While Kauaʻi may be the oldest geographically, the “Garden Isle” is the fourth largest in the Hawaiian archipelago. From the jagged cliffs of the Napali Coast to the vast chasms of Waimea Canyon, Kauaʻi stimulates the senses like no other destination. Kaua‘i’s story as a place apart begins with tales of the menehune. Elfin in size—but master builders, prodigious of strength and speed—they were credited with construction on a grand scale. It is on Kaua‘i where tales of menehune are widely told, perhaps as a link to a time 16 or 17 centuries ago when the first settlers to Kaua‘i arrived from the Marquesas, a chain of islands about 2,000 miles southeast of Hawai‘i.
The vibe on the island is relaxed and “green.” It’s where the luxury life meets eco-friendly living. In fact, island residents have instituted a raft of environmentally friendly measures, including the first in Hawaiʻi that bans plastic bags and sets limitations on island development to preserve agricultural land. Locals in boho chic towns—like Hanalei—are frequently spotted with a yoga mat tucked under their arms and a cup of organic joe in hand. Considered some of the friendliest people among the Hawaiian Islands, Kauaʻi residents are also athletic, artistic and expressive.
A single photo in a 1960 National Geographic article on Hawai‘i unveiled a lush valley shielded by 3,000-foot cliffs to a generation hungry for just such a place. The caption read: “Napali’s towering cliffs wall a Shangri-la valley accessible only by sea.” Today, helicopter tours provide spectacular aerial views of these jagged peaks, as well as of Waimea Canyon, dubbed “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” a geological wonder that stretches 14 miles long, one mile wide and more than 3,600-feet deep. Flowing from the crater of Mount Wai‘ale‘ale, the Wailua River can be explored by kayak or via a cruise aboard an open-air boat.
Kauaʻi is easy to navigate by car since there are only two major highways. The pleasant drive to the North Shore winds along pastures and through small towns, then to a lookout over a valley lined with taro. This is Hanalei, where time stands still in a bucolic setting. Perched upon Kaua‘i’s northernmost point, the lighthouse at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge once guided merchant ships crossing the ocean from Asia. The picturesque south shore of Kaua‘i is home to the resort area of Poʻipu, home to one of America’s best beaches. And if you blink, you might just miss the sign on Highway 50 that marks the turnoff for Hanapepe, dubbed the “Biggest Little Town on Kaua‘i.”