Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Island Skipping in Hawaii

Shimmering blue waters hug the pristine beaches of Hawaii year-round, but a visit to the Aloha State is about much more than just a beach.

The Hawaiian Islands offer eco-adventures aplenty, fabulous resorts and a bounty of culinary delights. Six of the eight main islands welcome visitors: Oahu, Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, Lanai and Molokai. Each has developed a unique character and culture, and I enjoyed the charm of three different islands when I visited this summer.

Kauai has been kissed with plentiful outdoor adventure and boasts the most hiking trails and only navigable rivers of the islands. A short hop by plane, upscale Maui offers plenty of whale-watching opportunities. And on Lanai, visitors step off the high-speed ferry from Maui and find rugged beauty juxtaposed with unpretentious luxury.

Paradise on Kauai

Deep valleys rise into emerald-colored mountains that jut into the sea on Kauai’s stunning Na Pali coastline. And in the interior, spectacular 3,000-foot-high waterfalls form ribbons down the face of Mount Waialeale, one of the wettest spots on the planet. It’s easy to see why the Garden Isle deserves its moniker. My flight with Wings Over Kauai revealed facets of the island that cannot be experienced from the ground, giving me a bird’s-eye view of the island’s greenhouselike landscape fed by seven rivers.

“Although we may be the least known of the Hawaiian Islands, we have the largest number of return visitors,” said Lisa Nakamasu, Kauai native and director of sales for the Kauai Visitors Bureau. “It’s a testimony to the island because visitors quickly discover all that we have to offer.”

Outings allow visitors to experience tropical wilderness, since almost 90 percent of Kauai is undeveloped. I opted for Outfitters Kauai’s most popular kayak trip, which starts with an easy paddle up the Wailua River, followed by a 45-minute hike through flowers, brooks and ferns over semirough terrain. Our group lunched and cooled off at Secret Falls, which cascades 100 feet into a plunge pool.

Less-seasoned hikers can check out Waipoo Falls in Waimea Canyon, dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. And the spectacular Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail hugs the south shore. Dramatic elevation changes support zip-line safaris; package trips include hiking, kayaking and zipping to waterfalls.

In the 1870s, workers built irrigation flumes to transport water from the island’s interior to the sugarcane fields. On the former Lihue Sugar Plantation, they have been repurposed for mountain tubing, akin to an amusement-park-style flume ride. Inner tubes gently swoosh riders through the hand-built canals and tunnels of the Hanamaulu ditch system, with views of the backcountry.

Kauai’s 50 miles of sandy shoreline deliver more beaches per mile than any other Hawaiian island. North and south beaches offer good snorkeling and shady spots for relaxing. In the north, Tunnels and Anini Beach are popular for snorkeling. I spent a lovely afternoon at Kee Beach, which is at the end of the road. Another day, by catamaran, Kauai Sea Tours took me close to the soaring cliffs and sea caves along the uninhabited Na Pali coast. In the island’s sunniest southern region, Poipu’s beaches are a good bet when it’s cloudy or rainy up north.

And for those, like me, who have dreamed of learning to surf, lessons begin with instruction on the crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay beach. The mountainous northwest shore is the famous backdrop of Bali Hai in the 1958 movie “South Pacific.” The bay’s spectacular scenery and gentle waves make it a go-to spot for photographers, paddleboarders and kayakers.

“Hanalei Bay is about the best spot in the world for learning to surf,” said Lynn Alapa, co-owner of Hawaiian Surfing Adventures. “We have warm water, calm conditions and a sandy bottom, all close to shore.”

Hawaiian Cuisine

At the Smith Family Garden, groups can enjoy a traditional luau, an outdoor meal of pit-roasted pork, that begins with an imu ceremony, followed by a buffet meal. The evening concludes with live music and Hawaiian entertainment. Before dinner, guests can hop a tram for a winding tour through 52 acres of manicured gardens.

Gardeners will want to check out the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in three locations. Appetizers are served on the sunset tour at Allerton Gardens, near Poipu , where scenes from the movie “Jurassic Park” were filmed.

Historic plantations include the Kiahuna Plantation, which serves meals on its sweeping veranda surrounded by tropical gardens. Near Lihue, Gaylord’s at Kilohana Plantation offers tasty patio dining on the historic plantation house terrace, tours on a replicated sugarcane train, boutique shopping and a 20-minute rum tasting of labels produced on-site.

“Our chefs incorporate farm-to-table practices, and many grow their own produce,” said Nakamasu. “We have numerous farmers markets each week throughout the island, which are popular with locals and visitors.”

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.