Kauai is the Hawaiian island where the opening scenes of Jurassic park were filmed. Remember those incredible dramatic mountains with sharp peaks and huge long waterfalls? I remember thinking as a kid how I’d love to see it one day. So I was super excited to go and do my first helicopter trip.
Lindsay and I share a love of nature and hiking, so Kauai was the ideal island to choose to spend the majority of our time in Hawaii. In typical us-style, we wanted to see and do as much as possible, and ended up staying in a different place every night!
We planned four nights camping and one at the luxurious five star St Regis resort… Just to mix things up a bit. It was actually a great decision and an approach I’d take again: after a few amazing days out amongst nature, sleeping to the sound of the waves, hiking and cold showers, we appreciated the five star luxury in a whole new way!! Next time I’d probably have more than one night there though!
Note it was winter there when we visited (December) so we had a mix of sun, cloud and rain, but the temperature was generally in the 20s, except at night when it dipped into the teens a few times. The weather varies hugely and as with many islands there are micro-climates. It’s drier and sunnier in the south and wetter and greener in the north.
Here are my top six highlights of Kauai in winter.
1. Incredible Camp Sites Next to the Ocean
Kauai’s year round warm temperatures make it great for camping, even in winter. All the Kauai state-owned campsites are next to the ocean in beautiful natural settings. They’re super cheap ($3!) but the booking system is Jurassic!! You have to either plan ahead by sending cheques in the post, or turn up in person to get the permits to camp. We stayed at four campsites while on Kauai: Polihale, Salt Lake Park, Haena State Park and Anahola Beach Retreat (a private one).
The facilities at all sites are good but simple, with a BBQ area, a couple of power points, toilets and cold showers. There are also heaps of private camp grounds. Beware of the roosters which are EVERYWHERE on Kauai, bar Polihale!
2. Helicopter Ride Over Kauai!
Kauai is the perfect island to see by helicopter as it’s so varied with it’s rugged peaks and never-ending waterfalls. It was a very exhilarating experience and I was pretty nervous at first. The helicopter rattled so much it looked like the door was going to come off! You get so much closer to mountains in a helicopter, it quite literally took my breath away.
We went with Blue Hawaiian helicopters on a friend’s recommendation, as he told me their helicopters (the Eco Star) are safer. They weren’t cheap, but I figured it was worth it. I’ve since had a conversation with a guy from the navy who told me that all helicopters have the feature he had described!! Oops!
3. Waimea Canyon
Waimea canyon on the west of Kauai was a real highlight for me because it’s so unique. It’s like a green Grand Canyon. There’s a winding road that leads up to it with ocean views and stunning viewpoints along the way. You can see the weather change as you get higher into the mountains with frequent clouds rolling in, showers which then clear to show rainbows over the stunning scenery if you’re lucky.
We were blessed with an amazing rainbow from one of the best viewpoints. It takes about an hour to drive all the way to the top viewpoint and it’s well worth it. The bloody Roosters make it all the way to the top as well!
So many amazing waterfalls on Kauai. Even if it’s raining they’re incredible to see. Typically I have forgotten the name of the ones we saw but some involved a bit of a hike and others were easy to drive to. Wailua is easy to drive to with a lookout point. The one we hiked to was in the Kauai guidebook, I’ll try to find the name.
4. St Regis Hotel, Princeville
Rocking up in our tiny hire car with cheesy Christmas music blaring, packed to the roof with backpacks, camping gear, muddy shoes, bikinis and a half drunk bottle of wine in the door was one of the most hilarious and cringe-worthy moments of the trip. The hotel is super swanky. One of the best I’ve stayed in with an amazing grand entrance.
We were greeted by a super friendly guy who politely commented on how much we’d managed to ram into the tiny car. We awkwardly handed over the keys for the valet to park the car. The whole experience was incredible and we were upgraded to a top floor room with ocean views. We excitedly took photos and made the most of the luxury facilities, swimming pool, cocktails and Jacuzzi.
There was a stunning colourful sunset over the hotel’s private beach set against the backdrop of dramatic mountains and palm trees. We ate at a local tiki bar in Hanapei…and met a guy who by bizarre coincidence grew up in my tiny home town in England before moving to America. Plus Lindsey knew the pizza place below where his friend lived, just outside of New York. It really is a small world.
5. Cute Villages
On Kauai there are so many gorgeous little tropical towns with independent stores, friendly locals, and the stunning unique backdrop of green mountains and palm trees.
This town is really quaint despite being fairly touristy, with plenty of independent boutiques and food vans. It’s super lush and tropical and green because of its location on the north side of the Island where it rains more. The huge mountains in the background make it super special.
I really fell in love with this little village. It felt like being an old western film with a unique mountain setting. A string of nice little boutiques, art galleries, souvenir shops and a lovely book shop.
Twice we went to a lovely cafe called Little Fish Coffee, where we had some incredible healthy food. Trendy decor and a tranquil tropical backyard seating area. The green ginger acai bowl was delicious. Everything is high quality and generous. It made me want to open a little cafe like that myself one day. We ended up getting into a conversation with a local for almost an hour after I asked if I could pat his dog. We couldn’t escape, he just wouldn’t stop talking! He was so friendly.
Driving through this pretty town we wished we could stop to look in some of the boutiques decorated with colourful fairy lights for Christmas. But we didn’t have time. One of the shops sold all things made from bamboo!!
Wow, what an adventure, in only a few days!
Hiking is one obvious highlight I missed off the list. The scenic walking trails are among the most popular activities on Kauai, and I’ve only left hiking off because we didn’t have time to do many serious hikes while I was there. But after I left Lindsay did the famous Kalalau Trail, and it looks incredible!! Check out her amazing (and much more professional) photos here: 25 EPIC PHOTOS OF KAUAI’S NA PALI COAST & KALALAU TRAIL