We were lucky enough to spend three weeks adventuring around Hawaii, and split our time between Kauai and Maui.
We did so much in Kauai, I could write about it for weeks (and I may still do some spotlight blogs if I have the time) but will instead just focus on the must-dos based on what we did, those things we missed out on and finally the “meh” things we did (you know – the sights that were okay but nothing special).
Kauai is the less popular island than its bigger neighbour, Maui and is also a little harder to travel to as there are no direct flights from the mainland. The extra travel to get there is well worth it when you see this tropical volcano Jurassic park paradise in front of you. @IdrisElba was holidaying there whilst we there so clearly it’s the place to be. It’s called the Garden Island and despite reading up and organising a few bits ahead of time, I had no idea how beautiful it would be. From the moment we left the airport, which ever direction I looked reminded me of Jurassic park.
Our experience didn’t get off to the best start though – a small delay from San Diego meant we were running through the airport in Maui to catch our connecting flight, only just making it. Sadly our luggage did not. Now, I’ve never lost luggage before and would not have given two hoots if it was just me and Krish (sorry, dear husband) but with Rishi, I was beside myself – it was not something I had prepared myself for. Cue some stern words with the airport staff and then some tears (both had zero impact). After a three hour wait the luggage finally arrived and we were off (screaming baby in tow).
My first tip for Kauai … look at a road map of the island before you go (something my husband who planned our Kauai adventure did not do)! To get from the north of the island to the west requires a long drive clockwise east and south as there are no direct roads linking that particular corner. If you’re thinking of visiting the west of the island (which is where a few of the national parks and some of the spectacular landscape is), then I would recommend to stay in the south of the island so you minimise travelling around.
We split our stay – in Princeville (north) and Poipu (south) and did a fair bit of travelling around. The island isn’t massive so the drives aren’t too long, but we did try to plan our days so we were making the most of any drive west (particularly from Princeville). Poipu is centrally located, great for diving and beaches and generally has better weather. Princeville is less expensive but just as spectacular.
So where to start?!
Helicopter tour: we were really keen to see the Na Pali coast and as none of the local catamaran operators would allow Rishi (or any babies under between 2 -5, depending on the operator) on board, we opted for the chopper. Having the aerial view of the coast was, in hindsight, probably the best we could have asked for. We had clear blue skies and an incredible view. Shop around for your tour (look for discounts on sites like groupon) and sound out the company in advance to check they are used to having kids. We flew with Blue Hawaiian and they were great and had special headphones (which were incredible) for babies and a life vest.
They allow a lap child (if under 2) and as soon as we set off Rishi fell asleep, and stayed asleep for the entire flight. My arms were killing me… but it meant that I just enjoyed the whole flight without worrying about Rishi! Allowing me to focus on those moments where I thought, “oh yep, tear coming to my eye as it’s so beautiful.”
Waimea Canyon: there are two routes to get to this national park – highway 550 or, as the road signs direct you, a less windy road without the great views. So my tip would be to take the highway there and the other road back. Beyond just looking from the viewpoints, there is a lot you can do in the canyon from hiking, camping, kayaking to tubing. We sadly didn’t have time for any of that with Rishi but the views alone were incredible. So investigate and explore!
Highway 550: so when Krishna said we were going for a drive, I wasn’t particularly excited about it. Thoughts of me trying to calm a screaming Rishi in the back of the car for 7 hours is what I expected but Krish persuaded me with the idea of a picnic en-route. Hands down this was one of the wow things for me, even though I get car sick, this was totally worth it. There’s so many things to stop by on the way that it meant there were breaks in the journey which were interesting enough that Rishi didn’t totally lose it in the car. We packed enough things to keep him entertained, we did some singing and we tried to make sure we kept up his napping routine.
There are view points along the way, and there are loads of guidebooks to tell you where to stop. For me, other than the Waimea Canyon lookout, I would just go with the flow. You’ll see cars parked along the side of the road which usually means there’s a good view point and you can join the crowds or pull in elsewhere and soak it up just you. They were all great views. On the particular day we went the weather was variable and it was windy, so the great thing was that the views were full of rainbows. Everywhere and some of the most brilliant rainbows I’ve ever seen.
The look out at Waimea Canyon is spectacular. We stopped twice (as we turned around on the route) to make sure we got the most of the view in the morning and in the late afternoon sun.
It is a popular stop with restrooms, a car park and some locals selling fruits and drinks. We had expected there to be a picnic area and so tried to time our drive to get here for lunchtime so we could feed Rishi. So it was a bit annoying when we discovered there was nowhere to sit down. There were some grass areas but they was overrun with chickens. As a matter of fact the whole island is … a hurricane in the 80s ripped apart loads of chicken coups and the islanders obviously had bigger things to do than run after chickens but now the island is overrun with them and you find them in the weirdest places. So anyway, we improvised for lunch – popped Rishi in the boot with a tidy tot tray and we had a picnic. Krish made guacamole and sandwiches in the front seat and it just worked.
Hanapepe night market: if you look online and tripadvisor, this street market receives mixed reviews. For us, it was great.
It takes place every Friday from 6-9ish and is a mixture of galleries and shops opening late, with street stalls and good food. It was a nice change for us as the Kauai night scene is pretty quiet. And the street market was perfect for Rishi too.
National Botanical Gardens: lots of people told us to visit the gardens and while there was a good 20year age gap between us and the next visitors, definitely go. It’s only worth going if you go on one of the tours and have a look at which one suits your schedule.
