Several outfitters on Kauai not only offer equipment rentals and tours, but also give out expert information on weather forecasts, sea and trail conditions, and other important matters for adventurers. Brothers Micco and Chino Godinez at Kayak Kauai (www.kayakkauai.com; tel. 888/596-3853 or 808/826-9844) are experts on paddling Kauai’s rivers and coastline (as well as hiking and camping), offering guided tours and equipment rentals at their store in the Wailua River Marina. You can also learn about ocean and reef conditions and recommended boat operators at Snorkel Bob’s (www.snorkelbob.com) two locations in Kapaa and Poipu.
Boat & Raft (Zodiac) Tours
One of Hawaii’s most spectacular natural attractions is Kauai’s Napali Coast. Unless you’re willing to make an arduous 22-mile round-trip hike there are only two ways to see it: by helicopter or by water. Cruising to Napali may involve a well-equipped yacht under full sail, a speedy powerboat, or for the very adventurous, a Zodiac inflatable raft, in which you may explore Napali’s sea caves or even land at one of Napali’s pristine valleys—be prepared to hang on for dear life (it can reach speeds of 60 miles an hour) and get very wet.
You’re almost guaranteed daily sightings of pods of spinner dolphins on morning cruises. When the Pacific humpback whales make their annual visit to Hawaii from late November to early April, they also swim right by Kauai. In season, both sailing and powerboats combine whale-watching with their regular adventures. Sunset cruises, with cocktails and/or dinner, are another way to get out on the water and appreciate Kauai’s coastline from a different angle.
Note: In addition to Captain Andy’s (details below), only two other companies have permits to land at Nualolo Kai, home to the ruins of an 800-year-old Hawaiian village below an elevated Napali valley: Na Pali Explorer (www.napali-explorer.com; tel. 808/338-9999) and Kauai Sea Tours (www.kauaiseatours.com; tel. 800/733-7997 or 808/826-7254). All trips are on rigid-hull inflatables, which unlike larger boats can pass through the reef opening.
Bodysurfing & Boogie Boarding
The best places for beginners’ bodysurfing and boogie boarding are Kalapaki Beach and Poipu Beach; only the more advanced should test the more powerful shorebreak at Kealia, Shipwrecks (Keoneloa), and Brennecke’s beaches. Boogie-board rentals are widely available at surf shops and beachfront activity desks. On the South Shore, Nukumoi Surf Shop (www.nukumoisurf.com; tel. 808/742-8019), right across from Brennecke’s Beach at 2100 Hoone Rd., Koloa, has the best rates and selections ($6 a day; $20 a week). On the North Shore, Hanalei Surf Co. (www.hanaleisurf.com; tel. 808/826-9000), rents boogie boards for $5 a day, $20 a week, or $7 with fins, $22 weekly (3- and 5-day discounts also available); it’s in Hanalei Center, 5–5161 Kuhio Hwy. (Hwy. 560), Hanalei.
With Hawaii’s only navigable rivers, numerous bays, and the stunning Napali Coast, Kauai is made for kayaking. The most popular kayaking tour, guided or unguided, is up the Wailua River to Secret Falls (limited to permitted kayaks Mon–Sat), but you can also explore the Huleia and Hanalei rivers as they wind through wildlife reserves, go whale-watching in winter along the South Shore, or test your mettle in summer with an ultra-strenuous, 17-mile paddle from Hanalei to Polihale.
Kayak Kauai (www.kayakkauai.com; tel. 888/596-3853 or 808/826-9844), the premiere outfitter for all kinds of paddling, offers a range of rentals and tours from its store in Wailua River Marina, 3-5971 Kuhio Hwy., Kapaa (just south of the Wailua River Bridge). River kayak rental starts at $29 for a one-person kayak and $54 for a two-person kayak per day ($64 for Wailua River–permitted double kayaks), including paddles, life preservers, back rests, and car racks. Twice-daily, 5-hour guided Wailua River tours with a Secret Falls hike/swim and picnic lunch cost $85 for adults and $60 for children under 12; a 3-hour version that skips the waterfall hike but adds a swimming hole is $55 for adults and $45 for children. The 5-hour Blue Lagoon tour from the Hanalei River mouth, which includes a shuttle to/from the Wailua River Marina, features snorkeling, bird-watching, and beach time; it’s $95 for adults and $85 for children.
Kayak Kauai’s Napali tours ($240, including lunch), offered April through September, are only for the very fit (and those who aren’t prone to seasickness); it requires 5 to 6 hours of paddling, often through ocean swells, in two-person kayaks. If you’re up for its rigors, this will be the kayak trip of your life—co-owner Micco Godinez calls it “the Everest of sea kayaking.” The 6-hour winter whale-watching tours ($145) along the South Shore are slightly less challenging but still a significant workout. If you need to brush up on your skills first, Kayak Kauai also gives 90-minute lessons in Wailua River and Hanalei Bay for $75 per person (two-person minimum).
