Remember the opening scenes of the 1970s TV series, Fantasy Island? It was filmed on Kauai, a tropical dream island that continues to exude the same magical charm.
Nicknamed the “Garden Island”, Kauai boasts lush forests, three National Tropical Botanical Gardens and seven distinct microclimates. Heavily forested mountainous regions lie in the middle while beaches cover almost half its shoreline, many only accessible by hiking.
Kauai is the most active Hawaiian island offering adventures like biking, horseback riding, hiking, ziplining, ocean and river kayaking, sailing, fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving and golfing. It has the oldest and most protected reef eco-system among the major Hawaiian islands, where one-third of the world’s fish species can be found; and some of the best snorkeling along the Napali coast.
Standing at the northernmost point of the island, Kilauea Lighthouse played an important role in guiding ships heading to the Orient between 1913 and 1975. In 1927, it even helped pilots navigate on the first trans-Pacific flight from the west coast (Oakland) to Honolulu.
Nearby, the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is home to the largest colony of nesting seabirds in Hawaii, attracting migratory birds like the Laysan albatross and Pacific Golden Plover. Resident wildlife here includes Hawaii’s state bird – nene, an endangered Hawaiian goose – Hawaiian monk seals, spinner dolphins and native coastal plants.
Over in Hanalei Valley, Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge is the habitat for five endangered waterbirds – the Hawaiian duck, Hawaiian coot, the Hawaiian moorhen, Hawaiian stilt and the nene – and 49 other species. Along the northern shore, the road is linked by one-lane bridges. Drivers are advised to slow down and “Watch out for endangered alae ula crossing” road signs are posted close to the refuge.
Along the Napali coast, the Ka Ulu o Laka heiau is dedicated to the goddess of the hula. Hula dancers continue to practise at this historic and sacred temple, said to be the birthplace of the hula.
Listed under the National Register of Historic Places, the Waioli Mission House (1837) features a lava rock chimney and the wall clock installed in 1866, which still keeps perfect time. Waioli Huiia Church with its green shingles and stained glass windows stands at the front of the house.
Hawaii Tourism Authority/Dana EdmundsKnown as the sleepy surf town of Kauai, Hanalei Bay was named America’s Best Beach by Dr. Beach in 2009.
Spanning 16 kilometres, Koloa Heritage Trail traces the history of Kauai. Marked with descriptive signs, it covers 14 geological, historical and cultural sites. Among them is Old Koloa Town, home to Hawaii’s first commercial sugar plantation. In the mid-1800s, sugar became the state’s main industry, attracting 350,000 immigrant workers at the height of its boom.
At the Spouting Horn blowhole, each incoming wave, shoots a large spray of water through a natural lava tube. The spray can reach 18 metres if the swells are particularly large.
Endangered Hawaiian monk seals sometimes sunbathe on the shores of Poipu Beach while humpback whales pass by between November and May. To see the world’s largest collection of native Hawaiian plants, stop by McBryde Garden.
East Kauai is known as the Royal Coconut Coast due to the many coconut trees growing in the Wailua area. According to legend, the 1,000-year old Alekoko Menehune Fishpond was built in one night by the mythical Menehune people.
To get to the Fern Grotto, kayak or ride a boat along the Wailua River. This lava rock is covered with tropical ferns and its natural amphitheatre attracts serenading Hawaiian musicians. Then there’s the 24-metre Wailua Falls, used in the opening credits of Fantasy Island. Rainbows often appear in the morning when the sun magically turns the waterfall into molten silver.
Still a working farm, Kilohana Plantation features a tour of its grounds aboard a 1939 locomotive reminiscent of the steam engine sugar trains which once transversed the island. In the same venue, the award-winning Koloa Rum Company is Kauai’s only commercial distiller and bottler of Hawaiian Rum.
The Wild West
With a backdrop of sheer cliffs, Napali Coast is only accessible by helicopter, boat or hiking through the Kalalau trail. Hanakapiai, a popular hike here, leads to a waterfall and the pristine Hanakapiai Beach, which only exists during summer months; winter swells wash it away.
Majestic Waimea Canyon has more than 64 kilometres of hiking trails and provides panoramic views of crested buttes, rugged crags and deep valley gorges. To see native plants and local forest birds like the apapane, iwi and moa, head for Kokee State Park.
From the First World War through the early 1950s, Hanapepe Town was a bustling place. Now an art colony, its historic buildings have been converted into art galleries, shops and eateries.
• Kauai Culinary Market at The Shops at Kukuiula: New gourmet market featuring local food products and live chef demonstrations. Held every Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m.
• Kauai’s Mini Golf: Not a typical miniature golf course. Learn about the island’s past at this 18-hole putting green set amid botanical gardens representing different eras of Hawaii's culture.
• Prince Golf Course: Reopening on December 14. Listed among the top-ranked courses in Hawaii and Top 100 in America. Currently undergoing extensive renovations including the reconstruction of putting greens and refurbishment of its clubhouse. New tees will be added for shot value and variety.
• Koloa Landing at Poipu Beach: Phase one of the new Wyndham Grand Resort features 85 one- to four-bedroom villas, complimentary self-service business centre and two food and beverage outlets.
• Kauai Marriott Resort: Recently completed refurbishment of its 356 guestrooms and all public areas. Added a children’s pool with a slide.
• Courtyard by Marriott Kauai at Coconut Beach: Formerly the Aston Kauai Beach at Makaiwa Hotel; undergoing renovations to its public areas and meeting spaces.
• Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa: Renovated guestrooms feature mahogany furniture and bathrooms with marble counter tops and double sinks.
• Sheraton Kauai Resort: Undergoing refurbishment of its lobby areas, courtyard, and ocean wing pool. The RumFire restaurant will debut in late November.