Evelyn Kanter for the Orbitz Travel Blog
If less is more, expect to get both on Kauai. You'll find fewer crowds and less costly hotels here than in Oahu or Maui, which means more time to enjoy the spectacular scenery, including some of the world's finest beaches. Besides the expected ziplining, deep sea fishing, golf, kayaking and picture postcard sunsets, we've got nine other great reasons to plan your next Hawaii vacation around the Garden Island.
1. Waimea Canyon - The best way to appreciate the jaw-dropping beauty of this rugged terrain on the western Napali Coast is by a "flightseeing" small plane or helicopter tour. Steep, narrow canyons switch between barren, rocky orange and sienna slits to lush green ones dotted with pencil-thin waterfalls ending in turquoise pools. Jack Harter Helicopters offers 60-minute trips, a perfect length, since 30 minute tours offered by other operators is not enough to use up all the space on your camera's memory card.
2. Kilohana Plantation - At its peak, this was a 26,000 acre sugar plantation, with its own railroad. These days, Kilohana's the antique narrow-gauge tracks and open wooden cars take visitors on a guided tour through fields growing 30 different fruits and nuts, including pineapple, papaya and banana, and sugar cane for local Koloa Rum. There's a free tasting every 30 minutes in the antique-filled Victorian English Tudor manor house, and a well regarded restaurant, Gaylord's. Much of the menu is grown on the plantation.
3. Uncle's Shave Ice - This beachfront shack in Poipu, on the South Shore, will make you feel like a kid in a candy store. Routinely voted the best shave ice on the island, Uncle's also has the largest choice of flavors. Skip Bubblegum or Red Velvet Cake in favor of tropical syrups, especially such local ones as Lilikol (passion fruit) and pineapple. Mix them up, like the kids do, for a multi-colored treat, and slurp away.
4. Limahuli Garden - One of three National Tropical Botanical Garden sites on Kauai, this is an oasis of ancient plants and flowers brought here eons ago by voyaging Polynesians. Some grow on hillside terraces built 700 years ago, still irrigated by the original gravity system. Take the somewhat steep Whale Trail to the ocean overlook. Between November and May, the payoff is watching Humpback whale moms teach their calves to swim and feed. It's quite a show.
5. Kalalau Trail - Start no later than mid-morning day to walk about two miles along this cliff-hugging narrow trail on the Napali Coast to Hanakapi'ai Beach. This pristine cove with fine white sand often has a strong riptide, and since there are no lifeguards, swimming is not recommended. The exception is the visiting monk seals, who snooze in the mid-day sun, big brown blobs snoring gently. Bring water and a picnic lunch, since there are no services. The full trail length is 22 miles, and only for the super-fit.
6. Underwater Wonders - The Napali Coast has a resident pod of more than 100 Spinner Dolphins, and watching them jump or surf the wake of a sightseeing boat is a year-round treat. Ditto whale watching. Kauai also is prime territory for snorkeling and scuba diving. The island's signature dive (and a popular snorkel spot) is Sheraton Caverns on the South Shore, a blown-out lava formation with overhangs and archways, with black coral, sea turtles and the occasional manta ray and shark. SeaSport Divers offers free introductory morning lessons in the Poipu Shop pool, and a so-called "resort dive" in shallow water (no more than 40 feet) in the afternoon.