Several outfitters on Kauai not only offer equipment rentals and tours, but also dispense 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; 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), with two locations in Kapaa and Poipu (see “Snorkeling,” later). Note: Expect to tip $10 to $20 for the crew or guides on any tours; prices exclude tax.
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 (see “Hiking”), there are only two ways to see it: by helicopter (see “Helicopter Tours”) 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, as well as Pacific humpback whales during their annual visit from December to early April. 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.
Bodysurfing & Boogie Boarding
The best places for beginners’ bodysurfing and boogie boarding are Kalapaki Beach and Polpu Beach; only the more advanced should test the more powerful shorebreaks a Kealia, Shipwrecks (Keoneloa), and Brennecke’s beaches (see “Beaches”). Boogie-board rentals are widely available at surf shops (see “Surfing”) and beachfront activity desks. On the South Shore, Nukumol Surf Shop (www.nukumoi.com; 808/742-8019), right across from Brennecke’s Beach at 2100 Hoone Rd., Poipu, has the best rates and selections ($8 a day; $24 a week). On the North Shore, Hanalei Surf Co. (www.hanaleisurf.com; 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 (the old Hanalei School Building), 5–5161 Kuhio Hwy., mauka side, Hanalei.
With the only navigable river (some would say rivers) in Hawaii, numerous bays, and the stunning Napali Coast, Kauai is made for kayaking. The most popular kayaking route is up the Wailua River to Uluwehi (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 ultrastrenuous, 17-mile paddle from Hanalei to Polihale.
Kayak Kauai (www.kayakkauai.com; 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, mauka side). You can even start with a 90-minute class ($75). River kayak rental starts at $29 for a one-person kayak and $54 for a two-person kayak per day. Wailua River–permitted double kayaks cost $95, with just six available per day (launched only 8:30–11:30am Mon–Sat due to local regulations). Rates include paddles, life preservers, back rests, and car racks. The 5-hour guided Wailua River tours with a Secret Falls hike/swim and picnic lunch, offered three times a day, cost $85 for adults and $65 for children 5 to 12. The 5-hour Blue Lagoon tour from the Hanalei River mouth includes a shuttle to/from the Wailua River Marina, snorkeling, bird-watching, and beach time; it’s $105 for adults and $95 for children.
Kayak Kauai’s Napali tours ($240, including lunch), offered April through September, are only for the very fit who also aren’t prone to seasickness; the 12-hour tour requires 5 to 6 hours of paddling, often through large ocean swells, in two-person kayaks. Co-owner Micco Godinez calls it “the Everest of sea kayaking.” Trips depart Haena Beach and end at Polihale, with lunch and a rest stop at Milolii Beach, and shuttle to/from Wailua. Guided tours to Kalalau and Milolii for those with camping permits (see “Camping & Cabins”) are also available, starting at $154 a day (two-person, two-day minimum), as is shuttle service to Haena and Polihale ($60).
Just Live! (http://ziplinetourskauai.com/just-live-kayak-rentals; (808) 482-1295) rents kayaks by reservation and dispenses advice on best beaches and rivers to explore. Single kayaks run $30 a half-day, $50 full; double kayaks, $50 half-day, $70 full. Transport racks are included, but pickup and dropoff can also be arranged. The store is in Harbor Mall, 3501 Rice St., Lihue, between Kalapaki Beach and Nawiliwili Harbor.
Headquartered in Poipu, Outfitters Kauai (www.outfitterskauai.com; 888/742-9887 or 808/742-9667) offers a similar variety of well-organized tours, from a Wailua kayak/waterfall hike ($109 adults, $89 children 5–14, including lunch) to a Napali adventure (mid-May to mid-Sept, $249 ages 15 and older only) and a winter whale-watching paddle from Poipu to Port Allen ($159 adults, $129 children 12–14). The kid-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 $119 for adults and $99 for children 3 to 14.
