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;
On our last trip we flew with Virgin Atlantic from London to Los Angeles (around 10 hours). Then we always stay overnight at the Marriott LAX airport to break up the trip a bit. Once you’ve done the long haul to the USA, the next part of the trip is around 5-6 hours, direct from LA to Lihue. We have flown with United Airlines the last two trips. It’s a 5-6 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 until you approach the islands!
We hire a car with Avis from Lihue for the hour drive along the Kuhio highway to the very North of the island (see below!)
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 – if there are cars waiting to cross, common courtesy dictates around 5-7 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 the Jurassic Park movie!
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 at 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…..
“A Beachfront Hideaway Unlike Any Other”
Paradise found @ Hanalei Colony Resort
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, with no TV, no air con, and the only sounds are the surf and the wind (and an incredibly loud bullfrog), then read on….
The Colony Resort is set on the stunning Robinson Crusoe-esque Kepuhi beach. There are usually only a handful of other people enjoying the beach, or trying out a bit of snorkelling. Sometimes we’ve had it more or less to ourselves!
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. The units vary slightly in terms of modernisation, but they are all in lovely condition, with large ceiling fans and 1960s style furniture. We’ve stayed in two different ones so far, and I’d be happy to provide further details if you’re wondering which part of the property may suit you best.
The resort is self-catering, with full kitchen, cooker, microwave, huge fridge and coffee maker, as well as plates, cutlery etc. If you need any little extras, the housekeeping staff should be able to help you out with some items.
There are two large fully stocked bbq areas (charcoal or gas), a guest laundry room, a nice swimming pool and jacuzzi.
The staff at the resort are friendly and helpful. The housekeeping staff also do a really good job. They will leave you to your own devices and respect your privacy – but if you need help with anything, there is usually someone around. It’s nice to see that many of the staff members have remained the same over the past 3 years.
Buying supplies and where to eat
On our way from Lihue airport, we fill the car with supplies for a few days, usually at Safeway in Kapaa town, (of course “supplies” includes wine and champagne!). We stay at HCR for around 12 nights or more, and mostly make 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 20/30 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 (that would be me, every day), 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” – a good idea if you want to leave the car behind or have a drink! Best to let them know in advance, as if no-one needs the shuttle they will finish up for the day around 5pm… this is Hawaii after all 😉
Onsite restaurant (Opakapaka Grill and Bar)
This restaurant opened in September 2017, replacing the Mediterranean Gourmet that used to be there. We didn’t have an amazing experience at Opakapaka this year, and much preferred the previous restaurant. There were a lot of staff, but no-one who was really “on the ball” (even taking into account that everything on the islands is more laid back – including at times, customer service!). We were left standing in the reception area for some time waiting for our table (despite booking in advance). After some average food, we were charged for a bottle of wine we never had, along with a couple of other issues. It wasn’t terrible, just not great.
I’d be interested to hear about your experience if you visit. Hopefully they’re just having some teething problems! The location is excellent, with stunning views across the beach and ocean.
Kauai Grill @The St Regis Princeville
Once you’ve 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 an elegant place from which to watch the world go by, and take in the stunning coastal views over to Ha’ena. We were lucky enough to have a table by the window the last time we dined at the Grill.
The food is excellent, with an interesting seasonal menu and fantastic local fish & seafood.
Highly recommended for a luxury dining experience close to Hanalei
Notes on the weather: We travel to Kauai in late December, when temperatures average around the mid 20’s (°C). Of course, you should expect some rainfall. The “Garden Island” is famous for its waterfalls and lush greenery – but the showers rarely last all day, and pass over quickly to leave beautiful sunshine. An overcast day is the perfect time to try out one of the many hiking trails (post on top hikes coming soon!).
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….a challenge 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