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Kauai See And Do

Helicopter Tours of Kauai

Kauai is a place where filmmakers come for the scenery: Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blue Hawaii, and South Pacific were all filmed here. And there's no better way to appreciate the beauty than by helicopter, which can get you to places that are impossible to reach by car or on foot, including the crater of Mount Waialeale, a massive, Edenic green gorge surrounded by walls of weeping waterfalls—one of the most beautiful places on earth. Most island outfits run similar circuits around the island, but Blue Hawaiian Helicopters (800-745-2583 [toll-free] or 808-871-8844) and Heli USA Airways (866-936-1234 [toll-free] or 808-826-6591) both have EcoStars, a chopper that's more environmentally friendly than most. Island Helicopters now has exclusive rights to land at the Jurassic Park waterfall—you can get out and walk around for 25 minutes as long as you don't mind wearing shoe booties to protect the native plant species (800-829-5999 [toll-free] or 808-245-8558). But the most unique offering comes from Niihau Helicopters, which offers tours of the "Forbidden Island" of Niihau, a privately owned island located off Kauai's west coast (877-441-3500 [toll-free] or 808-338-1234).—Updated by Cathay Che

Hotel Photo
Hiking the Kalalau Trail
Trailhead at Kee Beach
End of Highway 560
Na Pali Coast , Hawaii
96766
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Since the only way to access the breathtaking Na Pali Coast is from its waters, which are choppy most of the year, the next best thing is seeing it on foot from high above the ocean. The Kalalau Trail affords you that option, but this hike is no walk in the park. The stunning vistas, the natural beauty of the local flora and fauna, and the opportunity to cross riverbeds (and get your feet wet and dirty) is well worth the sweat as you trek uphill. Bring plenty of water—the sun is strong on the bluffs—and a camera. Even the most jaded globetrotter will be unable to resist these postcard-worthy photo opportunities.

North Shore Beaches

Anini Beach: Protected by the longest reef in Hawaii, this sweet spot is generally safe for swimming and snorkeling, and is one of the few places on the island to windsurf and kitesurf. Since water depths range from four feet to 100 feet, it is also a popular place to shore dive. Turn off Highway 56 between mile markers 25 and 26 onto Kahili Wai Road, then veer toward the ocean onto Anini Road, which ends at the beach.

Hanalei Bay and Beach Park: This long crescent of sand is great for a beach walk or run, and is an immensely popular place to socialize with Hanalei's attractive locals. It's swimmable in calm conditions, but when big swells roll in, advanced surfers and boogie boarders from around the state provide quite a show. Between mile markers four and five on Highway 56, turn toward the ocean on Weke Road.

Lumahai Beach: One of the most romantic yet dangerous spots on the island, Lumahai Beach was immortalized in South Pacific as the place where Mitzi Gaynor washed that man right out of her hair. That makes this wide swath of sand a great place for a photo op as well as for sunbathing or a picnic, but it's rarely swimmable. There is no lifeguard on duty, and the cove is not protected by a reef, so currents are fast and furious. You'll find it on Highway 560, near the town of Hanalei, between mile markers five and six.

Kee Beach, Haena State Park: Literally at the end of Highway 560 (just past mile marker 10) is one of the most visited beaches on the island. Swimmers enjoy the protected lagoon; snorkelers and divers come for the wealth of tropical fish just beyond the reef; and hikers catch the beginning of the Kalalau Trail on the western end. For your safety, do not venture past the lagoon if the waves are washing over the reef, and avoid the vicious sucking current at the reef opening on the western end.

South, East, and West Shore Beaches

Kalapaki Beach: Fronting the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club and Duke's Canoe Club Kauai restaurant (3610 Rice St.; 808-246-9599; www.dukeskauai.com), this southeastern shore beach attracts both locals and tourists, who sunbathe on the ample sand or swim and boogie board in the partially protected bay. The gentle rolling waves and sandy bottom make it the most popular spot on the island to learn to surf. The Anchor Cove shopping center is also here, along with tour operators for surfboard and kayak rentals, or sailboat and catamaran cruises. Take Rice Street off Highway 50 at the zero mile marker in Lihue.

Poipu Beach Park: This southern shore beach park is divided by a sandbar (technically called a tombolo). Swimming to the left of the sandy divide is semiprotected and almost always safe, while the right side is good for snorkeling in calm conditions. Take Highway 50 to Highway 520 toward the ocean and turn left onto Poipu Beach Road. You can't really get lost on the way here, just confused: This shoreline has one lovely beach after another, as well as a row of familiar hotels like the Sheraton Kauai (2440 Hoonani Rd.; 808-742-1661; www.sheraton-kauai.com) and the Grand Hyatt.

