3 Days in Kauai

Getting to Kauai from Auckland, New Zealand - Air New Zealand and Hawaiian Airlines

During the summer of 2019, I spent two weeks visiting Australia and New Zealand. To return home, I found it was cheaper to purchase a direct flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Honolulu, Hawaii. Once in Honolulu, I booked a separate flight from Honolulu to Minneapolis. Since I was already going to stop in Hawaii to switch planes, I figured I would spend a few days relaxing in Kauai.

To get to Kauai, I first flew from Auckland, New Zealand to Honolulu. Air New Zealand provided wonderful service on their Boeing 787. I booked a “Skycouch” seat, which meant that I had an entire row to myself. The Skycouch rows come with an extender that extends the seat to cover up all of the legroom. This extension provides more room to lay down and sleep.

Once I arrived in Honolulu, I had to clear passport control. Since I had a separate ticket on Hawaiian Airlines, from Honolulu to Lihue Airport on the island of Kauai, I then had to collect my baggage, clear customs, and then check-in with Hawaiian Airlines. Three hours provided plenty of time to complete these tasks. 

The flight from Honolulu to Lihue is on Hawaiian Airlines’ inner island fleet of Boeing 717’s. The flight only took around twenty minutes from take-off to landing.

Air New Zealand 787 - Auckland to Honolulu
Air New Zealand 787 - Auckland to Honolulu
Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717
Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717

3 Days in Kauai - Table of Contents

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Where To Say in Kauai - Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay

I chose to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay. The hotel was located on the beach and was only a five-minute drive from the airport. Being a Hilton Honors Gold Member, I often get upgraded, and my standard king room was quickly upgraded to a premium double room. The premium double room used to be a junior suite before it was remodeled.

The cost of my stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay was $676 for three nights. I felt that this hotel provided all of the amenities that would be expected from a Hilton branded hotel. The room was comfortable, the shower had good water pressure, and the air conditioning kept the room cool. The hotel also had a pool, beach access, and free parking.

Premium Double Room - Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay
Premium Double Room
This Room Used to be a Junior Suite at the Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay
This Room Used to be a Junior Suite
Premium Double Room at Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay
Looking Towards the Entrance

Getting Around Kauai - Rent a Car

The easiest way to get around Kauai is to rent a car. While there is public transportation, taxis, and other cheaper options, most of the attractions are spread out. Despite being one of Hawaii’s smallest islands, very few places are within walking distance from the hotels. So to ensure that I was able to see as much of Kauai as possible, I chose to rent a car.

I went with the company Alamo because it was the cheapest, and typically Alamo does not place a hold on my credit card. The cost of a midsize sedan was $168 (including taxes) for three days. Alamo’s lot was not located at Lihue airport, but it only took a five-minute shuttle ride to get to the rental lot.

The Lihue Airport Alamo had multiple intermediate size cars lined up in the same row. I chose a blue Hyundai Elantra.

As I drove around Kauai, I mostly stuck to the Kuhio Highway (Hawaii Route 56) but also did spend some time driving through the interior.

What To See in Kauai - Hanalei Valley Lookout

During my first day of sightseeing, I set out towards Wainiha on the Kuhio Highway (Hi 56).  As I came around a bend, I saw a sign for a scenic turnout.  The turnout prompted an unplanned stop at the Hanalei Valley Lookout.  While I only spent five minutes taking pictures and looking at the view, the Hanalei Valley Lookout provided a beautiful view of the interior.  It was easy to see why they call Kauai the “Garden Island.”

Hanalei Valley Lookout - Kauai, Hawaii
Hanalei Valley Lookout
A Nice View from the Hanalei Valley Lookout - Kauai, Hawaii
A Nice View from the Hanalei Valley Lookout

Where to Swim in Kauai - Hanalei Beach

Hanalei Beach

As I continued down the Kuhio Highway, I came to my first planned stop, Hanalei Beach. Hanalei beach is famous for its giant waves, as well as the contrast the green vegetation creates with the crystal clear blue water. As I walked down the beach, I was surprised by how few people were there. A lack of people would become a theme as I explored the beaches of Kauai.

