The most spectacular green-ridged peaks, lazy ocean-side walks, canyons, food trucks and palm trees everywhere you gaze: Kauai is proper paradise. By law, no building can be higher than the highest coconut tree, which means you see lush vegetation and sky wherever you look – gaining it the name of the Garden Isle, which is apt my friends, very apt.
We stayed on the south end of the island at Koa Kea Resort near Poipu Beach, so all of the exploring mentioned below began by driving north, usually through Old Koloa Town.
Old Koloa Town
When heading through the South (or exiting to explore North as we commonly were), it’s worth a stop off at Old Koloa Town, even if just for the coffee – seriously the best we found on the island! This is an old sugar plantation town from the 1830s, and the best way to arrive is through Malahui Road where you’ll drive beneath a luscious green Tree Tunnel.
But back to the coffee – Aloha Roastery sits in the Waikomo courtyard just behind the shops on Koloa Road. It’s serving up some creamy cups of goodness, with blends from the likes of Honduras and Colombia. The guys that work here have the friendly, casual Hawaiian hipster vibe down to a fine art.
Warehouse 3540 – Kalaheo
A further five or six minute cruise north west along Koloa Road and you will come across a creative space designed for pop-ups and workshops called Warehouse 3540. Our real reason for visiting was for the famous Fresh Shave shaved ice, but more on that on that below…
Salt + Sea Kauai was my fave outlet here and I bought a lime green Human Revolution Clothing kaftan (scroll down further for picture of me in this little wonder – with a pineapple above my head!), which is probs my favourite purchase on the trip! Just outside the warehouse, was the real spark in the wheel of this place – The Fresh Shave!
The Fresh Shave
Kauai loves a good food truck, and one of the stars of them all is The Fresh Shave! This is proper hand-spun (on a laborious, but very cool vintage wheel) shave ice. And you can’t help but love their branding that pays homage to both the humble mustache (with names like The Lip Luggage and The Handle Bar) and Outcast song (‘So fresh | So Clean | So Delicious’). I ordered up The Chevron of coconut and lime topped with coconut chia seed cream and Phil got The Caterpillar which is orange and ‘creamsicle’. We took shade under the umbrella at a mint-coloured bench to (narrowly) avoid immediate melt – the Hawaiian sun was haaawt! So this was the perfect cool down pit-stop.
This jagged marvel is otherwise known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and for good reason – it’s 3,000 feet cliffs shooting up from deep valleys make it quite a wonder. The most notable physical difference is the weathered red rock among sliding green vegetation. The contrast is so vivid, especially as the clouds move, casting shadows across the chasm below. We saw helicopters like little specks, without perspective they appeared as the flies of the valley, and we were to do that very trip – see our Kauai by Helicopter post here.
Undoubtedly the biggest tourist spot on the island, the lookouts at Waimea Canyon were busy, but when you are looking out at an expanse of earth like you see here, it’s easy to still feel a peaceful calm. Well, except when some death-wish folk scramble down the side of the cliff for an Insta worthy shot (holy shit people! It ain’t worth your life!).
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Regular readers of the site will know that I love all things literary (try these book recommendations or this post about the book town in the fjords of Norway as examples), so you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I took a detour to the colonial town of Hanapepe to visit Kauai’s only (but very amazing) bookstore Talk Story.
We discovered that Hanapepe (which means ‘Crushed Bay’ in Hawaiian – probably because of landslides in the area) is worth a visit even if (God forbid!) they didn’t have this beloved bookstore. It was a happening place from WWI to the 1950s when G.I.s and sailors were stationed there for training.
We visited Little Fish Coffee (an outpost of which was also in Poipu – see below) and gems like Japanese Grandma Cafe (which was sadly closed the day we went) and the attached Blu Umi – a local art and design store. We bought one of my fave souvenirs from the trip here – a wooden Aloha sign made by the owner Keiko’s son Jake Napier (check out his stuff at Venice Woods).
Koke’e State Park
My main motivation for heading to Kauai (in spite of Hawaii being a very cliched honeymoon destination), was to glimpse and walk the Napali Coast – those jagged green wonders along the coast (nature goals!). Unfortunately our first full day in Kauai had mega rain, so it wasn’t really safe to hike along these quite dangerous trails post-downpour, so we opted to instead drive around to the best views we could find. Introducing the stunning Kalalau Lookout…
I just can’t quite get over this view, so here you go again!
The Road North
We took to the road with Hanalei Bay up north as our end destination. On the way up, we stopped off at the awesome little cafe Java Kai, which is connected to one of my fave Kauai boutiques Shipwrecked, and sits out the front of the Kauai Juice Co. So, basically, well worth the stop! We both had gluten free felafel wraps and I couldn’t resist a Blue Hawaiian smoothie of blueberries, banana, coco milk and pineapple juice. Phil also bought this ace heavy Java Kai mug.
This is where Phil gets all shaka on your arse…and he has good reason to bring out Hawaii’s famous hand signal – this was our fave town on the island, and the one we will stay in next time we’re in Kauai (don’t get me wrong, we loved Koa Kea too where we stayed, but this neighbourhood is definitely more our vibe).
We soaked up the stunning views from Hanalei Bay Pier, spent a while debating whether we would buy a Ukelele (we didn’t this time, but next visit…) at the temple of slack key and beautiful wood that is Hanalei Strings and wandered through boutiques like the Barn 808 which is owned by local music legend Donavon Frankenreiter.
And finally, a little on the area that we stayed in – Poipu Beach. The beaches here are pretty, but a tad small and busy with families, so given it was our honeymoon, we tended to stick more by the pool when we were back by Koa Kea Resort. There was also an outdoor rock spa, so y’know, was hard to go too far.
We did venture out for food though, and there was a handy little shopping village not too far away. Phil basically lost his vegetarian sh*! over the Puka Dog – which is famed and even Anthony Bourdain is a fan. The veggie dog here was the best I’ve ever had, so was happy to indulge Phil with a couple of visits *wink*. I also had some really delicious Japanese at Rock n’ Roll Sushi and there were lots of cute Hawaiian gifts and home wares at Sand People.
A short stroll from the hotel was Brennecke’s Beach Broiler – an American coastal diner that we LOVED, so we returned a couple of times. They served delicious seafood (and plenty of veggie options for Phil), not to mention Kona beer and some tasty cocktails. American football was always playing on the few screens in the venue, but in a good way, not a husband-won’t-pay-attention-to-anything-but-the-sport way! Well, at least not my husband, I can’t vouch for yours!
I mentioned Little Fish cafe in Hanapepe, but there was also one at Poipu which we visited a couple of times…perfect for the acai bowl and coffee fix!
Oh, and Kauai is also about sugarcane, hibiscus and pineapples. I almost stayed with Phil to pursue a life as a pineapple farmer’s wife…it suits him, no?!
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