On a sunny day, there may be no more beautiful place on earth than Kauai’s North Shore. It’s not half-bad even on a rainy day (more frequent in winter), when waterfalls almost magically appear on verdant mountains; once the showers stop, rainbows soar over farms, taro patches, and long, curving beaches. The speed limit, and pace of life, slow down dramatically as the Kuhio Highway traverses a series of one-lane bridges, climaxing at a suitably show-stopping beach and the trailhead for the breathtaking Napali Coast. Two quaint towns—one home to a lighthouse and a seabird preserve—plus the island’s most luxurious resort provide ample lodging, dining, and shopping options to match the natural wonders. But it’s far enough from the South Shore (minimum 1 1/2 hr. away) that day-trippers may wish they had relocated for a night or two.
Kilauea --A right turn going north on Kuhio Highway brings you to this village of quaint stone buildings and the plantation-vintage Kong Lung Historic Market Center , a cozy den of cafes, crafts makers, and boutiques. Kilauea Road heads makai (seaward) to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge , a sanctuary for nene (the goose-like state bird) and other endangered species, and home to the stubby, red-topped Kilauea Lighthouse, built in 1913. Shortly before the preserve is the turnoff for scenic but not-so-secret Kauapea (Secret) Beach , a 15-minute hike from a dirt parking lot. Ben Stiller owns a home on the cliffs here; numerous farms, the island’s only mini-golf course, and the extensive Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens are the area’s other claims to fame.
Anini Beach--A 2-mile fringing reef—the longest on Kauai—creates a shallow, pond-like setting for swimmers, snorkelers, and (when conditions permit) windsurfers. The long beach is narrow but borders a grassy park with showers, restrooms, picnic tables, and campsites, across from a former polo field.
Princeville--This 11,000-acre resort and residential development is home to two 18-hole golf courses, steep trails to pocket beaches, and gorgeous views of crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay and iconic Makana, the mountain that portrayed Bali Hai in “South Pacific.” The Princeville Shopping Center holds a few bargain eateries as well as supplies for those staying in one of the many condo or timeshare units; money is generally no object for guests at the St. Regis Princeville , Kauai’s most luxurious hotel (formerly the Princeville Hotel), with elevator service to the beach below. Just before the highway drops into Hanalei Valley, a vista point offers a photo-worthy panorama of the Hanalei River winding through wetland taro patches under towering green peaks.
Hanalei--Waiting to cross the first of nine one-lane bridges on the northern stretch of the Kuhio Highway (now Hwy. 560) is a good introduction to the hang-loose ethos of the last real town before road’s end. The fringing green mountains share their hue with the 1912 Waioli Huiia Church and other vintage wooden buildings, some of which house unique shops and moderately priced restaurants. Nearby, the 2-mile-long, half-moon Hanalei Bay attracts surfers year-round; during the calmer summer conditions, children splash in the water while parents lounge on the sand (a la “The Descendants.”) Three county beach parks offer various facilities, including several lifeguard stations; the southernmost Black Pot Beach Park , renowned for its 300-foot-long pier, allows camping on weekends and holidays.
Haena --Homes modest and grand hide in the lush greenery of Haena on either side of the Kuhio Highway as it undulates past rugged coves, tranquil beaches, and immense caves, finally dead-ending at Kee Beach , gateway to the Napali Coast and a popular destination for snorkelers (when the surf permits) and campers. Limahuli Garden and Preserve , the northern outpost of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, explains Haena’s legends, rich cultural heritage, and ecological significance to visitors able to navigate its steep terraces in the shadow of Mounta Makana. Food trucks at Haena Beach Park supplement the meager if popular dining options, such as Mediterranean Gourmet at the Hanalei Colony Resort , the only North Shore resort with rooms right on the sand.
Napali Coast --Often written as Na Pali (“the cliffs”), this dramatically crenellated region that bridges the North Shore and West Side begins not far from where the road ends. Hardy (and some foolhardy) hikers will cross five valleys as they follow the narrow, 11-mile Kalalau Trail to its end at beautiful Kalalau Valley, with tempting detours to waterfalls along the way. The less ambitious (or more sensible) will attempt shorter stretches, such as the 2-mile hike to Hanakapiai Beach. In summer, physically fit kayakers can spend a day exploring Napali’s pristine reefs, sea caves, and hidden coves, which also come into view on catamaran and motorized raft tours (almost all departing from Kauai’s West Side); helicopter tours from Lihue, Port Allen, or Princeville offer the quickest if most expensive way to explore Napali’s stunning topography .
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.