Headquartered in Poipu, Outfitters Kauai (www.outfitterskauai.com; tel. 888/742-9887 or 808/742-9667) offers a similar variety of well-organized tours, from a Wailua kayak/waterfall hike ($106 adults, $86 children 5–14, including lunch) to a summer Napali tour ($234 ages 15 and older only) or a winter whale-watching paddle from Poipu to Port Allen ($156 adults, $126 children 12–14). The family-friendly Hidden Valley Falls tour heads 2 miles downwind on the Huleia River and includes a short hike to a swimming hole and a picnic by a small waterfall, with the bonus of a motorized canoe ride back; it’s $116 for adults and $96 for children 3 to 14.
Kalapaki Bay and Nawiliwili Harbor provide a well-protected if bustling place to learn to sail or, with sufficient experience, take a spin around the harbor yourself. In addition to surfing and stand-up paddleboarding lessons and rentals, Kauai Beach Boys (www.kauaibeachboys.com; tel. 808/246-6333) offers 1-hour rides with an instructor ($39) and sailing lessons for $140 per hour on its two-person, 18-foot Hobie Tandem Island and six-person, 16-foot Hobie Getaway boats; skilled sailors can tool around Kalapaki Bay on their own for $95 an hour ($75 per additional hour, up to $195 a day), or go out on the ocean with an instructor.
Diving, like all watersports on Kauai, is dictated by the weather. In winter, when heavy swells and high winds hit the island, it’s generally limited to the more protected South Shore. Probably the best-known site along the South Shore is Caverns, located off the Poipu Beach resort area. This site consists of a series of lava tubes interconnected by a chain of archways. A constant parade of fish streams by (even shy lionfish are spotted lurking in crevices), brightly hued Hawaiian lobsters hide in the lava’s tiny holes, and turtles sometimes swim past.
In summer, the magnificent North Shore opens up, and you can take a boat dive locally known as the Oceanarium, northwest of Hanalei Bay, where you’ll find a kaleidoscopic marine world in a horseshoe-shape cove. From the rare (long-handed spiny lobsters) to the more common (taape, conger eels, and nudibranchs), the resident population is one of the more diverse on the island. The topography, which features pinnacles, ridges, and archways, is covered with cup corals, black-coral trees, and nooks and crannies enough for a dozen dives.
Because the best dives on Kauai are offshore, including the crystal-clear waters off Napali and Niihau, I recommend booking a dive with Bubbles Below Scuba Charters (www.bubblesbelowkauai.com; tel. 808/332-7333), specializing in highly personalized small-group dives with an emphasis on marine biology. Based in Port Allen, the 36-foot Kaimanu is a custom-built Radon dive boat that comes complete with a hot shower, accommodating up to eight passengers; the 31-foot, catamaran-hulled Dive Rocket, also custom-built, takes just six. Standard two-tank boat dives cost $130 (if booked directly); it’s $240 for the two-tank dive along the Mana Crack, an 11-mile submerged barrier reef, that includes a Napali cruise. Bubbles Below offers a three-tank trip, for experienced divers only, to more challenging locations such as the “forbidden” island of Niihau, 90 minutes by boat from Kauai, and its nearby islets of Lehua and Kaula; locations vary by time of year and conditions. You should also be willing to share water space with the resident sharks. The all-day, three-tank trip costs $190 (booked directly), including tanks, weights, dive computer, lunch, drinks, and marine guide (if you need gear, it’s $30 more). Ride-alongs for nondivers and crustacean-focused twilight/night dives are also available.
On the South Shore, the highly regarded Fathom Five Adventures (www.fathomfive.com; tel. 808/742-6991) offers customized boat dives for up to six passengers, starting at $125 for a two-tank dive up to $350 for a three-tank Niihau dive ($40 more for gear rental.)
Great Shore Dives--Spectacular shoreline dive sites on the North Shore include beautiful Kee Beach, where the road ends and the dropoff near the reef begs for underwater exploration (check with lifeguards first). Cannons, east of Haena Beach Park, has lots of vibrant marine life in its sloping offshore reef. Another good bet is the intricate underwater topography off Tunnels Beach, also known as Makua Beach. The wide reef here makes for some fabulous snorkeling and diving, especially during the calm summer months.
On the South Shore, head to the right of the tombolo (sand bar) splitting Poipu Beach if you want to catch a glimpse of sea turtles; it’s officially known as Nukumoi Point but nicknamed Tortugas (Spanish for “turtle”). The former boat launch at Koloa Landing has a horseshoe-shape reef that’s teeming with tropical fish. It’s off Hoonani Road, about a quarter-mile south of Lawai Road near Poipu traffic circle. Sheraton Caverns, located off the Sheraton Kauai, is also popular—its three large underwater lava tubes are usually filled with marine life.
