Explore Kauai: Transportation, Destinations, Films & Things to Do

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  08.02.2023
I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

Kauai is the oldest and northernmost island of the Hawaiian Islands. It’s also known as the “Garden Isle” due to its lush vegetation and beautiful scenery. So, let’s dive into everything Kauai has to offer!

In this article, I’ll walk you through the process of creating a unique and engaging piece of content using the Kauai guide as an example. I’ll also provide some useful tips and tricks along the way.

What is Kauai

In this post we'll cover:

Kauai: A Tropical Paradise

A Geographical Overview

Kauai is a tropical paradise that’s been around for millions of years! It’s the oldest of the main Hawaiian islands, and it’s made up of a large, eroded shield volcano with two flank calderas. The highest peak is Kawaikini at 5,243 feet, and the second-highest is Mount Waiʻaleʻale at 5,148 feet. It’s one of the wettest places on earth, with an average rainfall of 460 inches per year!

Climate and Weather

Kauai’s climate is tropical and humid, with generally stable conditions year-round. The average temperature in Lihu’e, the county seat, ranges from 78°F in February to 85°F in August and September. The mountainous regions offer cooler temperatures and a pleasant contrast to the warm coastal areas. At the Kōkeʻe state park, day temperatures vary from an average of 45°F in January to 68°F in July.

Kauai also holds a record in average yearly precipitation, with 50-100 inches of rain annually. The Mt. Waiʻaleʻale rain gauge is often cited as the wettest spot on earth, with an average of 374 inches of rain per year. It also holds a record in hourly precipitation, with 12 inches of rain in just 60 minutes!

Time Zone

Kauai observes Hawaii Standard Time (UTC−10:00) year-round. When most states are on daylight saving time, the time on Kauaʻi is three hours behind the mainland. So if you’re looking for a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the mainland, Kauai is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the sunshine!

The Origin of Kauaʻi’s Name

A Legend of Hawaiʻiloa

Legend has it that the Hawaiian Islands were discovered by the Polynesian navigator, Hawaiʻiloa. He named the island of Kauaʻi after his favorite son. It’s said that the name Kauaʻi translates to either “place around the neck” or “food season”.

The Language of Kauaʻi

Kauaʻi is known for its distinct dialect of the Hawaiian language, which is still spoken on Niʻihau. The standard language today is based on the dialect of Hawaiʻi island, which doesn’t have the [t] sound. However, the Kauaʻi dialect does have this sound, due to it retaining the old Polynesian /t/ sound. This means that the native name for Kauaʻi is pronounced “Tauaʻi” and Kapaʻa is pronounced “Tapaʻa”.

The Funky Facts of Kauaʻi

Kauaʻi is a pretty interesting place. Here are some fun facts about the island’s name and language:

  • Legend has it that the island was named after Hawaiʻiloa’s favorite son.
  • The name Kauaʻi translates to either “place around the neck” or “food season”.
  • Kauaʻi is known for its distinct dialect of the Hawaiian language.
  • The standard language today is based on the dialect of Hawaiʻi island, which doesn’t have the [t] sound.
  • The Kauaʻi dialect does have this sound, due to it retaining the old Polynesian /t/ sound.
  • This means that the native name for Kauaʻi is pronounced “Tauaʻi” and Kapaʻa is pronounced “Tapaʻa”.

Exploring the Rich History of Kaua’i

Ancient Polynesian Settlers

Hundreds of years before Europeans arrived, the island of Kaua’i was already populated by Polynesian settlers. Archaeological evidence suggests that these first inhabitants, who came from the Marquesas Islands, had been living on the island since as early as 200 A.D. to 600 A.D.!

These first settlers brought with them their own religion and practices, which still influence Hawaiian traditions and beliefs today.

The Arrival of Captain James Cook

In 1778, the first European to reach the Hawaiian Islands, Captain James Cook, arrived at Waimea Bay. He named the archipelago the “Sandwich Isles” after his patron, the 6th Earl of Sandwich, George Montagu.

