In February 2017, we spent a long weekend on Kauai, splitting our time between Princeville and Poipu, with hikes along the Nā Pali coast, near Princeville, and in Waimea Canyon State Park, a visit to Kilauea Point, and lots of good food.
We picked Kauai as our February break from Seattle’s rain and grey. Kyle had never been and I had not visited since I was a kid.
Note: when possible, links in this post are affiliate links. For planning, we relied a lot on my childhood memories, but we’ve also been liking The Ultimate Guidebook series for our Hawaii trips, and their Kauai guide is no exception.
For this trip, we were able to book direct flights from Seattle to Lihue on Alaska. That worked well, since it meant we could work full days on Wednesday, arrive by 10:45pm, and make the hour long drive to the condo we had rented in Princeville, on the North Shore.
Thursday: Kalalau Trail & Nā Pali Coast
Our first order of business when we woke up on Thursday was to get some coffee, breakfast, and lunch supplies. The Princeville Foodland met all these needs. In addition to the standard grocery fare and a coffee stand, they had a good variety of excellent, cheap poke. We got bowls to go as part of our picnic lunch.
From there, we set out for Ke’e Beach and the Kalalau trailhead. From here, the trail runs 11 miles along Kauai’s Nā Pali coast. Our itinerary, however, was shorter: a 7-mile round trip to Hanakapiai Falls.
We ended up having to park a ways back from the trailhead — the beach and trail are a deservedly popular destination. From the trailhead, the trail climbs quickly, soon offering views along the coast and out to Pacific. We’d been on the trail no more than ten minutes when we saw whales off the coast. We stopped to watch them for a while before continuing.
After two miles on the trail, we reached the rocky Hanakapiai Beach. From here, a spur trail leaves the Kalalau trail and follows the stream a mile and a half inland to Hanakapiai Falls. At the first stream crossing, it took us a while to find a dry crossing. Other than that, it was a well-graded, occasionally muddy, walk.
At the falls, we stopped to enjoy our lunches. We also explored above, finding a dense patch of impatients that added splashes of pink to the greens and greys of the falls.
By the time we returned to the coast, the sun was getting lower, adding hints of gold and silver to the water. We turned around several times to pause and enjoy the view on the walk back to the car.
On our drive back through Hanalei, we stopped for ice cream at Pink’s Creamery. The ice cream was great — creamy, subtle but good flavors.
We cleaned up quickly at the condo to head to dinner. The people we rented from had warned us that some of the more popular restaurants in the area needed reservations, but we had not made any. By the time we arrived at our selected dinner destination — The Dolphin — it was already crowded.
We ordered a mix of things, but I really only remember two parts of the email. First, the bartender was friendly with suggestions and patient with our indecision. Second, get their specialty, Teriyaki Ahi. From the description, you might fear a good piece of ahi ruined with teriyaki sauce, but instead you get a wonderful piece of fish that has been excellently marinated.
After dinner, we turned off briefly in into the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge to watch sunset.
Friday: Okolehao Trail and Hihimanu Ridge
For breakfast on Friday, we headed in to Hanalei to Village Snack and Bake Shop. I had good memories of this place — I’m pretty sure it’s where we left for a Zodiac tour of the Nā Pali Coast when I visited as a child. Today, though, we just wanted breakfast. Their banana academia nut pancakes, plus the malasada we split, made for a good way to start the day. Having had basically breakfast for dessert, we (barely) resisted the temptation to buy pie.
With rain the the forecast, we did not dawdle. We set out for the Okolehao Trail. Located in the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, the trail gradually switchbacks up a hill, before reaching views of Hanalei and the Nā Pali Coast. A power line cut offers views part way up.
After 2/3 of a mile, the easy section ends. From here, the trail grows muddier, narrower, and steeper as it undulates along Hihimanu Ridge. In several places, ropes have been placed to offer assistance. At one point, we passed through a tunnel cut in the thick brush.
Eventually, we reached what appeared to be a high point and maybe the end of the line. While perhaps a scant trail continued it, it would clearly be difficult going and the clouds had grown darker. We enjoyed views of the Kalihiwai River and headed down.
On our way back to the condo, we stopped at Café Tumeric, in a group of food trucks, for a late lunch or early dinner. It was fantastic. Just as we got back in the car, the sky opened up.
Back at the condo, we napped off our lunch and read for the afternoon as we listened to the rain. Eventually, we got a bit hungry. We dashed through the downpour to Hideways Pizza, where we made drinks and dessert our dinner.
Saturday: Waterfalls and Kilauea Lighthouse
For Saturday, our goal was to work our way around to Poipu, where we would stay for the rest of the trip. When we woke up, it was still raining, and so we got a slow start.
Once we got moving, we drove to Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza for pizza. I ate a lilikoi danish and a macaroon for breakfast.
From breakfast, it was just a few minute drive to Kilauea Lighthouse & Wildlife Refuge. We arrived near opening. After we walked out to the point, we paid little attention to the lighthouse, even though it was open for tours. Instead, we spent the better part of two hours watching seabirds, which were nesting along the cliffs and a nearby island. Boobies and albatrosses soared overhead. Nēnē also wandered through the grass and bushes at the base of the lighthouse. Occasionally, we caught glimpses of whales off the coast.
