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Kalapaki Beach -- Any town would pay a fortune to have a beach like Kalapaki, one of Kauai's best, in its backyard. But little Lihue turns its back on Kalapaki; there's not even a sign pointing the way through the labyrinth of traffic to this graceful half moon of golden sand at the foot of the Marriott Resort & Beach Club. Fifty yards wide and a quarter mile long, Kalapaki is protected by a jetty, making it very safe for swimmers. The waves are good for surfing when there's a winter swell, and the view from the sand -- of the 2,200-foot peaks of the majestic Haupu Ridge that shield Nawiliwili Bay -- is awesome. Kalapaki is the best beach not only in Lihue but also on the entire east coast. During certain times of the year there are strong currents and dangerous shorebreaks. From Lihue Airport, turn left onto Kapule Highway (Hwy. 51) to Rice Street; turn left and go to the entrance of the Marriott; pass the hotel's porte-cochere and turn right at the SHORELINE ACCESS sign. Facilities include free parking, restrooms, and showers; food and drink are available nearby at Kalapaki Beach Hut. There is no lifeguard.

Ninini Beach -- If you are looking for a good snorkeling/swimming beach off the beaten track, this small beach, consisting of two sandy coves separated by lava, is a great place to get away from the crowds. Some local residents call this Running Waters Beach due to the former irrigation runoff when sugar was in production here. Located at the northern end of Nawiliwili Harbor and hidden behind some cliffs, this beach is generally protected from the wind and currents. However, high surf can kick up, and southern storms can charge in suddenly. The small northern sandy cove has good snorkeling and swimming most of the year. Follow the trail down from the dirt road to the beach. Occasionally a few nudists show up here, but remember -- nudity is against the law in Hawaii and you can be prosecuted for lewd and lascivious behavior. We prefer the larger beach because of the gentle sandy slope (great for sunbathing) and because the sandy bottom makes for great snorkeling. When the surf does roll in here, the bodysurfers will be in the water. To get here, take Ahukini Road toward the airport; when the road appears to end, veer left (still on Ahukini Rd.) and head for the ocean. When the road meets the ocean, turn right on the dirt road that circumnavigates the airport with the ocean on your left. Travel about 2 1/2 miles on this dirt road to the Nawiliwili Lighthouse. Look for the two trails down to the ocean. Ninini Beach has no facilities and no lifeguard.

Niumalu Beach Park -- This is a great place at which to stop in the middle of the day for a picnic. It's located close to Lihue; you can pick up lunch and wander down to this 3-acre quiet area, which has campgrounds. Bordered by Nawiliwili Harbor on one end and the small boat ramp on the other, Niumalu sits next to a very profound archaeological area -- the Menehune Fishpond. The pond (also called Alekoko) on the Huleia River was an aquaculture feat built hundreds of years ago. The builders of this 2,700-foot-long stone wall (that cuts off a bend in the river) were believed to be the mythical people who inhabited Kauai before the Polynesians came here. The fishpond is located in the Huleia National Wildlife Refuge, 238 acres of river valley that is a habitat for endangered Hawaiian water birds (ae'o, or Hawaiian stilt; 'alae Ke'oke'o, or Hawaiian coot; 'alae 'ula, or Hawaiian gallinule; and Koloa maoli, or Hawaiian duck). Although you can see the fishpond and the refuge from the road, the area is not open to the public. Various small boats, kayaks, jet skis, windsurfers, and water-skiers use the river. You can spend the day watching them ply their crafts up and down. From Lihue, take Rice Street to Nawiliwili Harbor. Turn left on Niumalu Road and follow it to the beach park. The beach does not have a lifeguard, but it does have picnic tables, showers, and restrooms.

Hanamaulu Beach Park -- This large bay is not only close to Lihue but is protected from the open ocean. It's a great place to have a picnic. However, it's not a good swimming beach due to the dirt (mainly silt) in the water entering the bay from Hanamaulu stream. The waters outside the bay are cleaner. This area is very popular with scuba divers and with fishermen, who flock here when akule and other migratory fish are schooling in the bay. Camping is allowed in this 6 1/2-acre park. From Lihue, take the Kapule Highway (Hwy. 51) north, and turn right on Hehi Road to the beach park. Hanamaulu has no lifeguard, but it does have free parking, restrooms, showers, and a pavilion.

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.