Polihale Beach Park: At the end of Highway 50, continue along the dirt road about five miles until you reach this shockingly secluded, 300-foot-wide beach surrounded by sand dunes that stop short at the beginning of the Na Pali Coast on the western shore. Bring your own shade, snacks, and plenty of water (it gets hot on the west side of the island). And since there are no lifeguards, do not swim here—the swells can get big enough to shake the beach, and the undertow is unforgiving.

Surfing on Kauai

Although Oahu's north shore is the undisputed epicenter of Hawaiian surf culture, insiders will tell you that some of the best surf—for intermediate and advanced riders—is on Kauai's wild west side at Waimea State Park or Polihale Beach. Newbies should opt for the mellower south side of the island. The Margo Oberg Surf School, run by a seven-time world champion, has been teaching novices since the 1970s and has enthusiastic teachers who guarantee you'll get up on your board. Classes are held three to four times per day; it's best to sign up at least two days in advance (Poipu Beach, Koloa; 808-332-6100; www.surfonkauai.com). If surfing seems intimidating, you might want to try your foot at paddle surfing—balancing on an oversize surfboard while propelling yourself with a single paddle, similar to kayaking. It's all the rage now because it has a much quicker learning curve than traditional surfing: You'll not only stand up on your first day, but if you're in reasonable shape, you can expect to master it within an hour. Paddle surfing is much easier if the ocean is flat and gets more challenging when you attempt to catch waves. To get started, take a lesson with Hawaiian Surfing Adventures in Hanalei Bay (808-482-0749; www.hawaiiansurfingadventures.com).

Hotel Photo
Waimea Canyon
Kokee Road (Highway. 552 off of Highway 50)
Kauai , Hawaii
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A drive through Waimea Canyon—nicknamed "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific"—is an ideal way to start off the day: Morning offers the best views of the more-than-3,400-foot plunge, and it's also a good idea to avoid the heat of the afternoon. You can drive through and stop along the road to take in the magnificent views, or park your car and hike down any number of trails. Stop by the Kokee Natural History Museum to get a little background on the Kokee area, and pick up a map before you set out on foot (808-335-9975; www.kokee.org/natural-history-museum).

Waterfalls

Kauai's waterfalls vary greatly in their degree of accessibility, but they're all beautiful. Helicopter tours provide the easiest viewing of the grandest inland falls, but you can't feel the spray on your face or swim in the cool mountain pools. (A note about that though: Each year between 50 and 100 people in Hawaii are diagnosed with leptospirosis, caused by bacteria found in mountain freshwater. Don't swim if you have open cuts, and avoid drinking untreated water.) Recent rainfall will affect the appearance of most waterfalls, but the best time to get that postcard-perfect shot is early morning.

Hanakapiai Falls: If you're tough enough to attempt the 11-mile Kalalau Trail, and you have the required camping permit, you can see these dramatic falls—a 100-foot sheer drop down a black lava rock wall. It's located two miles from Hanakapiai Beach, itself two miles from Kee Beach. Reward yourself by swimming in the freshwater pool, but beware of slippery surfaces on the way in and falling rocks directly under the falls.

Opaekaa Falls: Since these 150-foot falls are not accessible by river or trail (after two deaths in 2006, the state prohibited hiking there), you won't feel like a wimp taking your pictures at the crowded lookout. Unlike many waterfalls on the island that are dependent on rainwater, these lacy falls are North Wailua River runoff, so you can count on a rushing flow year-round. The name Opaekaa ("rolling shrimp") refers to the crustaceans tumbling in the turbulent waters at the base of the falls. To reach the lookout, take Highway 56 to Kuamoo Road at mile marker six and drive one and a half miles.

Wailua Falls: These 80-foot falls are easily accessible for viewing and photography (no hiking required). If they look familiar, you're dating yourself—the opening scene of 1970s kitsch-fest Fantasy Island was filmed here. The brave can attempt the extremely slippery tral down to the bottom of the falls and take a dip; hiking behind the falls is not recommended. In ancient times, warriors would leap from the top of the falls to prove their bravery, but unless you are a professional cliff diver and your camera crew and team of paramedics are standing by, don't attempt it. Take Highway 56 north to Maalo Road and drive to the end of the road.

Zipline Tour
Koloa , Hawaii

Inspired by the zip lines he saw in the rain forests of Costa Rica, Rick Haviland came home to Hawaii and installed his own zip line in the pastoral Kipu Ranch, enabling guests to harness up and sail 50 feet above the ground. The launch pad is a Swiss Family Robinson–style tree house in a huge banyan. From there you take off and soar past waterfalls and over the river until you reach a huge mango tree on the other side, then return toward the landing pad. Haviland's company, Outfitters Kauai, also leads kayaking, biking, and hiking trips all over the island. His favorite: the Kipu Falls Safari, which combines kayaking, zip line, rope swings, swimming, lunch, and a hayride (Poipu Plaza, 2827 Poipu Road, Koloa; 888-742-9887; www.outfitterskauai.com).

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.