Kauai has it all. Rugged mountains, towering waterfalls and wide-open oceans are an absolute antidote for the daredevil within. And a rural setting ravaged by wild beauty is a classic backdrop for an amorous caper.
Soak up quiet charm in Hanapepe, a historic artist’s town on Kauai’s west side. Plantation-style buildings line a two-lane road that winds through the center of town. Dusty sidewalks front galleries, gift shops and restaurants. Sample Hawaiian sea salt blends at Aloha Spice Company, then follow the footpath to Hanapepe Swinging Bridge. Stride over the wide river, where water flows from the valley and spills into the bay. It’s wide enough for one person and the bridge swings as you walk across. Make sure to stop in the middle for an Instagram-worthy photo. Afterwards, grab fresh-baked croissants and organic coffee at Midnight Bear Breads, and a to-go sandwich for lunch, then hop on the highway and continue west toward Waimea Canyon State Park.
The Grand Canyon of the Pacific
Rumor has it that Mark Twain named Waimea Canyon “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” But Twain never visited the striped canyon layered with streaks of red rocks and green bands of native trees and shrubs. The rim overlooks a deep, colorful gorge with plunging waterfalls such as Waipoo Falls. The Iliau Trail, a 0.3-mile loop with a 40-foot elevation gain, includes views of Waimea and Waialeale Canyons. At 2.5 miles (one way) and a 2,240-foot elevation gain, Kukui Trail is much harder. That’s because the scenic trail drops to Waimea River, where English explorer Captain Cook anchored in 1778.
Continue up Highway 550 to Kalalau Lookout. Wild ginger perfumes the air and vendors sell fresh pineapple slices. After a quick restroom stop, walk to the lookout for panoramic views of Kalalau Valley and the white sandy beach below. This bird’s eye view is one of the few places you can see the valley without having to take a helicopter or boat ride. On a perfect day, a rainbow will arch across the Na Pali (cliffs) and drop into the shimmering turquoise ocean. In the winter, you’ll see humpback whales breaching with their calves. After taking in the view, go back down the road to Kokee State Park. Enjoy your lunch at a picnic table on the wide lawn surrounded by towering ironwood trees, or have a warm and hearty meal at the rustic Kokee Lodge.
Na Pali Coast
At 1 p.m., meet the crew of Blue Ocean Adventure Tours at Kikiaola Harbor, just two miles west of Waimea River. This 4-hour cruise runs along the Na Pali Coast, where the 17-mile journey offers dazzling views of cathedral-like cliffs, Kalalau Valley and Waimea Canyon. The Zodiac darts under waterfalls and through sea caves, then makes a stop at Nualolo Kai, a secluded shoreline along an ancient Hawaiian settlement where a lava cliff with a natural “X” marks the intersection of two lava channels. Snorkel in the aquarium-like ocean where hundreds of tropical fish dart between reefs, and green sea turtles float with the current. If you’re honeymooning, getting married, or celebrating an anniversary, make it extra special with a private tour that takes up to 14 people. They even marry couples off the coast!
Sleep in on Sunday morning then enjoy a late breakfast. At 11:30 a.m., join Kipu Ranch Adventures for a Waterfall Picnic Tour. Strap on goggles and a helmet and straddle a Kawasaki Mule UTV.
Bounce along rough dirt roads that take you through the jungle and past the movie locations of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Outbreak,” and “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Jump on the Indiana Jones rope and swing into the Huleia River. You’ll make two pit stops at waterfalls that drop into blue lagoons, perfect for cool swims.
Sunset and a Cocktail
Finish your perfect weekend on Kauai with cocktails and a splendid sunset at the Sheraton Kauai. Walk into RumFire, the resort’s signature restaurant, and enter a luxurious world. Plush blue and white booths are tucked along tinted windows overlooking Poipu Bay. In the center, bartenders stand behind a large bar making cocktails from nearly 40 rums. We recommend the Rum-Hatten, with locally-made Koloa Gold Rum, Cocchi sweet vermouth, Stirrings Ginger Liqueur and Angostura orange bitters. The blend is shaken then poured into a mason jar and filled with kiawe (mesquite) smoke. The cocktail is poured table-side, and garnished with an orange wheel and Luxardo cherry.
It’s the perfect end to a perfect weekend.