Kauai: South Shore Poipu area, activities & sightseeing

In my previous post about the sunny South shore of Kauai, I talked about my experiences and recommendations for accommodation, dining and shopping (Kauai: South Shore Poipu area accommodation & dining)

If you can tear yourself away from the world class beaches, and delicious eateries, there are plenty of interesting things to see and do around this beautiful and historical area.

Whether you’re in the mood to immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture (and get a respite from the heat for a while!), wander beautiful gardens, or tick off the stops along a the Heritage Trail, here are a few of my “must dos” while you’re there…

McBryde Botanical Gardens, 4425 Lawaʻi Road in Koloa

The McBryde Gardens, located in the stunning Lawa’i Valley, is one of the gardens managed by the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) a “not-for-profit institution, dedicated to discovering, saving, and studying the world’s tropical plants and sharing what is learned”. You can read more about the institution and their mission on the link above.

There are actually two gardens next to each other in this area; the other is the Allerton Garden.  You can chose to visit the McBryde Garden either on a tour, or “self-guided”. The Allerton Garden is only available as a tour.

We decided to do a self tour of the McBryde Garden, and once we’d bought our tickets, we were directed around the corner to wait for the bus, which would take us down into the valley.

I completely underestimated the scale and time commitment needed for the garden visit!  I was imagining just wandering into some pretty botanical gardens and having a walk around for an hour, much like in Sydney, or other cities.

In fact, even the drive down to the gardens is an adventure in itself (and is slightly sketchy in some parts!).  Even on the self-guided tour,  you’ll still be treated to a narrated guide along the South Shore and into the lush valley, by the knowledgeable and clearly passionate drivers!

Blending in pretty well in the McBryde Gardens!

Once in the gardens, you’re free to explore them at your leisure, using the tour map for navigation.  The gardens are divided into various small trails, which meander through an array of tropical plants and trees, both native and non-native.  There is plenty of information to read on your way around.

We were really impressed by the gardens, and had a relaxing time strolling around (bar a couple of mosquito bites!).  It’s interesting to see the positive work going on towards understanding and protecting the native trees and plants.  The two guides we met seem very passionate about the Island and its heritage.

I had to do a little off-road detour as I was insistent on getting some photos of the blossoms!

I’d recommend taking 2 hours in order to do the McBryde Gardens justice, before catching the shuttle bus back to the visitors’ centre (they return every hour until late afternoon).

Top tips: There’s a little snack & drinks area with an honour system, and restrooms in the gardens.

Check the voucher books that you can pick up at the airport or shopping centres for discount coupons on the garden entry (around 15%)

The Kauai Museum

Not officially in the Poipu area (around a 20 minute drive back to Lihue), the Kauai Museum is one of my “hidden gem” activities.

We had driven past the museum many times on the way from the airport, but never stopped to visit on our previous trips.  This time, we made a point of going there, and were pleasantly surprised!

The museum has two buildings, the main one choc full of information and displays detailing life on the islands – from the earliest settlers, through to the Royal Dynasties.  There are some really interesting displays and artefacts, reflecting the creative heritage and incredible innovations of indigenous Hawaiians – using only what nature provided on the islands. 

You can keep your receipt for your entry fee and go back as many times as you like within a week.  As someone who has an attention span of around an hour in most museums, I found this really useful!  There is a LOT of information, so visiting over a couple of days is a nice way to do it.

Overall, we really enjoyed the museum, and I recommend making point of visiting.  It could do with some updating, and a bit more thought into the overall flow of displays.  The second building is a bit of a mishmash of native plant species (with most exhibits not working properly) and surfing heroes, with a bit of WWII thrown in!

Top tips: remember to take your glasses (I didn’t!), as there’s a lot of printed information in the museum.

Don’t forget to check your coupon book for a discount or free gift (again with the coupons!).  We got a free Hawaii mug – score!

The Spouting Horn

If you’re visiting the South Shore of Kauai, be sure to stop and experience the Spouting Horn, a spectacular natural lava tube blowhole, which sprays seawater as high as 50 feet into the air.

A great time to visit is at sunset, perhaps after leaving the McBryde Gardens or before dining at the Beach House restaurant.  There’s plenty of parking, and you can stay as little or as long as you like!

checking out the Spouting Horn at sunset before dinner at the Beach House – a perfect evening!

I’ve heard a couple of different native Hawaiian legends surrounding the origin of the Spouting Horn, but I think the most recognised one is that it was once guarded by a giant lizard.  The lizard was outwitted by a young boy called Liko, and remains stuck in the lava tube, roaring and spraying seawater intermittently..

I also heard a VERY long, and completely different legend from our Hawaiian guide on our way back from the McBryde gardens.. but that’s another story for another time..and I don’t think I can remember it all.  It was very confusing.

Prince Kuhio Park & the Heritage Trail 

Prince Kuhio Park is a 10 minute walk from the Kukui’ula Village Shopping Center, and close to the Beach House restaurant and Baby Beach.  It’s a well-maintained, culturally significant park with views of the ocean, and well worth popping in if you’re in the area.

An ancient Heiau is located at the back of the property, which also honours the birthplace of Prince Kuhio –  congressional delegate for Hawai’i for 10 consecutive terms.  Prince Kuhio is celebrated for revitalising and championing native Hawaiian culture and sports.

You can read more about the park and Prince Kuhio here

The park (and the Spouting Horn) are part of the Koloa Heritage Trail – a 10 mile route with 14 stops and monuments, highlighting the natural history, archaeology, culture and history of the area.  Try and tick all 14 off your list while visiting the area! You can download a PDF map of the trail here

The stops and monuments on the Heritage Trail are marked with plaques like this one!

I hope this has given you some useful ideas if you’re lucky enough to be planning trip to the South side of Kauai.. in my next post I’ll be talking about some easy trails in the same area, taking in some more of the Heritage Trail and some spectacular views!

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 



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