Hanalei Beach definitely lived up to its description. While the waves were not twenty footers, they did create a stunning image as they crashed into the brown sand. Adding the greenery and palm trees in the background to the waves and the sand created some stunning pictures.

Hanalei Beach - Kauai, Hawaii
Hanalei Beach
Palm Trees Near Hanalei Beach
Palm Trees Near Hanalei Beach
Waves Crashing at Hanalei Beach
Waves Crashing at Hanalei Beach

What To See in Kauai - Makahoa Point Lookout

Makahoa Point Lookout

As I continued to drive towards Wainiha, I came across another turnout.  After parking the rental car, I looked towards the water to see some beautiful rock formations disappearing and reappearing below the crashing waves.  Later on, I would realize that I was looking at Makahoa Point.  

While it was slightly difficult to walk down the rocky coast, it was necessary to get the best views.  This difficulty was caused by the fact that there was no actual pathway.  I did slip one time, but I was never in danger off the edge or into the water.  

To access this lookout, pull off to the right just before heading downhill towards Lamaha’i Beach.  From the Makahoa Point Lookout, it is possible to see Lamaha’i Beach.

Looking Out Towards Makahoa Point - Kauai, Hawaii
Looking Out Towards Makahoa Point
Waves Crashing Over the Rocks at Makahoa Point
Waves Crashing Over the Rocks
Interesting Trees Near Makahoa Point Lookout - Kauai, Hawaii
Interesting Trees
Looking Towards Hanalei Beach from Makahoa Point
Looking the Opposite Way (Towards Hanalei Beach)

Where to Swim in Kauai - Lumaha'i Beach

Lumaha'i Beach

I could see Lumaha’i Beach from the Makahoa Point Lookout. Lumaha’i Beach is a wide beach with tons of sand and plenty of open space. There are plenty of spots on the beach where I could have sat and felt totally alone.

One of the unique things about Lumaha’i Beach is that it is where the Lumaha’i River flows into the Pacific Ocean. Standing in the river, close to the mouth, there was a place where the incoming waves from the Pacific would push my upper body towards the river, and the flow of the river would push my lower body towards the ocean. It was a really unique feeling, especially since the water temperatures were vastly different.

I spent about 45 minutes at Lumaha’i Beach before I got back into my rental car and continued my drive down the Kuhio Highway (HI 560) towards Wainiha.

Lumaha'i Beach Seen from the Makahoa Point Look Out
Lumaha'i Beach Seen from the Makahoa Point Look Out
Lookin Towards the Lumaha'i River from Lumaha'i Beach
Lookin Back Towards the Lumaha'i River
Standing in the Lumaha'i River - Kauai, Hawaii
Standing in the River Looking Towards the Pacific
Standing in the Lumaha'i River - Kauai, Hawaii
Standing in the River Looking Inland
Waves Crashing at Lumaha'i Point
Waves Crashing at Lumaha'i Point
Lumaha'i Beach - Kauai, Hawaii
Looking Opposite of Lumaha'i Point
Lumaha'i Beach
Looking Inland

What To See See in Kauai - Maniniholo Dry Cave

One sight that I had not researched was the Maniniholo Dry Cave. The cave is easy to find as it is right across the street from Wainiha Beach. While it was not on my initial list of sights to see, it looked too interesting to pass up. At the time of my visit, I didn’t realize that the cave was used in the filming of the movie Pirates of the Caribbean.  

The Maniniholo Dry Cave is easy to explore as the ceiling is tall and the floor is mostly sand. A flashlight is not needed since plenty of light enters from the entrance of the cave. The most dangerous part of my visit to the cave was a few stray rocks on the ground that could be a tripping hazard.

For those interested in history, it should be noted that the cave is named after the head fisherman of the Menehune people. The Menehune believed that an Akua, or Evil Spirit, lived in this area and was stealing the Menehune’s fish. To combat the evil spirit, the Menehune dug out the cave to give them a safe place to store their fish.

