Itinerary Insights: KAUAI — 3 Must-Do Activities + Tasty Treats

I’ve just returned from Kauai, one of my favorite places on the planet. I’m considering running a trip there, if there’s interest.... So, here are my top 3 recommended activities (including tasty treats I always make sure to eat). If you’re planning a visit, check them out! And if you’d like to go on a KAUAI YOGA ADVENTURE with Ananda Expeditions, send me a note or let me know in the comments.

1. North Shore: Ha’ena State Park / Ke’e Beach / Nā Pali Coast / Kalalau Trail

First up, the ever-lovely North Shore. Hanalei Bay, which played a starring role in the award-winning feature film The Descendants (2011), offers family-friendly swimming, surf breaks for both beginner and seasoned surfers, and an ample stretch of beach for walking, running, and sunning.

Continue to the end of the road — literally — to Ha’ena State Park, where you can enjoy a stunning view of the staggered cliffs of the Nā Pali Coast. Bring provisions for a midday picnic or sunset happy hour on Ke’e Beach...

 Striking a (Reverse-Warrior) Pose on Ke'e Beach, Na'Pali Coast in the background

Striking a (Reverse-Warrior) Pose on Ke'e Beach, Na'Pali Coast in the background

...or come early and set off on the Kalalau Trail for a hike that’s as rewarding as it is (in some places) steep. From the trailhead, you can hike 2 miles south to Hanakapi’ai Valley. There, you cross a stream and a boulder field to alight at Hanakapi’ai Beach. Have lunch and take in the scene before your hike back out, or continue up the valley (on an unmaintained, but popularly trafficked trail) an additional 2 miles to Hanakapi’ai Falls.

 Hanakapi'ai Falls — the reward for a fairly strenuous 4-mile trek along the coast and up the valley

Hanakapi'ai Falls — the reward for a fairly strenuous 4-mile trek along the coast and up the valley

The trail rolls along for the first mile or so through dense jungle forest and past a really cool stand of bamboo. If the mosquitoes like your blood as much as they do mine… you’ll want to have some sort of bug repellant and/or wear pants. The last mile of the trail can be a bit tricky — it’s steep, slippery, and weaves through boulders and fallen trees in places — so take care, don’t attempt it in wet weather or too late in the day, and WEAR PROPER FOOTWEAR. I’ve seen a bunch of inexperienced hikers get themselves into fairly sticky situations on this trail; don’t be one of them!

The Kalalau Trail stretches another 9 miles along the Nā Pali Coast beyond Hanakapi’ai Beach. Completing the 22-mile, round-trip hike, from Ke’e to Kalalau Beach and back, requires careful planning, hiking and camping permits, and consideration of current weather conditions. Intrepid hikers with permits do it in two days, camping for the night at Kalalau Beach.

2. East Side: Paliku, a.k.a. Donkey Beach / The Ke Ala Hele Makalae Path

 Approaching Donkey Beach through the Ironwood Trees

Approaching Donkey Beach through the Ironwood Trees

Halfway between Kapa’a and Anahola on the Kuhio Highway, at mile marker 11, you’ll find Paliku, affectionately and widely called “Donkey Beach” (a.k.a. Kuna Bay and Kumukumu Beach). Park in the public lot by the restrooms, load up your beach gear for the 10-minute walk down the paved path, and enter the tree tunnel. When you exit the tunnel, you’ll be on the bike path. For beach access, cross over and head down the dirt trail, or turn right on the path and take your pick of a few subsequent paths off to the left and down the slope.

 View of Donkey Beach from the Kapa'a Multi-Use Path (The Ke Ala Hele Makalae Path)

View of Donkey Beach from the Kapa'a Multi-Use Path (The Ke Ala Hele Makalae Path)

The Ke Ala Hele Makalae Path, “the path that goes by the coast,” currently contours the east-side coastline from Lydgate Park, south of Wailua, to Ahihi Point, about one quarter mile beyond Donkey Beach. Upon its projected completion, the path will stretch a full 17 miles, from Nawiliwili to Anahola. As I describe (and gesture) in the video, running on the multi-use path from Donkey Beach to Kapa’a is one of my favorite activities on Kauai. I never tire of the view of crashing turquoise waves and billowy clouds, and you even run by historical landmarks like the Pineapple Dump Pier.

If you don’t want to commit to the approximately 3-mile distance to the north edge of Kapa’a — and/or you don’t have someone willing to help you with the shuttle and you have to go out and back — the beautiful, lifeguarded and sometimes swimmable Kealia Beach approximately 1.5 miles down the path from Kuna Bay/Donkey Beach makes a good destination/turnaround. You can also rent bikes in Kapa’a for an hour or the day and explore the length of the trail.

And now for the tasty treats...

3.  Wailua Shave Ice / Tiki Tacos / Kauai Beer Company / Ha Coffee Bar

If you have yet to try a real, Hawaiian shave ice — oh, man! I envy you your discovery! Wailua Shave Ice makes my favorite shave ice, hands down. As I mention in the video, they use organic, natural fruit to make their syrups and flavors, so you don't have the crazy chemical colors or sweetness overload. And, if you like coconut... make sure to add the Haupia Foam (coconut cream) on top. Yum, yum, YUM!

For the freshest, most inventive, and therefore tastiest tacos on the island, get thee to Tiki Tacos, in Kapa'a. In Lihue, I recommend Kauai Beer Company for beer and snacks, and Ha Coffee Bar for local coffee and homemade chai drinks to rival your favorite hometown barista's creations.

Thanks for watching (and reading) — Mahalo! Please, add your recommendations in the comments, or ask any questions you have. And get in touch if you're keen to travel to Kauai!