Touring Kauai's Crown Jewels

with The Makai Guy

Maintained by Doug Wilson,
Last text update: 29 January 2009.
Several links updated 26 July 2012

Unless otherwise noted, text and images © Copyright F.D.Wilson, all rights reserved.

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Mailbag updated 8 Sept 2001.

The lush green mountains, plains, and valleys of Kaua`i have earned it the nickname The Garden Isle. Nurtured by the tradewinds, the North Shore receives more rainfall than the rest of the island and tends to be the lushest of the lush, and the greenest of the green. From stirring mountain views to placid streams, from majestic bays to towering Pali (cliffs), from pocket beaches to arching rainbows, the North Shore is a delight to the eye and a feast for the soul.

As I'm sure you can tell already, this magical place has established an abiding hold on me. Allow me to share some of this special spell with you, as we tour The North Shore.


As we explore The North Shore, we'll encounter several SIDE TRIPS, indicated by the signpost you see here. To take one of these trips, just click on the signpost, and the side trip will open in its own separate window for your convenience. You can continue your tour in THIS window while your sidetrip downloads. When you have completed the side trip, just close its window, or click on the "Close Window" sign you'll see there.

You'll also encounter some embedded hypertext links to external websites. These will also open in separate windows for your convenience.

[NOTE: If you have a "pop-up stopper" utility installed on your system, it MAY prevent these links from operating. If so, see your utility's documentation for instructions on how to permit opening additional windows from this website, or to temporarily disable the utility.]

Here are a couple of quick side trips, to help you with some of the burning questions that are probably consuming you already!
How the heck do you
pronounce Kaua`i ??
Just where IS this
place, anyway?


This adaptation of a remarkable Lansat satellite image illustrates a fact about Kaua`i that applies to the rest of the Islands as well. Their interiors tend to be rugged, mountainous, and inaccessible. Most of the roads and development are found makai (by or toward the sea), with few roads penetrating mauka (in or toward the mountains).

As you can see, the transition from mountain to sea tends to be most abrupt on the north to northwest part of the island, and much of the coastline in this area consists of basaltic bluffs or outright cliffs. At Na Pali, in fact, the mountains run right up to the shoreline, leaving no room for roads, so one cannot drive all the way around Kaua`i. The stretch of shoreline beginning with Na Pali and ending with Kilauea Point at the "top" of the island is considered the "North Shore". Don't worry, it's not ALL cliffs and bluffs. The North Shore does have beaches, and some delightful ones at that, but they tend to collect at the heads of inlets and at pockets at the base of the cliffs.

Even if you've never been to Kaua`i physically, most likely you HAVE been there visually -- the scenery is so entrancing that many film makers have used The North Shore as a backdrop. George Lucas filmed the opening portions of Raiders of the Lost Ark here and under Steven Spielberg Kaua`i became Jurassic Park. Nearly ALL of South Pacific was filmed on the North Shore, and even Dino de Laurentis' remake of King Kong found its way here, just to name a few. In fact, there is an enterprise called Hawaii Movie Tours making a business of touring Kaua'i movie locations. We toured with them on our last visit and really enjoyed the tour..

So who cares whether this is your first visit, or if you're a Kaua`i veteran? Let's go see the sights!

Tour of the North Shore

Many of the images which follow have been reduced in size to cut down on transfer time. To see larger versions, you may click on them individually. These images will load in separate windows, allowing you to continue reading while they load.

[Kilauea light house]
Kilauea Light House
Kilauea Point juts out 200 feet above the sea, forming the northernmost point on Kaua`i. The lighthouse here dates to 1913, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The lighthouse and its grounds make up a small part of the Hawaiian Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge extends 1200 miles or so to the northwest and covers hundreds of small uninhabited islands which make up the balance of the Hawaiian chain. Here at Kilauea the visitor may see albatross, frigate birds, shearwaters, white- and red-tailed tropicbirds, and literally thousands of red footed boobies. (Yes, boobies! Could I make this up?). Be sure to put Kilauea Lighthouse on your "must see" list, as the views from the point are spectacular. Unfortunately, I've been informed by the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge that the Crater Hill Hike that they used to provide has been suspended indefinitely. See the side trip below for what you formerly could see if you were willing to climb a bit.

Crater Hill Hike

Just outside Kilauea town is the Guava Kai Plantation, a real, working guava farm. Stop in to their gift shop for a sip or three of refreshing ice cold guava juice, and load up on tropical jams, jellies, and syrup as gifts for when you return home. Our experience says to buy lots, or else you'll use it all yourself before your friends get their gifts! While there, be sure to take a few minutes to stroll through their delightful tropical gardens.

Heading toward the west, we come to the Princeville Resort. Situated on a high volcanic bench overlooking the sea, Princeville is a complete resort community with hotels, condominiums, shopping, and recreation. The 27-hole Makai golf course is located here, as is the number one rated course in Hawai`i, the Prince. You are looking at the intimidating view from the tee of the Makai Course's signature hole, the par 3 seventh hole on the Ocean nine, across a rocky inlet and toward the green. We consider Princeville as our Kaua`i "home", as we have purchased two timeshare weeks at the Makai Club here. You can visit the Princeville home page, but don't forget to come back!