The Allerton Gardens stood out for us, particularly the trees from Jurassic Park. While this is worth a photo, there’s so much more to take in. Rishi was perfectly happy in our carrier and enjoyed looking at all the trees. Currently still one of his favourite things to do.
Hit the beach: there are so many to choose from but get your search criteria sorted upfront. So think about…
ACCESS, how are you going to get there?
ACTIVITIES, what do you want to do?! Swim? Sunbathe? snorkel? See wildlife? Some of the currents are strong which can impact visibility for snorkelling or whether you can even swim in the first place. Some other areas are perfect for seeing turtles and seals.
AMENITIES, some are very remote and have no toilets, eateries or washing facilities while others are set up with rental companies (for umbrellas and snorkel equipment).
CONDITIONS, some beaches aren’t suitable for children let alone babies, so if you’re happy to just sit in the beach and watch surfers, then fine but if you want to get in then look for calm, shallow and protected waters! There are some but they are usually popular.
BE PREPARED, if you’re staying in a condo it’s likely that you’ll have equipment like beach chairs and towels that you can take, but be prepared for anything. So take some food and a change of clothes, just in case the facilities aren’t up to scratch.
We hit a few beaches:
Anini beach: this was a recommendation from a soon to be Grandma we met in an art gallery. It had toilets, but nothing else nearby but it was a pretty stop off on the way home back to Princeville. A beautiful coastal drive to the beach and then we had a nice stroll.
Baby Beach: exactly what it says… full of families and in fact we felt like we were intruding as there was one family that seemed to know everyone. It had very calm and shallow waters (probably thigh high at most) and was a sandy beach. There was some parking on the road but not much and just a few stairs to the beach. It was beautiful and not very busy.
Poipu beach: we made time for this beach twice as it was so lovely. It’s made up of a couple of little bays (frequented with turtles, seals and great for snorkelling). I also saw a whale from the shore whilst sitting on this beach. Stunning!
Kapaa Coastal walk: ok, I love this. It’s not an adventurous hike … it’s by the coast on a coastal boardwalk. We timed it around Rishi’s nap time and popped him in the stroller on the morning route. He slept for nearly the whole of the walk and I ended up breastfeeding on this little beach we found with just us. Pretty idyllic. There’s great views of the coast, think crashing waves and nature fighting against the elements. We mixed it up with lunch in Kappa and it was a really good day.
Time in Kapaa: such a cute little place with some great places to eat, drink and shop. Well worth a stop and a walk around. You have to just accept the Hawaiian prices, which are admittedly quite high. Everyone is super friendly and we got lots of hints of things to do. There’s a great little gallery there which you should pop into and it will wet your appetite for the Friday night art market.
Menehune Fish Pond: Krish said we were off to visit a fish pond.. I think the name could do with some work but it was a gorgeous viewing spot. It was really peaceful, no one else around and you go this panoramic view of the volcanoes and the surrounding landscape was truly impressive. It was a man-made fish pond originally, but it’s impressive as it shows how nature takes over if you leave it to it’s our devices.
Things which were ok…
McBryde Gardens: Beautiful but if manicured gardens aren’t your thing and you’re short on time I wouldn’t go.
Spouting Horn: it’s apparently the second most visited tourist spot in Kauai… but it totally depends on the day. If the surf isn’t good then there isn’t a lot to see.
Hanalei: this was the first “trip” of the whole holiday. It’s a beautiful little town with great views the the volcanoes, nice long beach and a pier. We had a great lunch and enjoyed our walk around but truth be told, it just didn’t live up to everything else we saw. The highlights were the walk along the beach and buying a Hawaiian shirt from the vintage shops. Maybe the day was soured by what we now call “sippycup gate”, we won’t go in to the ins and outs of who lost the sippy cup (it was Krish) but needless to say losing our only sippy cup on the first day made for an annoying shopping trip the next day trying to find one like it!
Waimea Falls: we tagged this on to the end of a day out at Poipu Beach. If you can tag it on the end of a day out, do it, but don’t make a special trip. Beautiful waterfall and there were some mad people who were breaking through the fence and ignoring all the “”danger, you will die” signs to stand at the top.
Things we didn’t do, but we thought would be good:
Catamaran tour: we did some research and due to insurance policies many of the companies would not accept very young children and the youngest we could find was 2 years old. This would be a good way to see the island but to be fair I am an awful boat tripper, so I did not mind missing it AT ALL.
Tubing: there’s options where you can tube in rubber rings down the rivers. Sounds fun. Not baby suitable but fun all the same.
More beaches: some beaches require a treacherous descent over rocks to be accessed. From what I understand, once there they promise spectacular views. It wasn’t really possible for us to attempt this with Rishi. I like an adventure but in this respect the reviews I’ve read from some people of something like Queens Baths are pretty terrifying and why on Earth you’d try it in anything but walking boots is beyond me!
We spent 10 days on the island and even this wasn’t enough. I felt like I could live there (but probably not as it’s so expensive) and spend years taking in each and every corner of this amazing island. Throw in the fact that we also saw some spectacular stars and the lunar eclipse in perfect uninterrupted view and you just think to yourself, weren’t we bloody lucky.
Rishi coped incredibly well, and got over the jetlag so much better than I could have hoped. My massive bit of advice to anyone with a baby is to say two things: bring a couple of his favourite toys and remember things change. He was sleeping ok but not great, but he soon got into the swing of it and our new routine.