No wonder Jurassic Park and South Pacific were filmed here.
With little industry and gentle trade winds, the island pulsates with oxygenating life.
To soak up Kauai's vibrancy, I will recommend special activities to do and places to stay. But keeping with the Chasing Clean Air tradition, let's begin with the scoop on Kauai's air quality.
Air quality challenge: I only experienced fragrant clean air on Kauai and I understand most of the time, Kauai represents the cleanest air in Hawaii. But occasional vog blows up from the active Kīlauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, which sensitive breathers need to know. On a positive note, Kauai is the furthest island from the Big Island and therefore gets the least vog impacts but it can happen when southerly kona winds blow north, or winds stand still.
The good news is if winds blow vog in, winds will blow vog out. I'm told usually quickly, within a day or two.
Unique Kauai gem: Kayaking made gorgeous. Kauai is the only Hawaiian Island with rivers to navigate, not to mention the grand Na Pali Coast with its towering emerald carved cliffs, caves, and cerulean blue waters. The best time of year to sea kayak the Na Pali Coast is in the summer; and the best time to navigate its rivers—mostly anytime but ask about conditions.
When people think of Kauai, they think about a lush garden island destination.
For me, Kauai was more of a transformation--from tension to softness--wh ere n ature's energy and laid-back islanders coalesced into a brighter me.
I had a special moment when I first arrived when I realized I’d come from a paved-over Los Angeles landscape, and, in a way, I’d been paved-over, too.
My awareness expanded as I drove the paved road near the Grand Hyatt, which quickly turned into an unpaved road where I slowed for a hen and her chicks waddling across the dirt. They disappeared into dry bushes, as bird song was heard overhead.
The dirt road led toward an exotic emerald mountain and a secluded beach I'd later explore.
It was here that Kauai's gentle trade winds seemed to whisper, “Welcome to raw and beautiful Kauai!”
The island's unique charm embraced me, and I was eager to explore the best of Kauai through its knowledgeable guides, plantations, beaches and garden paths.
Come along and let's experience the garden isle of Kauai.
My Favorite Guided Tours
Outfitters Kauai - I love kayaking, so it was an easy choice to go with what I heard was one of the best adventure companies on the island conveniently located in Poipu where my girlfriend Debbie and I stayed.
We chose their Kipu Zipline Safari because it combined kayaking, hiking in the lush rain forest, and ziplining.
It rained the morning of our adventure, which had me concerned but I learned weather changes quickly in Kauai, and by the time we cozied into our tandem kayak, the sun and rainbows joined.
We glided two miles up the Hule'ia River, passing green rolling hills and thick rain forest vegetation. We listened to tropical birds, and now and again our guide shared stories of ancient Hawaii's Gods, conquerors, and its people.
We zipped along two lines (one in tandem with a friend), which I thought was tame for first-timers like Debbie, and enjoyable for more experienced zipliners like me.
Debbie used the opportunity to get over her fear of heights, and in the end, she loved ziplining more than anyone. Swoosh!
Our guide Trish was well cast, she not only looked like a National Geographic model (see photo above), she was informative about the terrain and vegetation, and "Watch your step" helpful.
Outfitters Kauai provided a great adventure and I'd love to go back, especially for more gentle kayaking. :-)
Wings Over Kauai - I've traveled the world but I have never flown over such beauty.
I mean, look at that.
I highly recommend Bruce Coulombe and his plane Wings Over Kauai for your Kauai adventure.
For a variety of reasons I felt good going up with Bruce. He flies a much less polluting plane compared to popular helicopter tours, and he was sensitive to weather conditions pressing forward where it was clear and pulling back where it might get rocky. I completely trusted Bruce and enjoyed his knowledge of the areas over which we flew. The photographs and memories I got from this special 70 minute ride will stay with me forever. I wrote an article with photos that you can read by clicking here. Bruce is offering a discount for Chasing Clean Air readers--just ask.
Kilohana Plantation - Get acquainted with Kauai's history, agriculture, and award-winning rum at what was once the most elegant Tudor-style home and sugar plantation in Hawaii.
Built by Gaylord Parke Wilcox in 1935, today the Kilohana Plantation offers opportunities to tour its mansion and grounds, which gave me that fanciful feeling reminiscent of exploring California's Hearst Castle and a mini-mini Disneyland. Only here you can ride on the Kauai Plantation Railway with its elegant mahogany coaches modeled after the personal car of King Kamehameha. (He's the conqueror who established the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810.) You also are offered opportunities to eat and drink from the premises!