If you want a guided shore dive, Fathom Five Adventures will take you out for $75 for one tank and $90 for two tanks year-round on the South Shore; spring through fall, it offers two-dive shore dives at Tunnels for $165, with a one-tank night version for $100.
You can buy snorkel gear at any number of stores on the island, but with luggage fees going up, I find it easier just to rent. Opened in late 2013, Kauai Bound (www.kauaiboundstore.com; tel. 808/320-3779) provides top-quality snorkel sets, including carrying bags, fish ID card, and no-fog drops, for $7.50 a day or $28 a week (child’s version $5 daily, $20 weekly) at its store in Anchor Cove Shopping Center, 3366 Waapa Rd. (at Rice St.); you can also rent pro-level underwater cameras ($20–$30 a day), camera accessories, and other outdoor gear here.
Robert Wintner, the quirky founder of the statewide chain Snorkel Bob’s (www.snorkelbob.com), is a tireless advocate for reef protection, funding campaigns for more legislation through the Snorkel Bob Foundation. His two stores here rent a great variety of snorkel gear, with the convenience factor of 24-hour and interisland drop-offs, plus discounts on reputable snorkeling cruises. The East Side location (tel. 808/823-9433) is at 4-734 Kuhio Hwy. (Hwy. 56), Kapaa, just north of Coconut Marketplace, while the South Shore outlet (tel. 808/742-2206) is at 3236 Poipu Rd., Koloa, just south of Old Koloa Town.
In general, North Shore snorkeling sites are safest in summer and South Shore sites in winter, but all are subject to changing conditions; check daily ocean reports such as those on Kauaiexplorer.com before venturing out. The following shoreline recommendations apply in times of low surf.
East Side--The two rock-walled ponds at Lydgate Park, just south of the Wailua River, are great for novices and young snorkelers.
North Shore--Kee Beach, located at the end of Highway 560, and Tunnels (Makua) Beach, about a mile before the end of Highway 560 in Haena, offer the greatest variety of fish. Anini Beach, located off the northern Kalihiwai Road, between mile markers 25 and 26 on Highway 56, south of Princeville, has the most protected waters.
South Shore--The right side of the tombolo, the narrow strip of sand dividing Poipu Beach into two coves, has good snorkeling but can be crowded. You can also follow the beach path west past the Waiohai Marriott to the pocket cove in front of Koa Kea Hotel; if the tide is high (and calm) enough, you can observe its teeming marine life. A boat ramp leads into the rocky cove of Koloa Landing , where on clear days you’ll spot large corals, turtles, and plenty of reef fish. (Note: Rain brings in stream runoff, which turns the water murky.) Tour groups often visit rock-studded Lawai Beach off Lawai Road, next to the Beach House Restaurant; watch out for sea urchins as you swim among parrotfish, Moorish idols, and other reef fish.
West Side--Salt Pond Beach, off Highway 50 near Hanapepe, has good snorkeling around the two rocky points, home to hundreds of tropical fish.
Deep-Sea Fishing--Kauai’s fishing fleet is smaller than others in the islands, but the fish are still out there. All you need to bring is your lunch and your luck. Sportfish Hawaii (www.sportfishhawaii.com; tel. 877/388-1376 or 808/396-2607), which inspects and books boats on all the islands, has prices ranging from $1,250 to $1,495 for an 8-hour exclusive charter (up to six passengers), $950 to $1,195 for a 6-hour charter, and $675 to $795 for 4 hours. Rates may be better, though, booking directly through local operators such as Captain Lance Keener at Ohana Fishing Charters (www.fishingcharterskauai.com; tel. 800/713-4682); excursions on the wide and stable 30-foot Hoo Maikai out of Kapaa start at $140 per person for a 4-hour shared trip up to $1,250 for a private 8-hour trip (up to six passengers). Mindful of how weather can change over the course of the day, Captain Harry Shigekane of Happy Hunter Sport Fishing (www.happyhuntersportfishing.com; tel. 808/639-4351) offers only private 4-hour tours ($625) aboard his 41-foot Pacifica, the Happy Hunter II, out of Nawiliwili Small Boat Harbor.
Freshwater Fishing--Freshwater fishing is big on Kauai, thanks to the dozens of manmade reservoirs. They’re full of largemouth, smallmouth, and peacock bass (also known as tucunare). The Puu Lua Reservoir, in Kokee State Park, also has rainbow trout and is stocked by the state every year, but has a limited season, in recent years mid-June to the end of September.
