Kauai, the Garden Isle
Kauai is known as the Garden Isle and is renowned for its vibrant emerald vegetation, white beaches, ragged green mountains and glorious hiking grounds.
Of all the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai can be best characterized by the spirit of aloha passed on from local residents to newcomers and visitors alike. This is a belief in finding the good in everyone, friend or stranger and makes the people of Kauai reputedly some of the friendliest inhabitants of Hawaii.
Kauai is famed for the Kauai Mokihana Festival, the Hawaii International Film Festival and the famous May Day, or Lei Day events. The town of Waimea is known for hosting many of these festivals and celebrations, including the popular song fests in February that last for ten weeks as well as the Waimea Town Celebration which features an outrigger canoe race. There always seem to be events and exciting things to do in Hawaii, but Kauai is clearly the island of festivals.
Kauai is famed for its many small towns that possess deep historical significance. The island has ancient artifacts dating back to the first century. Many recognize Kauai as being the most history-rich of the islands, as the 1778 landing of Captain James Cook at Waimea was what introduced Hawaii to the outside world.
Kauai History and Fun Facts
The official color of Kauai is purple and the flower is the mokihana.
Some of the oldest artifacts from ancient Hawaii originate in Kauai and date as far back as 200 AD.
The Kauai Coffee Plantation is the largest one in the United States and is a popular attraction for visitors.
No building is legally allowed to be taller than a palm tree, as Kauai is known for being eco-friendly.
Kauai is the northernmost major island of the Hawaiian Islands, making it one of the most isolated inhabited land masses on the globe. It is also the oldest of the major Hawaiian Islands.
Kauai grows more taro than any other island in the State. Many local people love taro, and for many newborn babies in Hawaii, it is their first food. Taro root can sometimes grow deep shades of purple, the official Island color.
Kauai’s first sugar mill was founded in 1835 and can be visited on the Koloa Heritage Trail. This trail explores the historic vibrancy of Kauai, while reflecting the modern multiculturalism of the inhabitants today.
The northern side of the island is home to the town of Hanalei, famed for taro farms, art galleries and beautiful Hanalei Bay. Here, you will also find Waioli Mission House and Church, Kilauea Lighthouse and the Na Pali Coast, the famous jagged, mountainous coastline that can only be accessed by hiking, sea tour or helicopter.
The famous Hawaiian green sea turtles also choose several beaches in northern Kauai as their preferred nesting ground.
The east side of the island features Nounou Mountain, commonly known as the Sleeping Giant, the Fern Grotto and Opaeka’a Falls, one of the most accessible and spectacular waterfalls in all of Hawaii.
The south side has the Spouting Horn, a coastal blow hole that is one of the most frequently photographed sites on the island, Koloa Heritage Trail covering 14 historical and geological sites, Koloa town, where you can see the Tree Tunnel of eucalyptus trees planted a century ago and beautiful Poipu Beach Park, which was once voted as America’s best beach.
The west side is the location of the town of Waimea, where famed British explorer Captain James Cook first landed in Hawaii, Hanapepe town, known as Kauai’s biggest little town and art capital of the island, Koke’e State Park, with 45 miles of the best hiking trails in Kauai and Waimea Canyon, popularly referred to as The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.
Must-see Kauai Attractions
Alekoko Menehune Fishpond is a 1,000 year-old fishpond which is said to be built by the mythical menehune people in one night.
Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park feature 45 miles of lush hiking trails and is the home of scenic Kalalau Lookout.
The town of Koloa affords you the opportunity to peek into Kauai’s past history. Here, you visit quaint plantation buildings and shop at stores filled with unique relics and trinkets from the past.
Grove Farm Homestead Museum in Lihue highlights the history of sugar harvesting in Kauai, which was, at one time, the main agricultural industry for over 150 years.
Kauai Museum in also Lihue displays some of the most ancient native Hawaiian artifacts found in the State as well as some of the best locally produced art.
The Wailua River is Hawaii’s only navigable river. Here, you can find many locals and visitors alike enjoying the sport of kayaking.
Step into an adventurous journey across some of the famous swinging bridges in Kauai. Some of the most notable are Hanapepe Swinging Bridge, Waimea Swinging Bridge and the Omao Road Bridge.
Take a film tour by helicopter or car to visit some of the locations that have been shot in over 60 feature films. One place you don’t want to miss is Manawaiopuna Falls which provided the backdrop for the blockbuster movie, Jurassic Park. Unfortunately, you can only view it by air.
Any folklore fanatic should visit the mysterious places where the legendary ancient Hawaiian menehune worked on the island. As the legend goes, these people were very small and very skilled, with god-like strength. Working only at night, the menehune built many sacred places of worship as well as roads, dams and canals. Though the origin of these legends remain uncertain, they have been linked to the Marquesan settlers who arrived on the island somewhere between 200 to 600 AD. Supposedly, their work can be seen in all across Kauai, in places like the Alekoko Fishpond, the 900-foot wall near Nāwiliwili Harbor and the Makaweli Quarry in Waimea.
Activities on Kauai are virtually endless for those who enjoy the great outdoors.
A Taste of Kauai
The diverse cuisine in Kauai has influences from Polynesia, Japan, China, Portugal, the Philippines and more. You can find anything from sashimi (raw fish slices, typically tuna) to kalua pig (roasted and smoked shredded pork), lilikoi (passion fruit) and papaya. But you can’t go to Kauai without trying some of the taro that is locally grown on the island. The leaves of the taro plant are dark green and nutritious, while its root, in the form of poi, remains a popular local dish traditionally featured at luaus.
Other traditional dishes include tako poke (octopus), lomi salmon (a mix of diced tomatoes, onions and salted salmon), and haupia (a custard-like coconut dessert). Other local dishes that are eaten almost every day include saimin (Hawaii’s version of ramen), Spam musubi, and teri-burgers (hamburgers marinated in teriyaki sauce). For tips on great restaurants and food tours on Kauai, be sure to check out our detailed Culinary Tours page.
Whether you want to kayak down rivers, taste taro at a luau, hike perilous mountain ranges or explore Hawaiian history through the innumerable sites, festivals and museums, this island promises to provide an adventure-packed vacation.