Kilohana offers the most theatrical luau on the island, which I didn't experience, but I saw the huge open air venue with its center island stage. I was impressed.
I love trains and enjoyed the 30 minute Kauai Plantation Railway tour where the conductor educated us about the sugar, pineapple, banana, papaya, coffee, and tropical flowers we chugged by.
The train was built by Pepe, a charismatic reformed attorney, who ditched conformity to build and operate his railway.
We passed 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables growing beside the tracks, some of which we later sampled at the plantation's Gaylord’s restaurant.
Our coach pulled up to a paddock housing wild pigs and horses. We disembarked and the conductor gave us bread to feed the animals.
Next at Kilohana Plantation, it was time to check out Koloa Rum Co.
Rum is a product of sugar cane, molasses and water. It's fitting that Hawaii's only award-winning rum company, Koloa Rum--houses Kauai's only rum tasting room.
Care for an authentic Hawaiian Mai Tai?
If you're a Californian like me, you can buy Koloa Rum at Hi Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa.
Koloa Rum recently won medals at the 5th Annual Polished Palate International Rum Competition in Florida where 42 rums from around the world were evaluated for appearance, aroma, taste, mouthfeel and finish.
You can taste award-winning White Hawaiian Rum, Gold Hawaiian Rum and Dark Hawaiian Rum at the Koloa Rum tasting room. In addition to a 50-gallon copper demonstration still, which distills on a limited basis , there was a colorful store where people could purchase rum, Hawaiian Kukui's Mai Tai mix, guava jellies, jam, mango chutney, and Koloa Rum cakes.
We enjoyed a seafood lunch at Gaylord's Restaurant, (which is also open for breakfast, dinner, and Sunday brunch), requesting steamed vegetables on the side, which was beautifully presented. Sitting outside near a pond where frogs hopped was a treat.
Shops on the premises included wood artifacts and unique jewelry. I almost bought a one-of-a-kind Tahitian black pearl necklace but then I'm on a budget and was grateful for this trip.
The Historic Kilohana Plantation south of Lihue on Hwy 50 is open daily. Helpful numbers include Koloa Rum (808) 332-9333. Gaylord's Restaurant (808) 245-9593. Kauai Plantation Railway (808) 245-7245.
Kauai Sea Tours has 26 years exploring the famous Na Pali Coast known for its dramatic 4000 feet cliffs shaped by winds on Kauai's north shore.
Debbie and I had a choice to go on their day snorkling trip or evening sunset cruise. We opted for the sunset cruise. We'd heard from participants of our kayak/zipline tour that people on the daytime snorkling trip (the day before) experienced seasickness they thought was due to the boat stopping for snorkling and swaying in the breeze.
Debbie and I took photos of whales and dolphins. I saw a humpback whale breach high out of the water, which was exciting.
Regarding the Pacific Ocean, especially in winter months, it can get rocky depending on winds. I wore wrist bands to help protect against seasickness and only toward the end of the journey as the sun set and winds picked up, did I feel queezy. Ditto for Debbie.
Debbie and I were thrilled with the wild life viewings, and we'd do a sea tour again though personally I'd like to experience this ride in the summer when I'm told the Na Pali Coast can be calm like a sheet of glass. Kauai Sea Tours (800) 733-7997
Free and inexpensive activities on Kauai
- Go to the beach. Kauai has 140 miles of coastline and more beaches than any other Hawaiian island. Most beaches--like the popular Poipu Beach on the sunny south shore--have the classic tropical Hawaiian look of palm trees, crescent shaped sand beaches, turquoise and cerulean blue waters. They are great spots to sun bathe, take a walk, or make a beautiful photograph for a souvenir. Weather conditions can change and its important to ask about safe places to swim and sea kayak. If waves are huge, you might get lucky and watch talented surfers at Hanalei Bay.