Maniniholo Dry Cave Entrance
Maniniholo Dry Cave Entrance
Maniniholo Dry Cave - Kauai, Hawaii
Maniniholo Dry Cave
Inside Maniniholo Dry Cave
Inside the Cave
Looking Above the Maniniholo Dry Cave
Above the Cave

Where to Swim in Kauai - Wainiha Beach Park

Right across the street from the Maniniholo Dry Cave is Wainiha Beach Park. “Wainiha” means “unfriendly water.” The beach fits its name as it is famous for its lack of swimming due to strong currents and rip tides. Throughout the years, there have been several drownings at Wainiha Beach.

Despite the dangerous swimming conditions, there is still plenty to do at the beach. Wainiha Beach is a popular shore fishing location due to the lack of a reef sheltering it from the ocean. Add fishing to the endless amount of sand, and the lack of crowds and Wainiha Beach becomes a place worth visiting.

Entrance to Wainiha Beach
Entrance to Wainiha Beach
Wainiha Beach - Kauai, Hawaii
Wainiha Beach
Wainiha Beach
Wainiha Beach
Tsunami Siren at Wainiha Beach
Tsunami Siren at Wainiha Beach

What To See in Kauai - Ha'ena State Park

The last stop on my drive was Ha’ena State Park, which marks the end of the Kuhio Highway. Following a year of being closed due to flooding caused by torrential rains, the state park had just reopened earlier in the summer. Despite reading about needing advanced reservations, I found that the state park was not crowded and there was plenty of parking.

By the time I reached Ha’ena State Park, it was getting late and I would only have about an hour to explore. Due to my lack of time, I did not visit the sea caves or waterfalls. All I had time to do was walk from the parking lot to Ka’e Beach. This beautiful beach was slightly different than the previous beaches I had visited. Much of the shoreline was rocky, which created a much different appearance than the sandy beaches.

For visitors who have plenty of time, there are two recommended hikes. The first hike is 4 miles round trip to Hanakapi’ai beach and the second is 8 miles round trip to Hanakapi’ai Falls.

Ha'ena State Park Parking Lot
Ha'ena State Park Parking Lot
Path to Get to Ka'e Beach - Ha'ena State Park
Path to Get to Ka'e Beach
Path to Get to Ka'e Beach - Ha'ena State Park
Path to Get to Ka'e Beach
Rocky Shoreline at Ka'e Beach - Kauai, Hawaii
Rocky Shoreline at Ka'e Beach
A Cruise Ship Seen from Ka'e Beach
A Cruise Ship Seen from Ka'e Beach

Ha’ena State Park ended my sightseeing for the day.  I was able to travel the entire Kuhio Highway in around 8 hours and see all of the sights on my list.  The next day would take me into the interior of the Garden Island to see Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast.

Waimea Canyon Lookout

What To See in Kauai - Waimea Canyon Lookout

My second day of touring the Garden Island of Kauai took me to the interior to view Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast. The route up to Waimea Canyon was spectacular, although it took more than an hour to drive the 30 miles of switchbacks to get to Waimea Canyon. I stopped a few times on the drive to take pictures. It was especially amazing when I got to an elevation where I could see the Pacific Ocean all around me.

The Drive to Waimea Canyon
The Drive to Waimea Canyon
The Drive to Waimea Canyon
The Drive to Waimea Canyon

When I arrived at Waimea Canyon, I first used my credit card to pay for a parking pass.  The cost of the pass was $5 and covered both Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast Lookouts.  After paying, and displaying the pass on my rental car, I walked up to the lookout to take in the spectacular views of Waimea Canyon.

Waimea Canyon Lookout Sign
Waimea Canyon Lookout
Parking Payment Terminals at Waimea Canyon Lookout
Parking Payment Terminals

The view from the observation area was stunning and cannot be fully appreciated through photographs. I have been to a lot of canyons, including the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. In my opinion, Waimea Canyon is the most spectacular canyon I’ve ever seen. The colorful rocks and the contrast of the green vegetation with the blue sky create a memorizing view that is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

There are additional lookouts on the way to the Waimea Canyon Lookout, but none of the views are as spectacular as the official lookout. I highly recommend the drive for anyone who is visiting the Island of Kauai.