Back at the car, we continued south. On the recommendation of multiple friends, we turned into a shopping center for lunch. The Sleeping Giant Grill, in Kapaa, is known for outstanding fish tacos. After trying several, we can confidently say this reputation is well-deserved. I’d go out of my way to eat here.
Despite the temptation to wander to the beach and slip into a food coma, we decided to continue on around the island. Opaek’a Falls — seen in the distance from a roadside viewpoint — made for our next stop. We also visited Poliahu Heiau, just across the street.
From here, it was another short drive to Wailua Falls. Though vegetation partially obscured the falls, the mist and light made for some nice rainbows.
We’d been on the island almost three days, but had yet to have any real amount of time at the beach. So, we drove to Poipu Beach, gathered our books and towels, and relaxed for a bit.
From the beach, we checked in at our nearby condo. I was not eager to get back in the car, so we consulted Yelp for nearby food. A tiny strip mall had a few promising options and was within walking distance, so we wandered over.
Da Crack was the only restaurant here open, and also one of the highest rated. We split a shrimp bowl and a burrito, and we were very happy with our choice. While searching Yelp, I had also noticed another nearby shopping center that had a Lappert’s Ice Cream location. We walked over for dessert, and it was fantastic.
Sunday: Waimea Canyon
For Sunday, we headed to Waimea Canyon. When planning the trip, I remembered the contrast between the canyon and the surrounding forest, something that had delighted me as a child.
We woke up early and headed west from Poipu. Along the way, we stopped at Kaleo Café and Coffee Company, a worthwhile stop. Their eat-in menus looked pretty good, but we wanted to keep moving so we just got coffee and some to-go pastries.
In the park, we stopped at the overlooks. The morning light cast long shadows and made it hard to get good views into the canyon, so we did not linger.
Kalepa Ridge Trail
After the canyon overlooks, we drove up to the Nā Pali Coast or Kalalau overlook. This overlook offers good views down to the Kalalau Valley — where the Kalalau Trail ends. From here, we found an opening in the fence for our first, (short!) hike of the day: the Kalepa Ridge Trail.
The trail descended through the forest, often on slippery mud, before reaching an open crest of the ridge. From here, there are peak-a-boo views of Honopu Valley to the west, and extensive views of the Kalalau Valley to the east.
As we continued along the narrow ridge, a goat appeared — seemingly from nowhere — startling us. We watched it for a while as it moved up and down the ridge in a series of maneuvers that appeared impossible.
After about 3/4 of a mile to a mile, we reached a point where the trail appeared to end into a series of goat paths. Several books recommend hiring a guide for this hike, as the mud and goat paths can make way finding hard if you are not experienced. We stopped here to snack and enjoy the views before returning to the car.
Once we reached the parking lot, we drove down to the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout, and the start of a spur trail Canyon Trail. There’s closer paring for the Canyon Trail, but it’s off a 4WD track and our rental was not 4WD.
From the parking lot, the trail descend steeply at first and then gradually winds its way along the canyon edge, descending slowly. While spots were muddy, footing was overall good. Eventually, we emerged onto a long, dirt promontory that cuts into the canyon.
At this viewpoint, we had great views of the red walls dotted with green vegetation. Helicopter tours darted through the canyon. A short while further reaches a small cascade and pool just above the top of Waipo’o Falls. This was our stopping and turnaround point. We enjoyed the distant views, but also the many small flowers along the way.
After our hike, we stopped at a few of the overlooks that had been in shadow for the morning. Mists were creeping up from the coasts, and clear views soon gave way to clouds.
We drove back down to Waimea in fog. Ready for lunch, we stopped in at Island Taco. These were also quite good, but given the choice, I’d eat at Sleeping Giant.
While eating dinner at Da Crack the night before, we had seen the Loco Coco shave ice and noted its positive reviews. We stopped in on the way back to the condo. The ice was excellent, and different from what we had enjoyed on other trips — not too sugary, topped with fresh fruit, coconut cream, and local honey.
We napped and read on the patio for a bit. Hungry again, we walked over to a nearby shopping center, where we got tasty poke bowls from the Living Foods Market for dinner . To be honest, we chose this shopping center partly for convenience (we were tired!) and partly because Lappert’s Ice Cream was there. So, of course we stopped at Lappert’s for dessert.
With a 2pm flight, we had just a half day on the island and had to make our way back to the airport. We ate some leftover snacks for breakfast and drove to the coast. We stopped at the Spouting Horn overlook, and then headed to Poipu Beach.
Here, we followed the coast east. The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail climbs up cliffs from Shipwreck Beach and continues east. We followed it for maybe a mile along the sandy, limestone cliffs, taking in scenic views of Kauai’s southern coast.
Finally, it was almost time to head to the airport. Not to miss a chance for a meal, we headed to Makai Sushi — tucked in a market in the same shopping center as Da Crack and Loco Coco — for lunch. The roll and bowl we shared were excellent. We made one last stop, at Papalani Gelato (also tasty), for dessert, and then headed to the airport, and on to Seattle.