Outrigger Canoe Paddling
The state’s official team sport, outrigger canoe paddling epitomizes Hawaiian culture’s emphasis on collaboration, understanding of the ocean, and ability to have fun when the opportunity presents itself—that is, to catch a wave. Kauai Beach Boys (http://kauaibeachboys.com; 808/246-6333) hosts 45-minute outrigger canoe paddling/surfing from Kalapaki Beach at 9am, 11am, and 1pm Sun–Fri, for $50 per person; paddlers must be at least 6 years of age. Hoku Water Sports (www.hokuwatersports.com; 808/639-9333) offers 1-hour paddles ($50) from Kalapaki and Poipu beaches; a steersman helps you spot sea life and, if conditions permit, ride a few exhilarating waves. The rides, which must be booked in advance, depart at 7am and 4pm weekdays; riders must be 10 years or older and weigh no more than 225 lbs.
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 Sheraton 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 often 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-shaped 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. Summer is also the best time to go deep in the crystal-clear waters off Niihau, although the afternoon ride back across the channel can still be bumpy.
Seasport Divers ★★★ (http://seasportdivers.com) leads two South Shore boat trips per day; mornings are geared toward experienced divers ($140), early afternoons toward novice or rusty divers ($140 certified, $185 non-certified). From late spring to early autumn, experienced divers shouldn’t miss the all-day, 3-tank dive off Niihau and Lehua Rock, home to lobsters, octopus, manta rays, monk seals, and several kinds of generally harmless sharks ($350, Tues and Fri). Seasport operates two well-stocked stores, in Poipu, from where South Shore trips depart (2827 Poipu Rd., across from the fire station; 808/742-9303) and Kapaa (4-976 Kuhio Hwy., at Keaka Rd.; 808/823-9222).
Also highly rated, and based on the South Shore, Fathom Five Ocean Quest Divers (www.fathomfive.com; 800/972-3078 or 808/742-6991) offers customized boat dives for up to six passengers, starting at $156 for a two-tank dive up to $381 for a three-tank Niihau dive ($43 more for gear rental). The latter uses a custom-built 35-foot boat limited to just six passengers.
Bubbles Below Scuba Charters (www.bubblesbelowkauai.com; 808/332-7333) specializes 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 $140 (if booked directly); it’s $255 for the two-tank dive along the Mana Crack, an 11-mile submerged barrier reef, as well as a Napali cruise. Bubbles Below also 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 (from $350, including weights, dive computer, lunch, drinks, and marine guide). You should also be willing to share water space with the resident sharks. Ride-alongs for nondivers and crustacean-focused twilight/night dives, as well as bottles of Nitrox, are also available.
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 Makua Beach, widely known as Tunnels. The wide reef here makes for some fabulous snorkeling and diving, especially during the calm summer months. (See “Beaches” for location details.)
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, also known as Whalers Cove, is considered one of the top sites in the Pacific for shore dives for its horseshoe-shaped reef teeming with tropical fish. It’s off Hoonani Road, about a quarter-mile south of Lawai Road near the Poipu traffic circle.
If you want a guided shore dive, Fathom Five Ocean Quest Divers (see above) will take you out daily for $95 for one tank and $110 for two tanks at Koloa Landing. Spring through fall, it also offers weekday, two-dive shore dives at Tunnels/Makua for $140, with the same rate for a one-tank night dive. Seasport Divers (see above) leads twice-daily shore dives from Koloa Landing for both certified divers (1-tank $100, 2-tank $120) and non-certified (1-tank $140, 2-tank $155).
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. Kauai Bound (www.kauaiboundstore.com; 808/320-3779) provides top-quality snorkel sets, including carrying bags, fish ID card, and no-fog drops, for $8 a day or $28 a week (child’s version $5 daily, $20 weekly; full face masks, $10 daily, $45 weekly). You can also rent pro-level underwater cameras ($20–$30 a day), camera accessories, golf clubs, and other gear at its store, in Anchor Cove Shopping Center, 3486 Rice St., Lihue.
