I have always wanted to visit the Island of Kauai in Hawaiian region to soak the beauty it offers. The environment there is much more tranquil than the other islands in Hawaii. I have been to Oahu, Big Island, and Maui in 2008 and was not sure what to expect in Kauai. I did hear great things from my friends who had been there prior to my trip.
I did a lot of research on locations before getting there mainly from a photographer's point of view. The side effect of this is fellow travelers get to see great places while the photographer is busy clicking :)
I booked my trip through Costco vacations to travel during December holidays. As expected, it was expensive as it is peak travel season in the US.
My agenda was slightly on the busier side and if traveling with families, I suggest adding a day or two to cover what I did.
We took a direct flight at 7 am from San Jose to Lihue. We grabbed Cinnabon and sandwich breakfast in the airport which woke up the kids.
We landed around 11 am Hawaii time. By the time we took the rental car out of the airport, it was noon.
We stopped by the nearby Walmart which is less than 5 mins from the airport to pick up some groceries and food items for the week. We ate out most of the time but knowing my early bird nature during vacations, I decided to keep some breakfast in the hotel for kids and myself. There's a Safeway also in town for those who look for more elaborate grocery for cooking.
I knew our hotel check-in was not until 3 pm. So we decided to grab lunch at Pietro's Pizza near the resort. We ordered a pizza with Pineapple topping to mark the arrival at Hawaii.
I also checked the tour agency (Activities of Kauai, Managed by Tom Harcher) in the same building and enquired about Helicopter tours, snorkeling boat tours at the same time. I wish I had enquired about the kayak tour also on the same day as I ended up compromising on timings due to late decision.
My kids spotted Skinny Mike's Hawaiian Ice cream in the same building. We couldn't resist the temptation to eat Pineapple ice cream (which became my favorite) and ended up having 4 days during my vacation!
After lunch and ice cream, we checked in and settled in our hotel room around 4 pm and headed to the Poipu beach area for sunset. This was a calm beach with kid-friendly shallows. Sunset was nice both from the ground and aerial perspective. Tree Tunnel on the way to Poipu beach is a popular attraction. Worth a quick stop on the way IN or OUT of the beach road.
I also made a reservation for our helicopter tour with Jack Harters for Sunday afternoon as that gets sold out fast. Since we were 4 of us and wanted the doors-off tour option. I checked the weather forecast and picked Sunday.
We got back to the hotel and went to the swimming pool and spa for some relaxation. The pool was one of the best I have seen in resorts with a great layout of spas.
I woke up and headed to Lydgate State Park for sunrise and drove up the hill to Opteka Falls to get some early morning views. Got back to the hotel room and took the family on the same route to view Opteka falls en route to the peaceful Iraivan Temple.
This temple is one of the best Hindu temples in a serene setting with banyan trees and waterfalls around. The temple closes at 12 noon on Sundays. We could spend just about an hour inside the temple.
With 2.30 pm check-in for our helicopter tour with Jack Harters. We tried to grab a quick lunch in Subway on the way to the hotel to dress up in warm layers for the aerial tour.
It is important to bundle up with warm jackets and full pants on a open door helicopter tour as it gets pretty windy and cold up at 4000 ft. The helicopter tour was 60 mins long and it is one of the best experiences I have had in my lifetime. Our family thoroughly enjoyed it for most part except on occasions when my daughter felt we would crash while flying through fog and volcanos :)
We got back to the hotel after the tour and were tired to do any other activities that evening. I had also planned a long day of driving on Monday as we were not bound by any activity scheduled on that day.
I headed north for sunrise to Hanalei bay area. Stopped by the Kilauea lighthouse point and Hanalei pier during sunrise. Flew my drone over the pier area; grabbed some coffee and stopped at Kappa beach before driving back to the hotel.
After breakfast with family in the room, we drove west to Waimea Canyon. A local map pointed us to drive all the way to Kalalau Lookout point. We had packed picnic lunch with Maui potato chips for side. Kids wanted to eat local food and we picked up sandwich and wrap at Kalaheo Coffee & Cafe. I rate their food highly as they had a good selection of vegetarian options for us.
Drive to Waimea was beautiful and windy. It is recommended to use dramamine for little children as it gets windy near the summit. We opened our indian meal with chips for lunch and were greeted by Roosters of Kauai :)
We spent 3-4 hours on the drive stopping at random vistas and feasting on local mangos and pineapple.
Some of the points along the canyon are breathtakingly beautiful. Soak in the atmosphere and dress up in layers as weather in the area can be unpredictable with rain and fog. On the way back from the Canyon, we stopped for sunset at Salt Creek Pond Beach. This is another family friendly beach like Poipu beach. We got back to the hotel and settled down by relaxing in the SPA after dinner.
The only activity we had planned for Monday was the Luau show at Smith's Garden Luau, which is the best in the island.
Since we don't eat seafood or meat, Luau ONLY option without dinner worked better for us. It was a great performance with traditional Hawaiian music and fire dance in the end was the highlight.
