Visiting Kauai is like stepping into the background of a vacation postcard, Mary Poppins style.
Kauai is the oldest island in Hawaii. Nicknamed the Garden Isle, it is known for its lush green tropical landscapes and spectacular scenery, including the 3,600-foot-deep Waimea Canyon and 3,000-foot-high cliffs along the Napali Coast.
There are a number of qualities that sets Kauai apart from other islands such as its unspoiled views and its status as the go-to filming location for many of Hollywood’s most iconic films such as Jurassic Park, Jurassic World and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
Aside from the obvious highlights (beaches and film sets, anyone?), there are many new and different activities that visitors, and even some locals, don’t know about. Our alternative guide to the island will help make sure your next Kauai visit doesn’t just consist of staying in a nice resort, going to a luau, throwing up some shakas and sunbathing—although, we aren’t against any of those activities.
Kristie Hang is a TV host and journalist with an insatiable appetite for food and travel.
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1. Kauai ATV: Koloa Plantation Tour
Experience Kauai and Hollywood speeding through 22 miles of dirt and rock on Kauai ATV's
two or four seater Bugs. Your guide will share fun facts about the island as well as stop by the very locations where many of your favorite Hollywood movies were filmed like Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones. Your high adrenaline ride will take you through old plantation trails over Kauai's most southern point to the top of an inactive volcanic crater, through the island's historic sugarcane haul tunnel in the dark, to an old bunker and the shorelines of the Waita reservoir, uncovering pristine views of the ocean and mountains. Book the longer waterfall tour if you want to add a short hike and dip in the water to your ride. Bring in three cans of people or pet food for the Kauai Food Bank or the Humane Society to get $10 off photos.
Photo by Kristie Hang
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2. Haraguchi Rice Mill: Guided Farm Tour
If there's one tour you have to do on Kauai, it's the Haraguchi Rice Mill Tour. Seventy-three percent of Hawaii's taro production is grown on 235 acres on the island of Kauai. The sixth generation farm is Hawaii's only remaining rice mill. The 3.5 hour tour is a unique cultural and gastronomical experience conducted by Lyndsey Haraguchi, a fifth generation farmer who grew up in the taro fields that her family has owned since 1800s. The tour begins on a working wetland taro farm located within a National Wildlife Refuge that is not accessible to the public. Guests are able to get up close to a number of endangered bird species in the refuge.
Haraguchi demonstrates the hard work that goes into cultivating and harvesting taro as participants get hands-on wading through the plants to gather destructive apple snails and their bright pink eggs. The tour moves over to the rice mill, which has been turned into a mini museum with old rice hulling and polishing equipment from as early as the 1900s. Staff pound and grind fresh taro root the old fashion way and mix it with freshly grated coconut for guests to enjoy. The tour concludes at the Hanalei Taro & Juice Co. food truck—one of the island's most highly reviewed eateries—for lunch.
Photo by Kristie Hang
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3. Waipa Foundation: He 'Aina Ola Farm Tour
The Waipa Foundation brings diners to the property for dinner using ingredients straight from their farm. The He 'Aina Ola Farm Tour, which is Hawaiian for "A Nourishing Feast," is a new bimonthly dinner tour that begins with a walking tour of Waipa Foundation's working farm, orchard and gardens. Guests walk the land and learn about Kauai's North Shore and the food it supplies. The tour is followed by a dinner cooked by the Westin Princeville culinary team. The menu uses seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, including produce grown in the gardens, and changes every dinner depending on what is fresh. The three-course meal also incorporates three wine pairings for the appetizer, catch of the day entrée and dessert. A recent menu included an appetizer of Blue Crabcake with citrus kailani greens with avocado mousse; an entrée of Seared Monchong with Waipa purple mashed potatoes; and a dessert of Orange Vanilla Cake with citrus dust, poha berries and guava sorbet. Live traditional Hawaiian music and hula dancing keep diners thoroughly entertained.
This dinner and tour are limited to 25 people. The dinner tours are the second and fourth Mondays of each month.
Photo by Kristie Hang
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4. Napali Snorkel Sail
The Napali Coast is Kauai's famous coastline and backdrop to many iconic Hollywood films. Spanning 17 miles, it features panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean as well as 3,000-4,000 foot cliffs, waterfalls and beaches. Since much of the coast is inaccessible, sailing is one of the best ways the experience its beauty. Hop aboard the Leila, a beautiful 50-foot catamaran that goes up to 20 mph. Take a seat on Leila's front row bouncy trampoline for the ultimate thrill ride and be prepared to get soaked.
The 5.5-hour afternoon sail includes a continental breakfast, a deli-style buffet lunch, alcoholic drinks and dessert. The Sunset Sail includes snacks, a make-your-own taco bar, fresh fruit, mai tais, wine, beer and margaritas. The crew is on hand to entertain passengers with facts and stories of the island. The captain will anchor the boat and provide gear for 45 minutes of snorkeling with colorful tropical reef fish, sea turtles and other marine life. Be on the lookout for the spinner dolphins that like to ride the pressure waves of the boat and cameos from humpback whales. The crew at Holo Holo Charters also get you up close to the majestic sea caves, which are a sight to behold.
Photo courtesy of Holo Holo Charter Tours
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5. Kauai Backcountry Adventures: Mountain Tubing
Kauai Backcountry Adventure's Mountain Tubing tour gives guests exclusive access to what was formerly the Lihue Plantation, an old sugar plantation that spanned 17,000 acres. You're outfitted with a headlamp, gloves and a tube before fluming your way through old irrigation systems and tunnels that were dug by hand over a century ago. The tour runs through some of the most beautiful and remote land on Kauai and takes you to stunning views of the mountains and the Waialeale Crater. The guides will ride along as you spin circles for a bit and slide through dark and intricate tunnels. The day ends with a light picnic lunch right next to a natural swimming pool.
Photo Courtesy of Kauai Backcountry Adventure Mountain Tubing