King Kamehameha’s Reign

Kaua’i and Ni’ihau were the last Hawaiian Islands to join King Kamehameha’s Kingdom of Hawai’i. Their ruler, Kaumuali’i, resisted Kamehameha for years. Kamehameha twice attempted to take the islands by force, but was unsuccessful both times.

Finally, in the face of a third invasion, Kaumuali’i decided to join the kingdom without bloodshed and became Kamehameha’s vassal in 1810. He ceded the island to the Kingdom of Hawai’i upon his death in 1824.

The Schäffer Affair

In 1815, a ship from the Russian-American Company was wrecked on the island. In 1816, Kaumuali’i signed an agreement to allow the Russians to build Fort Elizabeth in an attempt to gain support against Kamehameha I.

However, construction was met with resistance from Native Hawaiians and American traders, and the Russians were eventually expelled.

The Old Sugar Mill of Koloa

In 1835, Old Koloa Town opened a sugar mill. From 1906 to 1934, the office of County Clerk was held by John Mahi’ai Kāneakua, who was active in attempts to restore Queen Liliuokalani to the throne after the U.S. takeover of Hawai’i in 1893.

Valdemar Knudsen

Valdemar Emil Knudsen was a Norwegian plantation pioneer who arrived on Kauai in 1857. He managed Grove Farm in Koloa, but later moved to Mana and Kekaha, where he became a successful sugarcane plantation owner.

Knudsen was appointed land administrator by King Kamehameha and given the title konohiki, as well as a position as a nobility under the king. He was also an elected representative and an influential politician on the island.

The Knudsen Gap, a narrow pass between Hã’upu Ridge and the Kahili Ridge, is named after him. It was originally a sugar farm planted by the Knudsen family.

Kauai’s Economy: A Brief Overview


Kauai is a popular destination for tourists, with over 1.2 million visitors in 2007. The majority of visitors come from the US (84%) and Japan (3%). Accommodation and food services make up the largest sector of employment, followed by government and retail. Agriculture and educational services also contribute to the economy.


The median price of a single-family home in Kauai is around $400,000. Home ownership is lower than the state average, and vacation homes are more common.


Kauai’s land is very fertile, so farmers grow a variety of crops, such as:

  • Guava
  • Coffee
  • Sugarcane
  • Mango
  • Banana
  • Papaya
  • Avocado
  • Star Fruit
  • Kava
  • Noni
  • Pineapple

Pacific Missile Range Facility

Kauai is also home to the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility. This facility is located on the west coast of Kauai, and is used for testing missiles and other military equipment.


Kauai is also home to the US National Institute of Standards and Technology’s radio stations WWVH, WWV, and WWVB. These stations broadcast standard time and frequency information to the public.

Exploring Kauaʻi: Towns and Communities


The seat of Kauaʻi County and the island’s second-largest town, Līhuʻe is located on the southeastern coast. It’s the perfect spot to start your Kauaʻi adventure!


Head up north to the “Coconut Coast” and explore Kapaʻa! This town is home to over 10,000 people, and it’s only about 6 mi (9.7 km) away from Līhuʻe. Plus, it’s the site of an old coconut plantation, so you can get a taste of the island’s history.


Once the capital of Kauaʻi, Princeville is located on the island’s north side. It’s the perfect spot to take in the breathtaking views of the island.

Other Towns and Villages

Kauaʻi is full of amazing towns and villages, ranging in population from the roughly 10,000 people in Kapaʻa to tiny hamlets. Here’s a list of some of the larger or more notable ones:

  • Haʻena State Park – 550
  • Wainiha – 419
  • Kalihiwai – 428
  • Wailua – 2,359
  • Hanamāʻulu – 4,994
  • Wailua Homesteads – 5,863
  • Puhi – 3,380
  • Poʻipū – 1,299
  • Kōloa – 2,231
  • Lāwaʻi – 2,578
  • Kalāheo – 4,996
  • ʻEleʻele – 2,515
  • Hanapēpe – 2,678
  • Kaumakani – 749
  • Waimea – 2,057
  • Kekaha – 3,715
  • Pakala – 294
  • Kealia – 103

Kauaʻi is a paradise of stunning views, from the northeastern coast near Kīlauea to the south shore’s view of the Pacific Ocean. Plus, you can take a dip in Anahola Bay, a snorkeling and swimming beach with clear pools and a long coral reef. So what are you waiting for? Come explore Kauaʻi and all its amazing towns and villages!

