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Although tourist areas are generally safe, visitors should always stay alert, even in laid-back Hawaii. It's wise to ask the island tourist office if you're in doubt about which neighborhoods are safe. Avoid deserted areas, especially at night. Don't go into any city park at night unless there's an event that attracts crowds.

Avoid carrying valuables with you on the street, and don't display expensive cameras or electronic equipment. Hold on to your pocketbook, and place your billfold in an inside pocket. In theaters, restaurants, and other public places, keep your possessions in sight.

Remember also that hotels are open to the public and that in a large property, security may not be able to screen everyone entering. Always lock your room door -- don't assume that once inside your hotel, you're automatically safe.

Burglaries of tourists' rental cars in hotel parking structures and at beach parking lots have become more common. Park in well-lighted and well-traveled areas, if possible. Never leave any packages or valuables visible in the car. If someone attempts to rob you or steal your car, do not try to resist the thief or carjacker -- report the incident to the police department immediately. Ask your rental agency about personal safety, and get written directions or a map with the route to your destination clearly marked.

Generally, Hawaii has the same laws as the mainland United States. Nudity is illegal in Hawaii. There are NO legal nude beaches (I don't care what you have read). If you are nude on a beach (or anywhere) on Kauai, you can be arrested.

Smoking marijuana also is illegal. Yes, there are lots of stories claiming that marijuana is grown in Hawaii, but the drug is illegal; if you attempt to buy it or light up, you can be arrested.

Trouble in Paradise -- Crime & Weather

You may be in paradise, but be aware there is crime on Kauai. Always lock your bicycle (even if you're just leaving it for a minute). You are responsible if it is stolen. Remember that weather in Hawaii is not like your weather back home -- an island rainstorm can cause a flash flood. The Kauai Visitors Bureau publishes a free brochure Tips for a Safe Vacation that recommends the following:

  • Never leave valuables in your car or unattended at the beach
  • Do not dive into waterfalls or pools of water
  • Always wear your seatbelt (the fine for noncompliance is very stiff)
  • On a one-way bridge, courtesy calls for only six cars to cross, then yield to opposing traffic

For the free brochure contact the Kauai Visitors Bureau, tel. 808/245-3971.

Safety in the Surf

Before you even think about packing your bathing suit, get a copy of the free brochures Kauai Beach Guide and Tips for a Safe Vacation. It could save your life. These color brochures explain how to avoid potential dangers in Kauai's ocean environment. The power of the ocean is nothing to fool around with. The surf can increase in size in a short period of time, or an offshore rip current can carry you out to sea. Even a walk alone on the beach without paying attention to the ocean can have potentially dangerous results (like being swept out to sea).

The number-one advice is to swim at beaches where there are lifeguards and to talk to the lifeguards before entering the ocean. The Kauai Beach Guide lists all beaches on Kauai and whether a lifeguard is on duty. It also lists each beach's potential hazards, like strong currents, dangerous shorebreaks, high surf conditions, slippery rocks, sharp coral, sudden drop-offs, and waves on ledges.

In general, the north and west shores are hazardous in winter (Sept-May), with big surf. In summer, the opposite is true, and the big waves occur along the south and east shores. But hazardous conditions can occur on any beach at any time of the year. The brochure stresses the following points:

  • Swim in lifeguard areas and check with lifeguards on ocean conditions before you go into the water.
  • Watch the ocean at least 20 minutes before you go in. Lifeguards can show you what potential hazards to look for.
  • Always (always, always, always) swim (or snorkel) with a buddy.
  • Always keep a close watch over young children.

You can get these free brochures by contacting the Kauai Visitors Bureau, 4334 Rice St., Ste. 101, Lihue, HI 96766 (tel. 808/245-3971). You'll also find plenty of beach and safety tips at www.kauaiexplorer.com.

Hiking Safety

According to a survey done in 2000, 78% of the hikers in Hawaii were from out-of-state. At the same time, Hawaii's search-and-rescue teams are responding to more and more calls from injured, stranded, or missing hikers. The best thing you can do to avoid becoming a statistic is to get Na Ala Hele's (the State of Hawaii's Trail and Access Program) free brochure, Hiking Safety in Hawaii (from the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry & Wildlife, 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 325, Honolulu, HI 96813; tel. 808/587-0166; or print it off the Web at www.hawaiistateparks.org/brochures/index.cfm). This free brochure could save your life. It has comprehensive lists of trail safety tips and equipment you'll need, describes what to do in an emergency, and contains other information you should know before you lace up your hiking boots.

If you are not an experienced hiker, consider hiking with a commercial operator, or join a Sierra Club hike. If you have experience hiking, keep these tips in mind when venturing out in Hawaii:

  • Remember you are a guest in Hawaii and treat the land (especially sacred cultural areas) with respect by following posted signage on the trail. Always start your hikes with clean (well-scrubbed) boots, so you don't unintentionally carry seeds into the island's fragile environment.
  • Practice courtesy when on a multiple-usage trail. The signs will let you know who to yield to (hikers generally yield to horseback riders, and bikers yield to both hikers and horses).
  • Plan your hike by informing others where you are going and when you should be back. Learn as much as you can about the hike (the conditions you will encounter and the degree of difficulty) before you set out.
  • Hike with a partner. Never go alone. Dress in layers to protect yourself from Hawaii's intense tropical sun, carry light rain gear, have a brightly colored jacket (not only for weather, but so that if you get lost, people will be able to spot you), and bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. If you are hiking, you should wear hiking boots with traction and ankle support.
  • Check the weather. Call tel. 808/245-6001. The bright, sunny day can dissolve into wind and rain, and you don't want to be caught in a narrow gully or streambed where flash flooding is possible.
  • Carry water (2L per person per day), a cellphone, and a daypack (holding a whistle, sunscreen, insect repellent, a small flashlight, food, and a basic first-aid kit). Don't drink untreated stream water; leptospirosis (a bacterial disease transmitted from animals to humans, which can be fatal) is present in some streams.
  • Stay on the trail and stay together. Most hikers are injured wandering off the trail or trying to climb rocks.
  • Watch the time. Being close to the Equator, Hawaii does not have a very long twilight. Once the sun goes down, it's dark. Be sure to allow enough time to return from your hike, and always carry a flashlight.
  • If an emergency arises (for example, if an injury or illness prevents someone from walking, bad weather hits, it's too dark to see, or you become lost or stranded), call 911 and ask for fire/rescue. Tell them what trail you are on and what happened. Make yourself visible with either bright clothing or a flashlight, and use the whistle. Stay calm and stay put. Keep as warm as you can by getting out of wind and rain and by layering clothing to maintain your body temperature.


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.