I’m really excited to be writing this post. Kauai is perhaps the most beautiful, serene, untamed and magical place in the world. A land of stunning (often deserted) beaches, wild surf, lush forests and hidden waterfalls. Of rolling hills and fiery sunsets and untamed wilderness. I can’t imagine anyone visiting Kauai and not wanting to just stay there forever. You have to go if at all possible. End of post.
Of course I’m going to write more.. but I can’t do this island (or Hawaii) justice in one post.. so this will be my first intro to Kauai and Hanalei, including where to stay, getting there and practical tips to ensure you enjoy the island as much as I do.
I’ll admit, despite being well travelled, and having seen some of the USA, I didn’t know a lot about Hawaii, bar the obvious TV series (I did actually see Danno having dinner in Waikiki.. but that’s a story for another time), Hula dancers and Pearl Harbor. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to name all the islands, and to me it seemed like a far off land.
The Hawaiian islands are a very important place to my American partner – he has lived there and then visited many times, so I was assured of an expert guide on my travels! So, here goes.. some of my tips and favourite spots;
The first time we visited Kauai, we flew with Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu (on Oahu) to Lihue (a 30 minute island hop where you’ll be served a nice cup of tropical juice!). Last year, we flew directly into Lihue from Los Angeles with United Airlines. It’s around a 6 hour flight over 2,500 miles of ocean from the West Coast to the Hawaiian Islands – so there’s not much to see out of the window!
Because we come long haul from Europe, we stay overnight at the Marriott LAX to break up the trip a bit. Then we’re more fresh the next day for the last leg. If you already live on the West Coast, it’s just a little day trip ; )
We hire a car with Avis from Lihue for the hour drive along the Kuhio highway to the very North of the island.
Once you get past Princeville (which I’ll come back to later), you’ll drive over the wooden one lane Hanalei Bridge (Local etiquette is important here – common courtesy dictates around 4-5 cars over the bridge before stopping and waiting for drivers from the other side). Then you’ll go through the little town of Hanalei, past surf shacks, bikini shops, and eateries, surrounded by lush green hills & mountains straight out of Jurassic Park.
After Hanalei, as you continue North, the road gets more sketchy and the landscape more remote (and stunning!). You’ll drive over more one-lane bridges, and on winding narrow roads with sheer drops down to Lumaha’i beach and the ocean on one side, and warnings of rock falls on the other. In the passenger seat, especially as night, it can be a bit of a hair raising experience – luckily I trust my driver : )
Eventually you’ll arrive at Ha’ena, and what is in my opinion, the only place to stay on the island…..
Hanalei Colony Resort (from now on I’ll refer to it as HCR!)
“A Beachfront Hideaway Unlike Any Other”
I couldn’t have put it better myself. The link above will take you to the website, where you’ll find all the information on booking etc.
Let me start off by saying this – if you’re looking for a 5* hotel with multiple swimming pools, bars, Michelin restaurants and many American tourists with their college kids on their Christmas break.. stop reading now… and I recommend you head down the road to Princeville. If you’re looking for a relaxing, self-catering paradise, where you often have a beach to yourself, there’s no TV, no air con, and the only sounds are the surf and the wind, then read on….
The Colony Resort is set on the stunning Robinson Crusoe-esque Kepuhi beach. I went out for a walk one afternoon and literally had it to myself! I walked West along the sand towards Tunnels Beach and saw a just-married couple having beautiful photos taken. We were the only people along a couple of miles of beach!
All the units are privately owned, so essentially you’re staying in someone’s apartment during your time there. They look after the units and expect you to do the same. We’ve stayed in the same unit twice, which we really like because of the corner view (I think it’s number C3). I think they vary in terms of modernisation, but they are all in lovely condition, with large ceiling fans and 1960s style furniture.
The resort is self-catering, with a full kitchen, with cooker, microwave, fridge and coffee maker, as well as plates, cutlery etc. If you need any little extras, like salt, pepper etc, you can go down to the housekeeping window (next to the laundry room & pool area), and ask the very friendly staff what they have.
There are two large fully stocked bbq areas (one charcoal, and I think the ones near the pool area are gas), a laundry room with coin operated machines (you can buy washing powder at reception), a nice swimming pool and jacuzzi.
Housekeeping is done every 3 days, unless you specifically request it more often. All the staff at the resort are efficient, friendly, and really helpful. They also seem to like their job – which obviously you would do if you worked in paradise ; ) They will leave you to your own devices and respect your privacy – but if you need help with anything, there is always someone around.
Buying supplies and where to eat
On our way from Lihue airport, we do a big shop of basic supplies in Kapaa town, enough for a few meals, and of course wine and champagne! Last year we stayed at HCR for 12 nights, and mostly made our own meals. Once you’re there, the closest shop of any kind to HCR is in Hanalei (Big Save) or Princeville (Foodland), around a 15/20 min drive.
There is also a fantastic local bakery, the Hanalei Bread Company, which also has good take away coffee. I’ve never been up early enough to snap up the freshly baked loaves, so you’ll have to let me know if you try them!
If you don’t feel like cooking, the Hanalei Bay Pizzeria (in the Ching Young centre) does great home made pizzas with creative local toppings.
The resort also offers a shuttle service for “beach, shopping or dining” . I haven’t used it so I’m not sure how late it runs – but a good idea if you want to leave the car behind or have a drink!
This on-site restaurant offers a mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, using delicious local ingredients. The dining area has huge windows overlooking the ocean. NB – it can be cold if you’re near the window, especially in the winter!
We discovered (by accident) that they have an amazing event called Wine Wednesday (also Saturday!) where all their bottles of wine are half price! The first time they told us about it, I was buying dinner, so I was pretty excited!
We eat here at least a couple of times when we’re staying at HCR, and the food has always been great. They usually have some form of entertainment, such as a hula dancer or guitar players, and it has a nice local atmosphere.
Kauai Grill @The St Regis Princeville
If you’re getting a little too relaxed, and have been living in your bikini and denim shorts for a week, you may feel like getting dressed up and heading out to see what’s going on in the real world.
The St Regis is a typical 5* luxury resort, a night and day difference to the serenity of HCR. It can be a bit of a shock to leave your island paradise! But all of Kauai is beautiful, and this restaurant has stunning coastal views over to Ha’ena. The restaurant is opulently decorated in dark, rich colours with dimmed lighting, creating a very expensive looking setting, and showcasing the vista outside.
The food is excellent, with an interesting seasonal menu and fantastic local fish & seafood.
Highly recommended for a luxury dining experience close to Hanalei
We travel to Kauai and Hawaii in late December, so my experience is based on that season. It’s not as hot as the summer months, but it’s a lot quieter, so if you can travel in the winter, and you’re looking to avoid the crowds, I would recommend it!
I hope you have been inspired to check out this remote side of Kauai if your travels are taking you in that direction. It is an experience of a lifetime to visit this beautiful island paradise.
Like I said, I could talk about this place all day.. but I’ll save some for another post! Next time I’ll be talking about activities and day trips on Kauai, including a helicopter ride over the island with no doors….not for the Acrophobic among us!
I’d love to hear from you with any comments or questions on this or other topics on my site and you can sign up below to receive notifications of new posts.
Until then, travel safe 🙂