Getting Around Kaua’i

Kaua’i is an island paradise, and getting around it is a breeze! Whether you want to take a scenic drive, hop on a bus, or fly to your destination, there are plenty of options for getting around the island.


Kaua’i’s only commercial airport is Lihue Airport, located on the southeastern side of the island. From here, you can fly to Honolulu, Kahului/Maui, Kona/Hawaii, the U.S. mainland, and Vancouver, Canada. For those looking for a more private experience, there are two general aviation airports on the island: Port Allen Airport and Princeville Airport. And if you’re ever in a pinch, the Pacific Missile Range Facility has a 6,006-foot runway that can be used in an emergency.


Kaua’i County is served by several state highways:

  • Kaumualiʻi Highway (Route 50): A thirty-three mile stretch from Rice Street in Līhuʻe to the Pacific Missile Range Facility.
  • Kuhio Highway (Route 56): A 28 mile stretch from Rice Street in Līhuʻe to the junction of Hawaiʻi Route 560 in Princeville.
  • Wapaa Road (Route 58): A 2 mile stretch from Route 50 in Līhuʻe to the junction of Wapaa Road with Hawaii 51 near Nawiliwili Harbor.
  • Kokeʻe State Park (Route 55): A 7.6 mile stretch from the junction of Route 50 in Kekaha to Kokeʻe State Park.
  • Waimea Canyon (Route 550): A 15 mile stretch from Route 50 in Waimea to Kōkeʻe State Park.
  • Kalaheo (Route 540): A 4 mile stretch from Route 50 in Kalaheo to Route 50 in Eleʻele.
  • Koloa (Route 530): A 3.4 mile stretch from Route 50 between Kalaheo and Lawai to Route 520 in Koloa.
  • Poʻipū (Route 520): A 5 mile stretch from the “Tunnel of Trees” at Route 50 to Poʻipū on the south shore.
  • Līhuʻe Airport (Route 570): A 1 mile stretch from Route 56 in Līhuʻe to Līhuʻe Airport.
  • Wailua Reservoir (Route 580): A 5 mile stretch from Route 56 in Wailua to just south of the Wailua Reservoir.
  • Kapaʻa Town (Route 581): A 5 mile stretch from Route 580 in the Wailua Homesteads to a roundabout just west of Kapaʻa Town.
  • Wailua Falls Overlook (Route 583): A 3.9 mile stretch from Route 56 just north of Līhuʻe to dead-end at Wailua Falls Overlook.

Kaua’i Bus

If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly way to get around the island, the Kaua’i Bus is the way to go! This public transportation service of the County of Kaua’i will get you to all the major attractions on the island.

Kaua’i Scenic Byway

For those looking for a truly scenic experience, the Holo Holo Koloa Scenic Byway is the perfect choice. This 19 mile stretch of road connects many of Kaua’i’s most historical and cultural sights, such as the Maluhia Road (Tree Tunnel), Puhi (Spouting Horn), The National Tropical Botanical Gardens, and the Salt Beds.

Exploring Kauaʻi: A Guide for the Directionally-Challenged

The Main Road

Kauaʻi is a small island, and that means there’s only one main road. This makes it a cinch to explore, even if you’re the type of person who gets lost in a paper bag.


Kauaʻi has plenty of places to explore, and here’s a list of the main ones:

  • North Shore: Hanalei, Kilauea, and Princeville
  • West side + the Nāpali coast
  • East side: Lihue and Kapaa
  • Poipu (South Kauaʻi)
  • Waimea

Getting Around

Exploring Kauaʻi is more fun with a GPS-assisted audio guide. Check out Shake Guide for some awesome driving tours.

