Like most everything in life, the best things to enjoy about Kaua'i — its natural beauty and Hawai'ian culture — are free or, at least, pretty affordable.Like most everything in life, the best things to enjoy about Kaua'i — its natural beauty and Hawai'ian culture — are free or, at least, pretty affordable.
Called Hawai'i's Island of Discovery and popularly referred to as "The Garden Island" – both for good reason – Kaua‘i's landscape is an enticing, exciting playground for fun, outdoor adventure, and Polynesian culture. Here are some enjoyable and interesting ways for visitors to experience and enjoy Kaua‘i for free (or nearly free) and have an affordorable family vacation.
Exploring Kauai's Natural World
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. The Kalalau Lookout is especially memorable with its unforgettable view of the once cultivated valley that descends 4,000-feet to the Pacific. After sightseeing, enjoy a picnic lunch at the top of the crater in Koke‘e State Park. There's a small fee for cars entering the park.
A Birdwatcher's Paradise
For a nominal entry fee, the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is a uniquely special setting for bird lovers. Framed by breathtaking views of Kaua‘i's north shore, Hawai‘i's endangered birds, including the Hawaiian Gallinule, red-footed boobies, tropic birds, albatrosses and frigate birds, are 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.
A Garden Isle Waterfall Spectacular
Kaua‘i's waterfalls are a year-round display of nature's ability to keep the Kaua'i green and vibrant. In Lihu‘e, one can drive right up to picturesque Wailua Falls.
In scenic Wailua, Opaeka‘a Falls is the island's most accessible major waterfall as it cascades into a hidden pool. And it's a wonderful setting to take photos. Opaeka‘a means "rolling shrimp," which were once abundant in the stream.
Hike Amid Rainforests and Lush Valleys
Kaua‘i is a hiker's dream destination, with spectacular trails through Kaua‘i's verdant wilderness. Hikes 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.
A River Runs Through It
The only navigable rivers in Hawai‘i are found – and enjoyed – on Kaua‘i. Rent a kayak and leisurely paddle along one of the gentle rivers bordered by lush, tropical foliage. Or, though it's not free (nominal $5 charge in 2010), you can journey by riverboat up the Wailua River to the famous Fern Grotto. In this beautiful, jungle-like setting, a natural amphitheater, with remarkable acoustics, has been formed.
Exploring Kauai History & Culture
Experience Kaua‘i's History
The telling of Kaua‘i's story can be experienced in museums offering intriguing exhibits and artifacts. In Lihu‘e, the Kaua‘i Museum tells the island's story from its formation and the arrival of the first Polynesians, to more modern times and the start of the sugar plantations, and the various ethnic cultures that have contributed to its history. Entrance to the museum is $10 for adults and $2 for kids 6-12.
Also in Lihu‘e, Grove Farm was established as one of Hawai‘i's earliest sugar plantations, but today offers a museum display of Kaua‘i's heritage, highlighting the old sugar days, through the monarchy, to statehood. Reservations must be made in advance for tours. Waioli Mission in Hanalei is where the Wilcox family, one of Kaua‘i's most influential, moved to the island in the 1800s. This historic New England-style home was shipped in pieces from Boston around Cape Horn and today stands as a showcase of koa wood furniture and other artifacts from that era.
Discover Kaua‘i's Quaint Towns
Koloa is an historic 19th century plantation town that was the site of Hawai‘i's first sugar plantation. Every July the Koloa Plantation Days celebrates the town's proud heritage. Visitors will find restaurants and specialty shops amid some of Hawai‘i's oldest buildings.
Hanapepe exudes an old-fashioned small-town appeal, with its plantation-era buildings and slow-paced lifestyle. Every Friday evening, Hanapepe's nine galleries open their doors for a night of artistic enjoyment. Stroll along Main Street to see fine art and listen to live entertainment.
Enjoy Kaua‘i's Culture
Hawai‘i is the only state with its own music, language and dance. On Kaua‘i, the host culture of Hawai‘i can be enjoyed for free or at little cost. Many hotels offer free hula performances, torch lighting ceremonies, and lei-making courses, among other cultural offerings. Coconut Marketplace in Kapa‘a and Harbor Mall in Lihu‘e stage free hula shows every Wednesday.
See Kaua‘i's Cherished Sites
Prince Kuhio Park was home to Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole (1871-1922) beloved as the "People's Prince" for his tireless work on behalf of Hawai‘i's people, and the last royal heir to the Hawaiian throne. Located near Lawa‘i, this historical setting features the foundation of Prince Kuhio's home, a royal fishpond, a shrine where offerings were made, and heiau (ancient places of worship) where the kahuna (priests) meditated and lived.
Alekoko Fishpond was built hundreds of years ago for a young chief and once covered 40 acres marked by a 2,700-foot-long stone wall. Located in the Huleia National Wildlife Refuge that is a habitat for endangered Hawaiian birds, the fishpond is also known as Menehune Fishpond because legend is that it was built by the mythical menehune (little people) of Hawai‘i.
The Wailua River is a beautifully scenic area that was once a sacred place in ancient times and reserved for the kings and high chiefs of Kaua‘i. Near the
river's mouth in Lydgate State Park are the remains of a heiau (coconut grove) that was a place of refuge for those who had broken a kapu (taboo).
Just Plain Fun
Hit the Beach!
Kaua‘i has more than 50 miles of gorgeous white sand beaches to choose from – more beach per mile than any other island in Hawai‘i! Altogether, 43 white sand beaches beckon to while away the day. Whether enjoying the fun at Po‘ipu or tossing a towel down in a secluded cove at ‘Anini, Kaua‘i's range of beaches matches the island's diversity. For the more adventurous, rent a snorkel and see the wonders and undersea beauty of Kaua‘i's marine world.
For more information, visit Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i's Island of Discovery, or call 800/262-1400.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.