- Walk spectacular trails. If you're feeling super-adventurous you might try the famous Kalalau Trail (weather usually best in the summer) above the Na Pali Coast on the north shore. This 11 mile trail begins at the stunning Kee Beach and traverses steep inclines and declines along high cliffs above the ocean. It is not for the faint-hearted or out of shape. There are many other hikes and tame walks on the north shore, including 2 miles of spectacular beaches at Hanalei Bay. On the sunny south shore where I stayed, Poipu Beach has trails that are pleasant to walk near tame cliffs and sandy beaches. Many flowers marked the trail making my walk fragrant. Whales were seen close to shore. Also near Poipu is Spouting Horn, a geological "event" where Pacific waters explode out of a shoreline lava tube. From Spouting Horn, you can walk across the street to the botanical garden and if you're really on a tight budget, no need to go in. Walk the floral grounds without the tour, which I understand is worthwhile. You can also leisurely walk manicured walkways at the Grand Hyatt Kauai in Poipu. Beautiful flowers are everywhere. Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park offer trails and photo opportunities. Waimea is considered the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” with depths of 3000 feet in a ten mile area. Observe Wailua Falls plunging eighty feet into pool below. Waimea Canyon is enroute to Kokee State Park where you can stop in the Kokee Natural History Museum and learn about the queen’s chickens. For more hiking tips, click here. Speaking of museums, check out The Kauai Museum in Lihue.
- Ride a bike. Take a drive. My friend Debbie and I drove from Poipu Beach to Hanalei Bay and along the way made several stops, including the Kilauea National Wildlife Refuge and Lighthouse. A great spot to view humpback whales December through March, and everyday hundreds of birds including the Red-footed Booby, Brown Booby, Great Frigatebird, Laysan Albatross, and White-Tailed Tropicbird. There’s a small fee to go to lighthouse, and it’s worth it for the views and wildlife viewing. When you get to Hanalei Bay, consider Lumahai Beach, the site where Mitzi Gaynor sang “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” in the film South Pacific.
- Observe endangered wildlife like the monk seals lazing days away on Poipu Beach, and unendangered wildlife like hens and roosters percolating throughout the island.
- Be still and inhale fragrant air.
- One of the best locations at sunset is The Beach House Restaurant in Poipu Beach area. Locals gather around at sunset to watch. Prices may be on the high side at this top-rated fine restaurant, but I highly recommend a visit. At minimum enjoy a drink and appetizers, and be blown away by the view. (Top photo of article was taken while dining at The Beach House)
A comfy place with heart and soul.
3528 B Mana Hema Pl., Lawai, Kauai, HI 96765
1 (888) 786-3855
Located a short drive to Po'ipu Beach, this is your choice when seeking affordable accommodations with a personable hostess who lives on the premises and has thought of everything to make your stay comfortable.
I stayed at Lorna's Kauai Banyan Inn for five nights in her Nani Loa Suite, and loved it for its comfort and lush views. I appreciated her warm presence, (she lives on property with her husband), and fact she thought of everything for each well-appointed room. I was greeted with a basket of food in my kitchen, fresh coffee, and I found beach towels and a cooler in the closet. Her place is a short drive to the famous sunny south shore beaches. I loved the hard wood floors and ceilings that if I recall correctly, her husband put them in himself. It took me a day to realize she had a sound machine by the bed, which I turned on to listen to ocean sounds as I slept. Her location may not be at the beach, but its close and her warm personality and ability to make me feel at home more than made up for the short drive. Occasionally, I heard a rooster, which I'd learn there are thousands on the island. Actually, I heard there are one million chicken walking around Kauai but who's counting? Suffice it to say, the sound machine Lorna had by the bed, when necessary, made all the difference for a good night's sleep. I'd definitely go back to Lorna's. Who can resist her wink? Rooms range from $130-$150 per night and most have a complete kitchen.
Poipu Plantation Resort; B & B Inn and Vacation Rentals at Poipu Beach.
A place with Aloha spirit and rooms with exotic mountain and beach views.
- 1792 Pe'e Rd., Koloa, HI 96756
- 1 (800) 634-0263
Debbie joined me half-way through my stay on Kauai, which included staying one night in the Poipu Plantation Resort's two bedroom ocean view suite, overlooking Poipu Beach. Lucky. Oh, yes.
When we first entered our room (it's a short flight upstairs so don't pack anything you can't lift if you're taking a room with a view), I was pleasantly surprised and touched by a bouquet of exotic flowers on the glass table in the large kitchen and dining area.