North Shore

The north shore of Kauaʻi is home to some of the most picturesque spots on the island. Hanalei is the hub of the north shore, and it’s a great place to set up camp if you plan on exploring the Nāpali Coast. Princeville is nearby and it’s got plenty of hotels and condos. Kilauea is a great spot for nature lovers, with Kauapea Beach and Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. Plus, you’ll find traditional Hawaiian Taro fields in the lush valleys inland of Hanalei.

West Side and Nāpali Coast

The Nāpali Coast is one of the most beautiful places in Hawaii. It’s got jagged cliffs, dramatic valleys, and it’s all protected area. You won’t find any development from Keʻe Beach to Polihale State Park. It’s the perfect spot for a hike, kayak, boat, or helicopter ride.

East Side: Lihue and Kapaa

Lihue is the capital of Kauaʻi and the first place you’ll see when you leave the airport. It’s got all the conveniences you need, like groceries, banking, and the Kauai Museum. Kapaa is an old plantation town that’s seen some growth in recent years. It’s got souvenir shops, a bike path, and a few local favorites like Pono Market. Plus, there’s a long, rocky beach that’s not safe for swimming. Head to Kealia Beach at the northern edge of town to take a dip.


Poipu is the main tourist hub on Kauaʻi’s south shore. It’s got great weather, tropical landscapes, and plenty of lodging options. There’s golf courses, coastal walking trails, luaus, and restaurants. Plus, Poipu is known for its snorkeling.


Waimea is a small, coastal plantation town in southeast Kauaʻi. It’s got major historical significance, as it’s where Captain James Cook made his first landing.

5 Must-Do Experiences on Kauaʻi

Explore the Nāpali Coast

The Nāpali Coast is a jaw-dropping sight to behold, with its jagged cliffs and majestic views. You can explore it however you’d like – by foot, boat, kayak, or even helicopter! If you’re up for a challenge, you can hike the Kalalau Trail from Keʻe Beach, but if you’re a first-timer or a casual hiker, you can take the 2-mile (one way) hike to Hanakapiai Beach and Falls. If you’d rather take a boat tour, check out the sailings offered by Holo Holo Charters. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can kayak with Nāpali Kayak.

Visit Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon is a geological wonder, with its red and orange canyon walls stretching down more than 3,600-feet deep and 14 miles long. You can check out the different lookouts, like Waimea Canyon Lookout (mile marker 10), Puu Hinahina Lookout (mile marker 13), Kalalau Lookout (mile marker 18), and Puu o Kila (mile marker 19). If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can even spend the night at the Kokee Lodge Cabins and Campground.

Kayak the Wailua River

The Wailua River is the only navigable river in Hawaii, and it’s a great way to explore the rainforest. You can rent your own kayak or join one of the many tours. Some tours combine hiking and kayaking, while others focus on just one activity. You can also check out the popular Sleeping Giant Trailhead and two major waterfalls, Opaekaa Falls and Wailua Falls.

Take a Hike with Kauaʻi Hiking Tours

If you’re looking to explore beyond the tourist circuit, take a guided hike with Kauai Hiking Tours. You’ll get to experience the history, culture, and beauty of Kauaʻi, all while learning about the island’s unique flora and fauna. Plus, you’ll get to see some of the island’s hidden gems, like secret waterfalls and hidden valleys.

Make Hanalei Your Home

Hanalei is the perfect place to call home during your stay on Kauaʻi. This charming town is full of art galleries, restaurants, and shops, and it’s the perfect spot to relax and take in the beauty of the island. Plus, you can explore the nearby beaches, hike the Hanalei Valley Lookout, and take a dip in the Hanalei River.

When is the Best Time to Visit Kauai?

Visitor Arrivals

If you’re looking to plan the perfect vacation to Kauai, you’ll want to know when the best time to visit is. The answer might surprise you! Here’s a breakdown of the best times to visit the Garden Isle:

  • April, May, August, September, and early October are the best months to visit Kauai. These are known as the island’s ‘off-season periods’ or ‘shoulder months.’
  • During these months, you’ll find fewer crowds, lower demand, and more affordable rates.
  • Visitor arrivals tend to peak during the summer months, so if you’re looking for a quieter experience, you’ll want to avoid these months.