On its west side, Princeville overlooks beautiful Hanalei Bay, where many of the scenes for South Pacific were shot. This scenic harbor is the center of waterbased activities such as sightseeing boat trips (more on this later) and fishing charters.

The terraces at both the Princeville Hotel and the Hanalei Bay Resort overlook the bay and are great places for a sunset dinner, or enjoying a pupu platter, sucking down a couple of mai tais, and watching the sun set beyond Haena Point. The prominent hump at Haena Point was used as the film location for "Bali Hai" in South Pacific, and so is almost universally called Bali Hai today, instead of its rightful name, Mt. Makana.

At the head of Hanalei Bay is the broad valley of the Hanalei River. Across the road from Princeville you'll find a nice viewpoint for this valley, which serves as a wildlife sanctuary and is known for its taro production. Taro is grown in flooded fields, and was a staple of the original Hawai'ian diet. Poi, a nutritious (if not particularly tasteful to my Midwestern palate) food, is made by pounding taro roots into paste.

From the overlook, the road switchbacks down to the valley and follows the Hanalei River into Hanalei town. Our favorite North Shore restaurant is here - the Hanalei Dolphin, known both for its open air charm along the river and for outstanding seafood. When we visited in 1993, less than a year after Hurricane Iniki had devastated Kaua`i, we were told that the Dolphin was not going to reopen -- we felt as though we had lost a dear friend. I'm happy to report the Dolphin is fully restored to its former splendor and is back in operation. One of our other favorites, the Shell House, was not as fortunate and is no more. But a new restaurant has taken its place, Zelo's Beach House.

Another fine dining spot is Auntie Louise Marston's Tahiti Nui. The guys will want to check out the achingly lovely painting of a young polynesian woman which hangs above the bar in the lounge - the claim is that it is a portrait of Auntie Louise in her youth.

For a less formal meal, there's always Bubba's Burgers, a Kaua`i favorite from Kapa'a on the eastern shore that has now added a Hanalei location. After downing your burger, take a stroll to the back of the small shopping center where Bubba's is located and peer thru the fence for a lovely view of Mt. Waialeale.

Mount Waialeale

On the west end of town you'll find the old Waioli Hui'iwa Church, dating from 1912. Some claim its delightful setting make it the most photographed building in the Hawai`ian Islands.

As we continue west, we cross a number of streams which descend from the mountains to spill into the ocean. These are crossed by a series of one lane bridges. Aside from adding a quaint touch to the area, the one-laners have also inhibited development beyond Hanalei, and that's just the way the residents (and many visitors) like it.

In a short while, you'll come to a place where the road makes a sharp turn on a bluff overlooking the sea. Typically, a few cars are parked there (sometimes MORE than a few) for no readily apparent reason. You can pull over here yourself and follow the sometimes-slippery trail down to one of Kaua'i`s gems - Lumahai Beach. Lumahai served as the Nurses' Beach in South Pacific , the place where Mitzi Gaynor "washed that man right out of her hair". As enticing as Lumahai appears, caution is advised if you go into the water, as there is no protective reef here and the undertow can sometimes be dangerous.

[Hanalei Colony Resort] A little further on we come to Hanalei Colony Resort, located on one of the few lowlying shoreline areas on this part of the island. Hanalei Colony is the only seaside resort on the North Shore - everything else is on bluffs above the ocean. Before acquiring our timeshare in Princeville, we stayed here several times, and it was always a delight, with the surf outside our windows gently lulling us off to sleep at night. A nice perk here was that guests could check out beach mats and snorkel gear for use on the nearby beaches.

Sharing a parking lot with Hanalei Colony is a restaurant that was formerly Charo's Cantina (yep, THAT Charo of "cuchi cuchi" fame). Since she moved her entertainment operations to Oahu and sold the place, it went through a number of unsuccessful incarnations before becoming The Mediterranean Gourmet in 2006.

A little past Hanalei Colony (beyond the YMCA camp) look for a spot with lots of cars parked along the side of the road. Sometimes it is also marked with an orange ribbon tied around a tree or telephone pole. Park your car and head back along the beach access path and you'll come out at one of the real treats on the North Shore - Tunnels Beach. The name is the result of the arches and holes in the coral reefs which shelter the beach here. This is one of the premier snorkeling spots on Kaua`i, as colorful reef fish can be seen by the thousands feeding on the coral in the clear tropical water.

[Double Rainbow over Maniniholo Bay] The scenery above the water at Tunnels isn't so shabby either. You may recall Matty (Kathleen Turner) in the final shot of the movie Body Heat, lounging on a beach with cool drink in hand -- this is the spot. Early one morning a few years ago I was strolling along Tunnels Beach when an isolated rain cloud passed overhead, creating a quick but intense squall. As it moved on down the shore, low-angle sunlight created a magnificent double anu'enu'e (rainbow) arching over Mt. Makana. The result is the picture you see here (which also occupies a place of honor on our living room wall).