Sportfish Hawaii (www.sportfishhawaii.com; tel. 877/388-1376 or 808/396-2607) offers guided bass-fishing trips starting at $265 for two people for a half-day and $375 for one person for a full day, beginning at 6:30am in Kapaa.
Whatever your catch, you’re required to first have a Hawaii Freshwater Fishing License, available online through the State Department of Land and Natural Resources (http://freshwater.ehawaii.gov) or through fishing-supply stores such as Wal-Mart, 3–3300 Kuhio Hwy., Lihue (tel. 808/246-1599), or Waipouli Variety, 4–901 1-A Kuhio Hwy., Kapaa (tel. 808/822-1014). A 7-day nonresident license is $10 (plus a $1 convenience fee if purchased online).
Like everywhere else in Hawaii,stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has taken off on Kauai. It’s easily learned when the ocean is calm, and still easier than traditional surfing if waves are involved. Lessons and equipment are generally available at all beachfront activity desks and the island’s surf shops, while Kauai’s numerous rivers provide even more opportunities to practice. Kauai native and pro surfer Chava Greenlee runs Aloha Stand Up Paddle Lessons (www.alohasuplessonskauai.com; tel. 808/639-8614) at Kalapaki Beach, where he first learned to stand-up paddle; the bay offers a large, lagoon-like section ideal for beginners, plus a small surf break for more advanced paddlers. He and his fellow instructors (all licensed lifeguards) also teach SUP in Poipu, just south of the Sheraton Kauai. Two-hour group lessons (eight-person maximum) cost $75 and include 30 minutes on land and 90 minutes on water, both with instructor; lessons are offered four times a day, year-round. Walk-ups are welcome, but reservations are recommended. Kauai Beach Boys (www.kauaibeachboys.com; tel. 808/742-4442) gives 90-minute lessons three times a day at Kalapaki and Poipu beaches; the $75 fee includes a board, leash, and a rash guard (which also helps prevent sunburn).
Once you’ve got the hang of it, Nukumoi Surf Shop, across from Brennecke’s Beach (www.nukumoisurf.com; tel. 808/742-8019), will rent you boards with paddles for $20 an hour, $80 a day, or $250 a week. Pedal [’]n Paddle, in Hanalei’s Ching Young Village Shopping Center (www.pedalnpaddle.com; tel. 808/826-9069), directs paddleboarders up the Hanalei River or into the bay, depending upon conditions; the $40 daily rental includes board, paddle, leash, foam pads, and straps for easy carrying.
Outfitters Kauai (www.outfitterskauai.com; tel. 808/742-9667) combines a SUP lesson with a 2-mile, downwind paddle on the Huleia River and hike to a swimming hole; a motorized outrigger brings you back up the river. The half-day trip starts at 7:45am and costs $131 for adults and $100 for kids 4 to 12.
Back in the days of the sugar plantations, local kids would grab inner tubes and jump in the irrigation ditches crisscrossing the cane fields for an exciting ride. Today you can enjoy this (formerly illegal) activity by “tubing” the flumes and ditches of the old Lihue Plantation with Kauai Backcountry Adventures (www.kauaibackcountry.com; tel. 888/270-0555 or 808/245-2506). Passengers are taken in 4WD vehicles high into the mountains above Lihue to look at vistas generally off-limits to the public. At the flumes, you will be outfitted with a giant tube, gloves, and headlamp (for the long passageways through the tunnels, hand-dug circa 1870). All you do is jump in the water, and the gentle flow will carry you through forests, into tunnels, and finally to a mountain swimming hole, where a picnic lunch is served. The 3-hour tours are $102, open to ages 5 and up (minimum height 43 in., maximum weight 300 pounds). Swimming is not necessary—all you do is relax and drift downstream—but do wear a hat, swimsuit, sunscreen, and shoes that can get wet, and bring a towel, change of clothing, and insect repellent. Tours are offered at 9 and 10am, and 1 and 2pm. Tip: The water is always cool, so starting later in the day might be more pleasant.
Windsurfing & Kite Surfing
With a long, fringing reef protecting shallow waters, the North Shore’s Anini Beach is one of the safest places for beginners to learn windsurfing. Lessons and equipment rental are available at Windsurf Kauai (www.windsurf-kauai.com; tel. 808/828-6838). Owner Celeste Harzel has been teaching windsurfing on Anini Beach for decades; she has special equipment to help beginners learn the sport, plus refresher and advanced classes. A 2-hour lesson is $100 and includes equipment and instruction. If you want to keep going, she’ll rent the equipment for $25 an hour.
Serious windsurfers and kitesurfers (that is, those who travel with their own gear) will want to check out Haena Beach Park and Tunnels Beach on the North Shore, and the Mahaulepu coastline (including Mahaulepu/Gillin’s Beach and Kawailoa Bay) on the South Shore.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.