Kauai’s Weather and Climate

Kauai’s climate is mild and pleasant year-round, so you won’t have to worry about extreme temperatures or weather conditions. Here’s what you can expect during each season:

  • Spring (April-May): Temperatures range from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, with occasional showers.
  • Summer (June-August): Temperatures range from the mid-70s to the mid-90s, with occasional showers.
  • Fall (September-October): Temperatures range from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, with occasional showers.
  • Winter (November-March): Temperatures range from the mid-60s to the mid-80s, with occasional showers.

Accommodations and Rates

Accommodations and rates vary depending on the season. During the peak summer months, you can expect higher rates and more competition for lodging. During the off-season months, you’ll find more affordable rates and more availability.

What to Expect

No matter when you visit Kauai, you can expect to have an amazing time. The island is full of beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, and plenty of outdoor activities. You can also expect to find plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops to explore. So no matter when you visit, you’re sure to have a great time!

Kauaʻi: A Hollywood Hotspot

The Island of Jurassic Park

Kauaʻi has been the backdrop for some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, from the musical South Pacific to Disney’s 2002 classic Lilo & Stitch. But it’s most famous for its starring role in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic Jurassic Park. Manawaiopuna Falls, better known as “Jurassic Falls,” was featured prominently in the movie.

Other Notable Films

Kauaʻi has also been featured in a number of other movies and TV shows, including:

  • Six Days Seven Nights
  • King Kong (1976)
  • Donovan’s Reef (1963)
  • Tropic Thunder
  • Soul Surfer
  • Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
  • Dragonfly
  • Blue Hawaii (1961)
  • Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966)
  • The Descendants (2011)

Elvis Presley’s Hawaiian Adventures

Kauaʻi was also the setting for two of Elvis Presley’s films, Blue Hawaii and Paradise, Hawaiian Style. Both featured scenes shot at the Coco Palms resort, which was unfortunately destroyed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992 and never rebuilt.

The Perfect Getaway

If you’re looking for the perfect Hollywood-style getaway, Kauaʻi is the place to be. With its lush landscapes and stunning beaches, it’s no wonder it’s been featured in so many movies and TV shows. So grab your popcorn and get ready for a cinematic adventure!


Kauai Vs Big Island Oahu

Kauai and Big Island Oahu are two of the most popular Hawaiian islands for tourists. Kauai is known for its stunning natural beauty and dramatic sites, while Oahu is the most populous island in the chain, boasting a population over 13 times that of Kauai, despite being only 35 square miles larger.

If you’re looking for a peaceful getaway, Kauai is the perfect choice. With its lush forests, stunning beaches, and incredible hiking trails, it’s the ideal spot to relax and take in the beauty of nature. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a vibrant, bustling atmosphere, Oahu is the place to be. With its lively nightlife, world-class shopping, and endless activities, it’s the perfect destination for those looking to make the most of their vacation. No matter which island you choose, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience.

Kauai Vs Maui

Kauai and Maui are both stunning Hawaiian islands that offer a plethora of activities and experiences. But if you’re looking for a more adventurous vacation, Kauai is the way to go. With its rugged coastline, lush jungles and towering mountains, Kauai is the perfect destination for thrill-seekers. From ziplining through the rainforest to kayaking down the Wailua River, there’s no shortage of exciting activities to keep you busy. Plus, you can explore the island’s many hidden waterfalls and secret beaches.

On the other hand, Maui is the perfect destination for those looking for a more relaxed getaway. With its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters and world-class resorts, Maui is the ideal spot for a romantic escape. Whether you’re looking for a romantic sunset dinner on the beach or a day of snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters, Maui has something for everyone. Plus, you can take a drive up the Road to Hana to explore the island’s lush rainforest and waterfalls.


Kauai is a magical island with many hidden gems. From the Na Pali Coast State Park to the Waimea Canyon, there’s something for everyone. So, don’t be afraid to explore and discover the beauty of Kauai!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Kauai Surf Report is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new sports with everything surfing at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2019 to help loyal readers with surfing and water sporting tips.