The beach continues around Ha'ena Point and into Maniniholo Bay, where we find Ha`ena Beach Park. Despite the large swimming beach, and tranquil sheltered waters of the bay, the most prominent feature here is probably the large gaping opening in the rock across the road from the beach. This is the Maniniholo Dry Cave. The cave formerly was much deeper, but a tsunami a number of years ago partially filled it with sand.


Several other caves can be found in the area as well, including a couple of water filled "Wet Caves", Waikanaloa and Waikapalae, which are reached by short trails. These are all lava tubes, openings left in the rock as lava flows drained out of their cooling and hardening exterior shells.

Continuing along the Kuhio Highway look for a concrete driveway on the left marked for National Botanical Gardens at Limahuli Valley. Pull in here for a refreshing and worthwhile experience.

Limahuli Botanical

A quarter mile or so further on we literally come to the end of the road, in Ha`ena State Park. High mountains abut the shoreline here, and the road has nowhere further it can go. The resulting twenty mile stretch of roadless cliffs is the fabled Na Pali coast.

There is a small cove at the end of the road, fronted by Ke`e (kay-ay) Beach. Ke`e is nicely sheltered by a coral reef and is another well frequented snorkeling spot.

If you walk the beach to the right and climb out on the rocks a bit, you can get a glimpse of NaPali, and the surf crashing against the cliffs. This picture was taken in October, before the BIG winter surf arrives.

Being the western end of the road, this is also a popular place to watch the sunset, in the hope of catching an elusive atmospheric phenomenon called the "green flash" just as the sun dips below the horizon. At least that's the theory -- I've never seen it myself, and have always wondered if this is a case of the Locals having a good chuckle at the expense of the tourists.


The parking lot at the end of the road is also where we find the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail - an eleven mile trek along Na Pali which climbs as much as 800 feet above the ocean and is spoken of with reverence by island hikers. It is not necessary to hike the entire length to enjoy the trail. If you are physically able, do yourself a huge favor and take the trail at least the first half mile or so, until it rounds the headland and presents your first view down the Na Pali. If so inclined, you can then turn back, knowing that you have just experienced the best view of Na Pali that can be found in the first several miles of the trail. As the old commercial says, "It just doesn't get any better than this".

On the way back you'll be treated to a delightful look down into the cove at Ke'e Beach. From on high we can see the protective reef and clear water that make this such a nice snorkeling spot.

But if you decide to keep going, it's only about another mile and a half to Hanakapiai Beach, a very popular destination. Along the way, you can peer down into the astonishingly clear water, and possibly spot sea turtles and dolphins busy turtling and dolphining.

NaPali Boat Tour
In former times, during the summer months, you'd have seen another common sight - boatloads of sightseers viewing Na Pali from a Na Pali boat tour. Due to a controversial ruling by the state government in fall of 1998, Na Pali tour operators were banned from operating from nearby Hanalei, so tour operators were forced to operate from southern ports that were further from NaPali. These difficulties have now been resolved and tours from Hanalei have been reinstated. This is still an extremely popular activity on Kaua`i that can provide viewpoints along Na Pali you can't get any other way, but you probably won't see as many boats along this part of the trail as before the ban.

At Hanakapiai Beach you can turn your back on the ocean and hike two miles mauka (into the mountains, remember?) to the head of the valley where Hanakapiai Falls tumbles hundreds of feet into a refreshing crystal pool. The complete roundtrip from the parking lot to the falls and back is 8 miles. I've found this makes for a very full day, but you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you've done something most tourists will never experience. One word of advice - take lots of drinking water. The tropical sun can get brutal and many of the streams are contaminated by wild goats and pigs found in the mountains. You should not drink from the streams unless you purify them first. Nope, you can't escape such things, even here in paradise.

For the real adventuresome, the trail ends at the Kalalau Valley, eleven miles down the coast. To overnight on the trail, you'll need a permit.

Here's a link to Kurt Bangert and Carola Blasing-Bangert's description of the same hike to Hanakapiai Falls.

And here's a link to Kathleen Ann Goonan's account of hiking the entire trail, Getting to Kalalau.

Wrapping it up

Well, that's our tour, from Kilauea to Na Pali. I hope you have enjoyed viewing it as much as I've enjoyed sharing it with you. If I've managed to pass on just a fraction of the delight I experience every time I visit the North Shore, the effort to assemble this site will be time well spent.

If you'd like to let me know what you thought of your visit here, or share some of your North Shore experiences, I'd be tickled to hear from you. The easiest way is to use my handy-dandy FEEDBACK FORM. If your browser doesn't support forms, you can email me at If you'd like to see what others have written, you can take a peek in Makai Guy's Mailbag.

You might also like to take a peek at Makai Guy's Links to additional Kauai Information.

Aloha to you all,

Doug Wilson, the Makai Guy

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