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Kauai Island

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Kauai Island Basics

Kauai Island

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson

It’s hard to believe that the island of Kaua’i is only 550 square miles when you consider that it’s got some of Hawaii’s sunniest, most spectacular beaches, highest, most dramatic peaks and thickest vine-draped jungles. In fact, Kauai’s topography is so varied that this northernmost of the main Hawaiian islands boasts both the wettest spot on earth (Mt. Wai’ale’ale with an average of 460 inches of rain a year) and one of the world’s steepest and most colorful canyons, Waimea Canyon, often called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Whether it’s a beach where you can surf world-class waves with not a competitor in sight, or a lush river where your boat cuts through glassy water with no sound but the screech of an osprey, or a sheltered cove where you can challenge your stand-up paddleboard skills without fear, it’s all here.

Hiking is also a popular activity in Kaua’i; the crazy Kalalau trail that skirts the cliffs of the Napali coast is one of the best known hikes in all of Hawaii, certainly winning a spot on most avid hikers’ brag lists. Then there’s Waimea canyon, with numerous jungle-shrouded trails descending the canyon walls to arrive at waterfalls that crash into swimmable pools. But pretty much any trail in Kaua’i will take you somewhere you won’t regret going—and there’s almost always a beach or river along the way to keep you cool.

Then there’s the world-famous scenery. Want to see the rope swing Harrison Ford dangled from in the first Indiana Jones movie? Check. Want to see the trees shredded by the gargantuan claws of Tyrannosaurus Rex in Jurassic Park? Check. Want to go back further in film history and see the real Bali Hai that inspired Bloody Mary’s song in South Pacific? Check. How about a swim in the rock-walled lagoon where Johnny Depp took a dip in Pirates of the Caribbean? You can do that too. The Kaua’i film commission books movies all year long. Tours are available that take you to all the most popular sites, or you can look them up and visit them on your own.

And finally, there are not one, not two, but four official botanical gardens on the island of Kauai. Must-sees for plant lovers include the National Tropical Botanical Garden on the north shore and the Allerton Garden on the south shore between Poipu and Waimea. Of course, chances are your resort, condo or hotel will be surrounded by glorious tropical gardens as well. And if you’ve come for the three Rs—rest, relaxation and romance—you may choose to stay beach and pool-side with drink in hand. Either way, you’ll likely find yourself among the many Kauai fanatics who go back year after year.

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