Waimea Canyon Viewing Platform
Waimea Canyon Viewing Platform
Waimea Canyon - Kauai, Hawaii
Waimea Canyon
A Waterfall at Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon Waterfall
Waimea Canyon on the Island of Kahai
Waimea Canyon

What To See in Kauai - The Napali Coast from Kalalua Lookout

Kalalua Lookout

Following my time at the Waimea Canyon Lookout, I continued through the interior to the Kalalau Lookout. The Kalalau Lookout provides views of the Napali Coast. I was lucky that the weather cooperated during my visit, as often the Napali Coast is not visible due to frequent rainstorms.

When visiting the interior of Kauai, the Kalalau Lookout is a “must-see.” Even if you visit the Napali Coast on a boat or helicopter tour, I highly recommend this stunning lookout. As I walked down the Kalalau Lookout path, the view and vegetation began changing. Below my pictures of the Napali Coast, you will see some pictures of Wai’ale’ale, which is one of the wettest spots of Earth.

During my visit to the Kalalau Lookout, a storm rolled in allowing me to see what the Napali Coast looks like in zero visibility. After doing some additional research, I considered myself lucky as it seemed like it was rare to have blue skies and clear views of the Napali Coast.

Kalalau Lookout Sign
Kalalau Lookout
View of the Napali Coast from the Kalalau Lookout
View of the Napali Coast
View from the Kalalau Lookout - Kauai, Hawaii
Looking Away from the Napali Coast
The Napali Coast - Kauai, Hawaii
The Napali Coast on the Island of Kauai

From the Kalalau Lookout, there is a path that leads down to Wai’ale’ale.  The path is rugged and was difficult to walk on, especially since I was in sandals.  I walked about 1 mile towards Wai’ale’ale before the weather forced me to turn back.

Wai'ale'ale is One of the Wettest Places on Earth
Wai'ale'ale is One of the Wettest Places on Earth

Below are pictures of the same views as above after the storm rolled in.  It was an amazing sight to see and a great example of a rain-shadow effect to share with my global studies students.

Clouds Moving In Near Wai'ale'ale
Clouds Moving In
Clouds Over Wai'ale'ale - One of the Wettest Places on Earth
Clouds Over Wai'ale'ale - One of the Wettest Places on Earth
Wai'ale'ale Path
Wai'ale'ale Path
Clouds Over Wai'ale'ale
The Clouds Have Arrived
Clear View of the Napali Coast
Clouds Over Wai'ale'ale

After watching the storm, I returned to my rental car and drove back towards my hotel just outside of Lihue. The drive to the interior was slow, and at times frustrating. I spent more time in the car than I did looking at the sights, but I thought it was definitely worth the travel time. The Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon were the highlights of my visit to the Garden Island of Kauai.

Where To Eat in Kauai - L&L Hawaiian Barbecue

From 2002 until 2016, I lived in Las Vegas and frequented L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. Since moving to Minnesota in 2016, I had not been able to eat Hawaiian Barbecue. I was thankful to have multiple opportunities to visit L&L during my three days on the Island of Kauai. If you are looking for a cheaper food option, I highly recommend the Barbeque Beef from L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.

&L Hawaiian Barbecue - Kauai, Hawaii
One of the Many L&L Hawaiian Barbecues
L&L Hawaiian Barbecue - Hawaiian Barbecue Beef with Rice and Macaroni Salad
Hawaiian Barbecue Beef with Rice and Macaroni Salad

Some Tour Options - Kauai Tours

When I visited Kauai I did not take any tours.  For me, it was more fun to explore on my own without the expertise of a guide.  For those who prefer to take a tour, I have linked some of the best looking tours below.  In addition to providing a knowledgeable guide, some of these tours allow visitors to better see the sights from a helicopter or boat.