Our snorkeling tour was booked with Blue Dolphin Charters through Activities of Kauai.
Our reporting time was at 7 am in Port Allen, which was a 45 min drive from Lihue resort. We had an early start and got to the dock around 6.50 am.
Since it was a windy day, the tour didn't take the planned Na Pali coast route and ended up going south where the waters were a calm. Our kids and I enjoyed snorkeling spotting a few Honu's (Hawaiian Turtles). Our snorkeling tour got doubled up as Whale watching tour as our captain took us near some breaching whales and dolphins in the area.
By the time we got done with the snorkeling tour it was 3 pm. We were tired of boat food and were looking for something more palatable after getting off the boat. We had a happy meal and headed to the resort beach and rested few hours. Evening, we drove up to the Wailua Falls which is only 15 min drive from our resort. It started raining within few minutes of our arrival and we took some selfies with umbrellas before heading back to the room and enjoyed sunset from the resort.
This is the only day, we skipped the swimming agenda in our resort as we had done snorkeling that morning.
Instead, we walked to our favorite Skinny Mike's ice cream shop after dinner.
Rain at Wailua waterfalls the previous evening meant I had to make a repeat sunrise trip to the same spot. I started my day at Wailua waterfalls and took some beautiful aerial videos and snapshots. We had planned to drive up to north shore later during the day. So I returned soon after sunrise and prepared for the long day trip to north shore.
Drive to Hanalei Bay, which is one of the most beautiful beaches in Kauai was an hour and half long. But with my customory stops for drone flying, it was already noon by the time we got to Hanalei town. While looking for some lunch options we ran into this great food truck area with tons of options.
My kids were insisting that we get some hummus wrap at Hanalei Taro and Juice Co truck. While kids were waiting to pick up, my wife and I walked a block to look for other options and noticed a huge crowd in another food truck area. To our surprise, we saw an Indian Food Truck called Cafe Turmeric. They had some great veggie options with Dal, Sabzi and Rice and we couldn't resist the temptation to pick that. It was slightly pricey, but hey, it is Indian food in the middle of Kauai!
We did end up sharing our Indian food with our kids too :)
Northshore has some of the most amazing scenery in Kauai. We drove to Ke'e State Beach Park. Luckily rain stopped and we were able to spend a hour in the beach. Rough weather with heavy surf forced us to stay away from the water in north shore. Later on I learnt, north shore is calm during summer months and rough during winter.
I now have a reason to make a Kauai trip in summer to enjoy calm north shore. We stopped at the Hanalei village for coffee before heading back to Lihue resort area.
I woke up for sunrise right near my resort in Lihue and found a wonderful spot to shoot sunrise just before the end of my trip. Wish I had searched somewhere close by on Day 2.
After doing an afternoon helicopter ride on Day 2, I had planned on doing another early morning tour with the same company on this day. I went alone with a different camera set up and got some pictures under different lighting conditions. My recommendation is to do either an early morning tour or late afternoon one as the light is beautiful revealing shadows of Na Pali mountains.
The third big activity we did as a family besides Snorkeling and Helicopter ride was River Kayaking. We somehow managed to get a reservation with Kayak Kauai company for Thursday afternoon. My favorite tour agent Tom helped me secure a spot in 2 tandem kayaks in the guided river kayaking tour. We got to the Kayak around noon and started paddling around 12.30 on a 2 mile river kayak. Once we reached the forest through some canopies, we had to hike for 45 minutes in slushy mud for a mile to reach the secret waterfalls. Our guide was amazing and friendly. My wife and daughter were on one kayak, while my son and I paddled the other one. Paddling in the Wailua river was so peaceful and relaxing. Hike was also so refreshing in the middle of rainforest. It was comforting to know that Kauai doesn't have snakes :) I was able to hike without any fear.
My daughter got to swim in the waterfalls and we got in with her too. Our tour offered sandwich lunch with chips and drink. It was just enough for the activity. Our guide warned that we will struggle a bit on the return due to wind and paddling against the current and he was right! It was an uphill task paddling on the way back and was a good workout for me as my son was tiring fast. After the Kayaking work out, we deserved a good meal and we stopped by the Thai Street Food for dinner.
Picked up some Yellow Curry rice, Kung Pao noodles and spring rolls for dinner. We spent time at the SPA before going to bed that night.
I drove up to Waimea Pier for Sunrise and flew my drone in that area. Town of Waimea is a different side of Kauai with local shops and natives. I also stopped by the tree tunnel to take some pictures before heading back to the hotel for breakfast with my family.
At Safeway on the way, I picked up some spinach wraps for in-flight lunch and we had just enough time to pack and leave for the airport.
Our flight was around 3 pm and we left for airport around 1pm. Returned the car and got through security. Give yourself additional 30 mins to get clearance on bags from Hawaiian food controls in the airport.
Our return flight felt quicker and was in deed shorter due to tailwind. We reached San Jose airport late evening and got back home and headed to Chaat House Cupertino for dinner:)