When researching Kauai, the island appears to be a rather upscale destination. And though it does offer many of the luxuries of life, Kauai is a laid-back island. Like most everything in life, the best things to enjoy in Kauai are free – or at least pretty inexpensive. Exploring Kauai is a never-ending treasure hunt of sights and sounds that can be both intriguing and affordable. Called Hawaii’s Island of Discovery, Kauai’s landscape is an enticing, exciting playground for lovers of the environment, outdoor adventure, and Polynesian culture. Below are 10 enjoyable ways to experience Kauai for free (or nearly free).
- Explore the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”: Waimea Canyon is a sightseer’s paradise – a mile wide, 10 miles long and more than 3,500-feet deep. Take in the stunning views from the lookouts or hike into the crater. After your exploration, enjoy a picnic lunch at the top of the crater in Koke‘e State Park.
- Get Your Steps In: Kauai is a hiker’s dream destination, with impressive hiking trails that submerge you into the splendor of Kauai’s lush wilderness. Trails range from comfortable walks to challenging treks into hidden valleys streaming with waterfalls. A must-do for any serious hiker is the 11-mile Kalalau Trail along the majestic Napali Coast.
- Visit Kauai’s Cherished Sites. Prince Kuhio Park was home to Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole - beloved as the “People’s Prince” for his tireless work on behalf of Hawaii’s people and the last royal heir to the Hawaiian throne. This historical sight features the foundation of Prince Kuhio’s home, a royal fishpond, a shrine where offerings were made, and heiau (ancient place of worship) where the kahuna (priests) meditated and lived. There is also Alekoko Fishpond, built hundreds of years ago for a young chief. Located in the Huleia National Wildlife Refuge, the fishpond is also known as Menehune Fishpond because legend is that it was built by the mythical menehune (little people) of Hawaii. Finally, the Wailua River is a beautifully scenic area that was once a sacred place reserved for the kings and high chiefs of Kauai.
- Discover Kauai’s Culture. Hawaii is the only state with its own music, language and dance. On Kauai, enjoy the culture of the islands for free or at little cost. Many hotels offer hula performances, torch lighting ceremonies, and lei-making courses, among other cultural offerings. Coconut Marketplace in Kapa‘a and Harbor Mall in Lihu‘e hosts free hula shows every Wednesday.
- A Birdwatcher’s Paradise: For a small entry fee, the Kilauea National Wildlife Refuge is a must-visit for bird lovers. Surrounded by breathtaking views of Kauai’s north shore, endangered birds can be seen nesting in the cliffs. Look to the ocean and you have a good chance of seeing Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles and Hawaiian spinner dolphins.
- River Fun: The only navigable rivers in Hawaii are found on Kauai. Rent a kayak and leisurely paddle along one of the gentle. Journey by riverboat up the Wailua River to the famous Fern Grotto.
- The Quaint Towns of Kauai: Koloa is a historic 19th century plantation town that was the site of Hawaii’s first sugar plantation. Every July the Koloa Plantation Days celebrates the town’s proud heritage. Fall in love with Hanapepe’s small-town appeal, with its plantation-era buildings and slow-paced lifestyle.
- Waterfall Spectacular: Kauai’s waterfalls are a year-round display of nature’s ability to keep the island green and vibrant. In scenic Wailua, Opaekaa Falls is the island’s most accessible major waterfall as it cascades into a hidden pool. Plus, it is the perfect spot for photos.
- Experience History: Learn the story of the island with intriguing exhibits and artifacts in Kauai’s museums. The Kauai Museum, located in Lihue, tells the island’s story from its formation and the arrival of the first Polynesians to more modern times. After you learn the history, heave over to Grove Farm, one of Hawaii’s earliest sugar plantations. The museum offers a display of Kauai’s heritage, highlighting the old sugar days through the monarchy to statehood. Don’t forget to stop by Waioli Mission in Hanalei. Here, one of Kauai’s most influential families, the Wilcox family, established their life in the 1800s. What is unique about this home is that it was shipped pieces from Boston around Cape Horn. Today, it stands as a showcase of koa wood furniture and other artifacts from that era.
- Hit the Beach! With more than 50 miles of gorgeous white sand beaches to choose from, Kauai’s sands beckon you to waste away the day. Whether enjoying the fun at Poipu or tossing a towel down in a secluded cove at Anini, Kauai’s array of beaches matches the island’s diversity.
By its very nature, Kauai is a destination to be explored and an experience to be discovered – a place that encourages loved ones to gather and create priceless memories to last a lifetime.