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Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Although all the beaches on the island are public, much of the interior land—once sugar and pineapple plantations—is privately owned. This is really a shame, because the valleys and mountains that make up the vast interior of the island easily rival the beaches in sheer beauty. The good news is some tour operators have agreements with landowners that make exploration possible, albeit a bit bumpy, and unless you have back troubles, that's half the fun. If it looks like rain, book an ATV tour ASAP. That's the thing about these tours: the muddier, the better.
Kauai's spectacular scenery makes getting outdoors a must-do activity for most people.
These wet caves are smaller (and wetter) than Maniniholo but are still visually worth a short jaunt. Said to have been dug by Pele, goddess of fire, these watering holes used to be clear, clean, and great for swimming. Now stagnant, they're nevertheless a photogenic example of the many haunting natural landmarks of Kauai's North Shore. Waikanaloa is visible right beside the highway, near the end of the road. Waikapalae is back a few hundred yards and is accessed by a five-minute uphill walk.
Hawaii is the only state in the country where theobroma cacao grows. As every chocolate connoisseur knows, the tree that grows the precious seed that becomes chocolate is the cacao tree. The Lydgates are on a mission to grow cacao on family farms all over the island with the hopes of one day starting a co-op that will produce Kauai Homegrown Chocolate. For now, you can tour this organic farm (in addition to cacao, they grow vanilla, timber, bamboo, and many tropical fruits) and learn how chocolate is made,"from branch to bar," as they put it. The three-hour tour includes, of course, plenty of chocolate tastings. Reservations are required for the morning tour, which begins Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9 am. Children 12 and under are free. Driving directions are provided when you make a reservation. www.steelgrass.org. COST: $60. OPEN: Mon., Wed., Fri. for tours only.
Nestled next to Wailua Marina along the mighty Wailua River, this 30-acre botanical and cultural garden offers a glimpse of exotic foliage, including fruit orchards, a bamboo rain forest, and tropical lagoons. Take the tram and enjoy a narrated tour or stroll along the mile-long pathways. It's a popular spot for wedding receptions and other large events, and its four-times-weekly luau is one of the island's oldest and best.
A triangle of grass behind the Prince Kuhio condominiums honors the birthplace of Kauai's beloved Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole. Known for his kind nature and good deeds, he lost his chance at the throne when Americans staged an illegal overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani in 1893 and toppled Hawaii's constitutional monarchy. This is a great place to view wave riders surfing a popular break known as PKs and to watch the sun sink into the Pacific.
Tucked away in Lawai Valley, these gardens include lands and a cottage once used by Hawaii's Queen Emma for a summer retreat. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the rambling 252-acre McBryde Gardens to see and learn about plants collected throughout the tropics. It is known as a garden of "research and conservation." The 100-acre Allerton Gardens, which can be visited only on a guided tour, artfully display statues and water features that were originally developed as part of a private estate. Reservations are required for tours of Allerton Gardens, but not for the self-guided tours of McBryde Gardens. The visitor center has a high-quality gift shop with botany-theme merchandise.
Kauai's north shore caves echo an enchanting, almost haunting, alternative to sunny skies and deep blue seas. Steeped in legend, Maniniholo Dry Cave darkens and becomes more claustrophobic as you glide across its sandy floor, hearing the drips down the walls and wondering at its past. Legend has it that Maniniholo was the head fisherman of the Menehune—Kauai's quasi-mythical first inhabitants. After gathering too much food to carry, his men stored the excess in the dry cave overnight. When he returned in the morning, the food had vanished and he blamed the imps living in the cracks of the cave. He and his men dug into the cliff to find and destroy the imps, leaving behind the cave. Across the highway from Maniniholo Dry Cave is Haena State Park.
Narrow Limahuli Valley, with its fluted mountain peaks and ancient stone taro terraces, creates an unparalleled setting for this botanical garden and nature preserve. Dedicated to protecting native plants and unusual varieties of taro, it represents the principles of conservation and stewardship held by its founder, Charles "Chipper" Wichman. Limahuli's priomordial beauty and strong mana (spiritual power) eclipse the extensive botanical collection. It's one of the most gorgeous spots on Kauai and the crown jewel of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, which Wichman now heads. Call ahead to reserve a guided tour, or tour on your own. Be sure to check out the quality gift shop and revolutionary compost toilet, and be prepared to walk a somewhat steep hillside. www.ntbg.org. COST: Self-guided tour $15, guided tour $30 (reservations required). OPEN: Tues.--Sat. 9:30--4.
Throughout the South Shore, you'll find brass plaques with details of 14 historical stops along the 10-mi route Koloa Heritage Trail—bike it, hike it, or drive it, your choice. You'll learn about Koloa's whaling history, sugar industry, ancient Hawaiian cultural sites, the island's volcanic formation, and more. Pick up a free self-guided trail map at most any shop in Koloa town.