth of the river and provides opportunities for water activities throughout the year. Other sites for recreation include Hanalei Valley Lookout, Pinetrees Beach Park and the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge.
Following the coast westward you'll reach Waikoko Beach lying on the western edge of Hanalei Bay. Lumahai Beach, west of Waikoko, has white sand and open ocean for water activities when the surf is calm. Haena is the next town on the coast. Tunnels beach in this area is popular with divers and snorkelers as well as board and windsurfers. Haena Beach Park provides campsites, showers and picnicking facilities for travelers and residents alike. Kee Beach is the last beach on the eastern side of the Na Pali Coast. It lies within Haena State park and provides good views of the 1,000 foot cliffs that form the rugged northwestern coastline.
The Na Pali Coast extends 22 miles from Kee Beach to Polihale State Park. This area is comprised of rugged cliffs that rise nearly 2,000 feet from sea level. There are five major valleys within this area, only three of them are accessible (by foot). The Kalalau Trail leads 11 miles along the coast from Kee Beach to Kalalau Beach. This is the only access into the area from the northern shore of the island.
Recreation - Kauai is the least developed major island in Hawaii, which leaves lots of open space for outdoor recreation. Like the other islands the western beaches on Kauai provide ample stretches of white sand and gentle shorelines for swimming, sea kayaking and general water play. Everyone entering the water should be aware of changing conditions and swift ocean currents. Surfing spots on Kauai's beaches are plentiful with the best sites changing with the seasons. Look to the northern beaches of the island in the winter and the southern beaches in the summer for surfing. Snorkeling and beginning windsurfing opportunities lie on the northern shoreline of the island with conditions suitable for advanced windsurfers from the southern beaches. Diving is popular from the beach and offshore at various sites around the island.
Inland, visitors will find opportunity for hiking and backpacking, fishing and kayaking. Concentrations of hiking trails, some with camping areas in the backcountry, can be found at Kokee State Park, Wailua, Kapaa and the Na Pali Coast State Park. Kauai is the only island in Hawaii with navigable rivers. Advanced and novice kayak enthusiasts will find recreation opportunities on the Hanapepe, Huleia, Waimea, Hanalei and Wailua Rivers. Anglers will also enjoy freshwater fishing in these drainages, but a license is required. The forest reserves of Kauai provide access to mountain biking and horseback riding terrain with several outfitters for each sport open on Kauai. Camping opportunities are available in the backcountry, beaches and state parks of Kauai. Visitors planning to camp should contact the appropriate agency for reservation information.
Climate - The climate on Kauai varies more with the terrain than the seasons. Generally, the coastal temperature changes little throughout the year with an annual average of 74 degrees F. The higher elevations of the interior of the island includes the wettest place on earth, Mt. Waialeale. This region averages higher than 4,000 feet and receives nearly 500 inches of rain. If your planning to camp in the higher elevations of Kauai, I recommend layers and rain gear. Temperatures drop four degrees F with every 1,000 feet gained in elevation.
Kauai is the northernmost island in the Hawaiian chain. It is separated from Oahu by nearly 85 miles. Ni'ihau Island lies to the west of Kauai and is its closest neighbor.