Emerald mountains, weeping waterfalls, red-rock canyons, jaw-dropping beaches, clear seas and big waves. Kaua‘i’s natural gifts are unparalleled in Hawaii, the USA, the world.
With an astonishing list of outdoor adventures, Kauaʻi will puncture your resort bubble. Here you can soar over and settle into tropical valleys in a helicopter, zip through treetops on a cable, navigate narrow single tracks to the shoulders of a sleeping giant or down deep into a grand canyon. You can paddle a sacred river or motor into sea caves, wander isolated beaches, drop in and get barrelled on a point break, or drift with sea turtles in coves saturated in that perfect blue. Each new experience merges unforgettably with the island’s majesty.
A locals only ethos that flowered from surf culture and permeated the Hawaiian Islands influences social, political and commercial life on Kaua‘i too. Happily, of late it has also influenced chefs, supermarkets and restaurants island-wide. Anywhere you eat on Kaua‘i, from the fast food of Bubba’s Burgers to JO2, the latest restaurant from renowned chef Jean Marie Josselin, you are likely to be feasting on sustainably grown meat and vegetables cultivated on the island by local farmers, or fish caught by local anglers just offshore. That freshness brings flavor you’ll love, and it nourishes the local economy too.
Island Way of Life
You can’t help admiring the way that Kauaʻi has preserved itself in the face of the 21st century. Here, no town surpasses 10,000 people. By law, no building is taller than a coconut tree, and it is impossible to circumnavigate the coast by car. When a multimillion-dollar ferry arrived to begin service to neighboring islands, Kaua‘i residents, concerned over environmental and other issues, blocked its path. It never returned. Visitors do, however. That doesn’t mean Kaua‘i lacks challenges. Conflicts continue on the Westside over the dominance of big agriculture, but on the whole the island projects harmony.
Feel the Mana
The island inspires inward explorations too. On Kauaʻi, the mana (spiritual essence) of the ʻaina (land) is palpable, because the values of the ancient Hawaiians are alive and well, and rooted in a holistic understanding of the natural world. You will encounter this in simple ways, such as when someone gives you directions mauka (inland) or makai (seaward), or in a passing shaka (Hawaii hand greeting sign) when you yield on a one-lane bridge. Hawaiian culture is built on moderation, balance, fairness and unity, producing a gentle pace of life, strong families and legendary hospitality.
It’s easy to see why Hawaii has become synonymous with paradise. Just look at these sugary beaches, Technicolor coral reefs and volcanoes beckoning adventurous spirits.
Floating all by itself in the middle of the Pacific, Hawaii proudly maintains its own distinct identity apart from the US mainland. Spam, shave ice, surfing, ukulele and slack key guitar music, hula, pidgin, aloha shirts, ‘rubbah slippah’ (flip-flops) – these are just some of the touchstones of everyday life, island style. Pretty much everything here feels easygoing, low-key and casual, bursting with genuine aloha and fun. You’ll be equally welcome whether you’re a globe-trotting surf bum, a beaming couple of fresh-faced honeymooners or a big, multigenerational family with rambunctious kids.
Hawaii is as proud of its multicultural heritage as it is of former US President Barack Obama, who was born in Honolulu on Oʻahu. On these Hawaiian Islands, the descendants of ancient Polynesians, European explorers, American missionaries and Asian plantation immigrants mix and mingle. What’s remarkable about contemporary Hawaii is that harmonious multiculturalism is the rule, not the exception. Boisterous arts and cultural festivals keep diverse community traditions alive, from Hawaiian outrigger canoe races to Japanese taiko drumming. Come here to see what the future of the USA could be.
Just as in days of old, life in Hawaii is lived outdoors. Whether it’s surfing, swimming, fishing or picnicking with the ʻohana (extended family and friends), encounters with nature are infused with the traditional Hawaiian value of aloha ʻaina – love and respect for the land.
Go hiking across ancient lava flows and down fluted pali (sea cliffs). Learn to surf, the ancient Hawaiian sport of ‘wave sliding,’ and then snorkel or dive with giant manta rays and sea turtles. Kayak to a deserted offshore island or hop aboard a whale-watching cruise. Back on land, ride horseback with paniolo, Hawaii’s cowboys.
Snapshots of these islands scattered in the cobalt blue Pacific Ocean are heavenly, without the need for any embellishment by tourist brochures. Sunrises and sunsets are so spectacular that they’re cause for celebration all by themselves, such as atop Haleakalā volcano on Maui. As tropical getaways go, Hawaii couldn’t be easier or more worth the trip, though be aware that visiting these Polynesian isles isn’t always cheap. But whether you’re dreaming of swimming in crystal waterfall pools or lazing on golden-sand beaches, you can find what you’re looking for here.