Surfing, hiking, tubing, off-roading, kayaking, snorkeling . . . Kauai proved a fabulous destination for some fun family adventure so I’m sharing our favorites here with you. This trip built on the 11 days we spent in Maui a couple years ago (you can read all about that trip here) with 15 days living the Kauai life.
My husband is a Native Hawaiian from Honolulu, so it’s extra special to get to share these islands with our children, even and especially coming out of the long pandemic isolation. We jumped through all of the covid protocol hoops, respected the privilege of being there, and the locals were nothing but grateful as we patroned all the local small businesses.
Now, onto the fun stuff!
1. Mountain Tubing Adventure
Our favorite experience of the trip was tubing down the old sugar plantation canals with Kauai Backcountry Adventures. It was somehow simultaneously both relaxing and exciting to float through the lush, beautiful jungle and in and out of the dark hand-carved tunnels. It’s a special experience indeed to connect with nature, history, culture, and each other while our bodies are sensorily engaged. Our tour guide was informative, passionate, and delightful and the crew as a whole all seemed to genuinely be having fun and grateful for our presence. I had one of those life-affirming moments where I was struck by the thought: this is exactly what I value.
2. Surfing at Hanalei Bay
A close second on our favorites list was a family surf lesson with Hawaiian Surfing Adventures in beautiful Hanalei Bay. Our instructor gave us a tutorial and a push and we were all up and away in the mild summer waves. Unsurprisingly, we all loved surfing! They let us keep the boards for the rest of the day so we hit wave after wave for hour after hour until hunger and darkness forced us to shore. We loved it so much that we came back again on another day (and they gave us post-lesson discounts on the board and rash guard rentals). I have to say, Hanalei Bay was my favorite place on the island with it’s soft sand, warm water, gorgeous landscape, and quaint shops. We could have just spent a whole week surfing in Hanalei Bay and have been perfectly content with the trip.
3. Waimea Canyon Hike
A true highlight of this trip for me was our day spent in Waimea Canyon. We used Shaka Guide’s Waimea and Na Pali Driving Tour to lead our way through the incredible sights with colorful stories and educational information.
As a coffee-lover, my husband’s favorite part of the day was our stop at the Kauai Coffee Plantation. He was beside himself with excitement to pluck a cherry right off the tree and release the coffee beans inside. Picture Julie Andrews twirling atop the Swiss Alps—that was my husband through the rows of coffee trees. Plus, free samples.
Continuing on up the mountain, the Red Dirt Waterfall was a striking stop on the way to the head of the Canyon Trail, where we hiked 4 intense miles over steep hills of rocks and tree roots to splash in Waipo’o Falls. It was a breathtakingly beautiful setting to reinforce our connection with our strength and endurance (We can do hard things!). Nothing is better at helping you fall more in love with your body than using it as it was meant to be used.
From there we drove to the end of the road to look out over the Na Pali Coast just in time to see a rainbow. The view was surreal.
4. Lydgate Chocolate Farm Educational Tour
As the resident chocolate lover, this experience at Lydgate Chocolate Farm was for me. It was so cool to see, touch, and taste chocolate in it’s natural form! After breaking open the huge gourd-like pod, we found a strand of bitter cacao seeds coated in a mucous that tasted like a watermelon jolly rancher. We got to sample exotic local fruits, honey, and then 13 different chocolates from around the world as we learned all about how they’re made. We are now officially chocolate connoisseurs, or as West said at the conclusion of the tour, “You’ve ruined chocolate for me. I can never eat a Hershey bar again.”
5. Lydgate Park
Lydgate Park has a huge playground but we all loved it for Morgan’s Ponds, where huge boulders were placed offshore to create an enclosed and protected swimming area. This little haven was wonderful for snorkeling with the kids—we got to see schools of tropical fish but did not see the small shark that was confirmed to be residing there.
6. Kipu Ranch Off-Road Expedition
My people voted for off-roading but I did not anticipate enjoying it as much as I did. I’m good with thrills but dislike jarring, noisy, polluting motors. Color me converted! It was so fun speeding around the trails on this incredibly scenic 3,000 acre cattle ranch. The vehicles allowed us to explore a whole part of the island we would otherwise not have been able to experience, all while traversing rocky hills and splashing through red mud. I wish my teens could have driven, we could have been allowed to go faster, and that aforementioned red mud didn’t stain my clothes, but this pricey adventure earned its special place in our memories.
7. Kilauea Lighthouse
I have a bit of a love affair with lighthouses so of course we had to explore the Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge. The views were awe-inspiring, the birds were magnificent, and my youngest even earned a junior ranger badge. It was very hot up there and my teens were not impressed but it was time well spent for a nearly free experience.
8. River Kayaking
We did Smith’s Fern Grotto River Cruise and I recommend skipping that in favor of kayaking up the Wailua River.
9. Wailua Falls
Wailua Falls is a beautiful waterfall that you can see right from the road and is definitely worth a visit but we walked away from this location with mixed feelings. People were hiking down the trail and swimming at the base of the falls, which is so totally our vibe, but they were jumping a fence and bypassing trespassing signs to do it. My family wanted so badly to hike down and swim but I had to remind them that we are guests here and the people to whom this land belongs are asking us not to go there. “We need to honor the invitation to visit by respecting their very clearly stated wishes. How would you feel if someone asked to visit our home and you said, ‘Sure, just please don’t go in my bedroom and play with my toys,’ and they did?” Had we been able to swim at the base of the falls without feeling disrespectful, this experience would have been stellar.
10. Na Pali Coast Boat
We did not take a boat around the Na Pali coast and if we could go back and plan the trip again, we would have. The snorkel sail in Maui was my favorite experience of that trip and I know we all would have loved exploring the sea caves of this magnificent coastline.
Warm sunshine, friendly locals, abundant rainbows, and all the shave ice we could eat—we are returning home with grateful hearts.