 I am an affiliate partner of Viator.  If you book a tour using one of the links below I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.  I would greatly appreciate it if you would consider booking using one of my links.

Prices are accurate as of May 2023.

Snorkal the Napali Coast Tour
Na Pali and Ni'ihau The Forbidden Island Kauai Snorkel Cruise - $357.34

Sail past the soaring Na Pali sea cliffs on this 7-hour snorkeling adventure, and discover the secrets of the "Forbidden Island" when cruising the waters off Ni'ihau. Voyage in style and comfort aboard Kauai’s fastest 65-foot (20m) power catamaran, and snorkel a remote, pristine reef that bursts with colorful fish. This amazing tour is offered daily, where you'll experience the beauty of 4,000-foot cliffs, sea caves, and cascading waterfalls, and enjoy a delicious on-board lunch as well as a continental breakfast.

Kauai Helicopter Tour
Kauai Eco Adventure Helicopter Tour - $447.00

Join us on a first class ECO Adventure over the Garden Isle of Kauai. You'll fly the incredible new American Eurocopter Eco-Star, which reduces overflight noise by approximately 50%, has individual Business Class style seats, two-way communication with your pilot, and expansive glass for outstanding sweeping views of Kauai's incomparable natural beauty. Your flight begins with a flight to spectacular Hanapepe Valley, then Mana Waiapuna, also referred to as "Jurassic Park Falls." Then you'll travel up to the Olokele Canyon before moving on to Waimea Canyon, the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." Complete your tour with stunning views of the Na Pali coast and Bali Hai Cliffs, pristine Hanalei Bay, and weather permitting, Mt Waialeale, the wettest spot on earth.

Waimera Canyon Tour
Kauai Waimea Canyon and Wailua River - $269.69

Enjoy a day filled with the beauty, legends and stories of Kauai, the Garden Island, on a Waimea Canyon Kauai tour! This fully guided scenic tour takes you to Kauai Waimea Canyon and Wailua River, with plenty of photo stops along the way.

Kauai Helicopter Tour
Kauai Small-Group Helicopter and Land Tour of Hanapepe Valley, Waimea Canyon - $807.28

Fly from Ohahu to Lihue, Kauai and enjoy a guided small-group tour of Kauai by land and helicopter. The land portion of your combination tour covers Kauai's most beautiful sites including Ahukini Landing, Lydgate Beach, Kilauea, Princeville, Kapa’a and Kealia Overlook. In the afternoon, take flight in a helicopter to enjoy aerial views of Hanapepe Valley, Waimea Canyon and Hanalei Bay. Your tour includes round-trip transportation from your centrally located Waikiki hotel and lunch at Tahiti Nui restaurant.

Entire Kauai Island Air Tour
Entire Kauai Island Air Tour - $159.00

The only way to see the entire garden island of Kauai is by plane on a Kauai air tour! Enjoy the breathtaking scenery of Kauai from a new Airvan aircraft, and be seduced by the amazing one of a kind panoramic views you'll only get to see from the sky on a Kauai island air tour. This is an air tour the whole family will enjoy and love!

Wailua River Kayak Tour
Paddle Kauai Jungle Streams - $124.54

Paddle down the Wailua River, a beautiful and historic jungle stream, deep into the heart of the island on a kayaking Kauai day trip. This Kauai hiking tour takes you through lush jungle on a hike up the valley to a 100-foot (30 meter) waterfall, swimming in the pool below and enjoying a delicious picnic lunch. Delight in the native and exotic botanical wonders in a fantasy world of Hawaiian jungle scenery!

Kauai Learn fro Surf
Kauai Learn to Surf Lesson - Private & Group Lessons - $94.12

Looking for something different to do this summer in Kauai? You've always wanted to surf, and now here's your opportunity to learn how with Kauai surfing lessons! What could be better than surfing on Hanalei Bay, with an expert local surfer to teach you the moves with a Kauai surfing lesson.

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