The views! Above is a photo from the porch, where Debbie and I hung out. I took photographs, and Debbie worked on her laptop. Yes, the wireless worked well and I hope Debbie's boss appreciates her industrious work ethic on vacation. :-)
Our upper floor unit featured high wood ceilings, a kitchen, and livingroom with television. Each bedroom had a queen bed and its own bathroom, making me think this would be an optimal setting for a family or sets of friends. Views included the distant mountains, gorgeous sunsets over Poipu beach, and bright stars at night. We enjoyed the large wrap around deck with chairs for morning coffee.
In the morning, we walked half a block down the street to the gorgeous Poipu beach. It was so beautiful and serene, I could live here. A lot of locals and tourists walked along the shore in the morning. We took a path leading to the Grand Hyatt and along the way photographed whales off shore, and exotic flowers on.
Prices are reasonable and there's a wide range depending if you go for the Bed and Breakfast or vacation rentals. The longer you stay the better discounts you'll enjoy. Sample prices include: 3 plus nights $145-$210 and 5 plus nights $135-$195
Their Bed & Breakfast Inn includes breakfast. We didn't have this option but I read TripAdvisor reviews, which were top-notch.
Where luxury and comfort meet tropical paradise.
Koloa, Hawaii, USA 96756
Tel: +1 808 742 1234
The Grand Hyatt Kauai is a top of the line resort in Kauai with all the amenities you associate with luxury. I enjoyed my room, overlooking Poipu Beach. According to my mom, the world traveler who has stayed everywhere from luxury suites to grass huts, the Grand Hyatt Kauai is one of her favorite memories after visiting 100 countries. (I have much to do and visit in order to catch my breath behind my adventurous momma.)
Here at Grand Hyatt Kauai luxury comes decorated with tropical birds and flowers, and views that don't get better. And there are restaurants with scrumptious food and wines. Fish is big here, so get your appetite on.
As a connoisseur of weight machines, I can report, the Grand Hyatt Kauai has by far the best weight and cardio machines I've ever experienced at a resort. Also, I enjoyed a yoga class and lap pool.
Koke State Park - And now that I've covered the best of affordable to luxurious accommodations, let me be the first to say, I like camping too. While I didn't do it this go-round, I researched tent camping and inexpensive cabins available in Koke State Park. If you're interested, you can call the Koke Lodge for more information: (808) 335-6061. When I think about it, at 3600 feet elevation, Koke Stae Park of Kauai may have some of the best air quality should vog blow in.
According to Jean Evans of the American Lung Association in Hawaii, vog occurs about 20% of the time, it's hard to predict, and Kauai being the most remote in the Hawaiian chain will likely have the least impacts though as mentioned earlier, Kauai can be effected, too. While not usual, should severe vog conditions occur while you're visiting Kauai, it's recommended to stay indoors, if possible with an air conditioner, recirculating the air. Refrain from physical exertion. If you take meds for asthma or lung disease, naturally, bring them on vacation just in case. This is the same advice sensitive breathers get in Los Angeles on smoggy days, where I'd add, turn on your air purifier.
Being the garden isle with rich vegetation, allergies could be an issue for sensitive individuals. It didn't much bother me, and I do have some sensitivities, which I learned when traveling through Eugene, Oregon--America's pollen capitol.
As a result of my long on-going clean air search, I realize man-made and natural air polluting sources travel with the wind, and nowhere has clean air all of the time.
Some places have much cleaner air than others. And some places have cleaner air than others most of the time, but not all of the time, and this seems to be the case with Kauai.
Other interesting Kauai facts
Kauai is reportedly home to one million roosters, hens, and baby chicks that are free to roam everywhere.
If you're a light sleeper consider ear plugs or a sound machine, just in case a rooster's around the corner.
Resorts and hotels do their best to trap the roosters and take them away from your ear shot.
The sunny south shore has the mildest weather in the winter months, whereas the north shore has more rain and wind and lush vegetation. The weather reverses in the summer though the south shore doesn't get near as much rain or wind.
Fortunately, I experienced very clean air, and I hope you do, too, for Kauai is a magical place to which I hope to return. Maybe as soon as this summer at which time I'll spend more time on the north shore, and exploring Kauai’s Botanical Allerton, McBryde and Limahuli Gardens. After all, Kauai is Hawaii's garden isle! And while it's a close call with Maui, Kauai is my favorite Hawaiian destination due to its northern most location (away from the active volcano) and fact it maintains a raw, untouched, appeal.
I hope to see you there. :-)
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