Robert Wintner, the quirky founder of the statewide chain Snorkel Bob’s (www.snorkelbob.com; 800/262-7725), is a tireless advocate for reef protection through his Snorkel Bob Foundation. His two stores here rent top snorkel gear for $10 a day ($38 a week) per adult set, $6 a day ($24 a week) per child set; a budget option costs $2.50 a day, $9 a week; masks with corrective lens are also available. The stores also allow 24-hour and interisland drop-offs, and offer discounts on reputable snorkeling cruises. The East Side location (808/823-9433) is at 4-734 Kuhio Hwy., Kapaa, just north of Coconut Marketplace, while the South Shore outlet (808/742-2206) is at 3236 Poipu Rd., just south of Old Koloa Town.
On the North Shore, Pedal ’n Paddle (www.pedalnpaddle.com; 808/826-9069) rents adult snorkel sets for $5 a day ($20 weekly) and children’s sets for $4 ($15 weekly); it’s in Ching Young Village Shopping Center, 5-5190 Kuhio Hwy., makai side, in Hanalei.
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. See “Boat & Raft (Zodiac) Tours” for snorkel cruises to the reefs off Napali and Niihau. The following shoreline recommenda-tions apply in times of low surf (see “Beaches” for more detailed descriptions):
East Side—The two rock-walled ponds at Lydgate Park south of the Wailua River are great for novices and children, if it hasn’t rained heavily, which makes it too cloudy to see much.
North Shore—Kee Beach, located at the end of Kuhio Hwy., and Makua (Tunnels) Beach, about a mile before in Haena, offer the greatest variety of fish; surf is often dangerously high in winter. Anini Beach, located off the northern Kalihiwai Road, between Kuhio Hwy. mile markers 25 and 26, south of Princeville, has the most protected waters; avoid the channel in the reef in winter or strong surf.
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. A boat ramp leads into the rocky cove of Koloa Landing (see “Scuba Diving,” above), 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 Kaumualii Hwy. near Hanapepe, has good snorkeling amid hundreds of tropical fish around two rocky points. Check with the lifeguard if you’re unsure about the conditions.
Deep-Sea Fishing—Kauai’s fishing fleet is smaller than others in the islands, but the fish are still out there, and relatively close to shore. All you need to bring is your lunch (no bananas, per local superstition) and your luck. Sportfish Hawaii (www.sportfishhawaii.com; 877/388-1376 or 808/396-2607), which inspects and books boats on all the islands, has prices starting at $675 for a 4-hour exclusive charter (six passengers maximum), up to $1,440 for 8 hours. Rates may be better, though, booking directly through local operators such as Captain Lance Keener at Ohana Fishing Charters (www.fishingcharterskauai.com; 800/713-4682); excursions on the wide and stable 30-foot Hoo Maikai out of Kapaa start at $150 per person for a 4-hour shared trip up, to $1,250 for a private 8-hour trip (up to six passengers).
Captain Harry Shigekane of Happy Hunter Sport Fishing (www.happyhuntersportfishing.com; 808/639-4351) offers 4-hour shared charters for $200 per person aboard his 41-foot Pacifica, the Happy Hunter II, out of Nawiliwili Small Boat Harbor. Private tours run $700 to $1,300.
Freshwater Fishing—Freshwater fishing is big on Kauai, thanks to dozens of reservoirs 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 late September.
Sportfish Hawaii (www.sportfishhawaii.com; 877/388-1376 or 808/396-2607) offers guided bass-fishing trips starting at $265 for one or two people for a half-day ($400 for three people) and $375 for one person for a full day ($450 for two, $575 for three), starting at 6:30am in Kapaa. Gear, bait, and beverages are included; gratuity and 4% state tax are not.
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 (808/246-1599), or Umi’s Store, 4485 Pokole Rd., Waimea (808/338-0808). A 7-day tourist license is $11 (plus a $1 convenience fee if purchased online).
Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP)
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 (see “Surfing,” below), 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; 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; sessions are offered four times a day, with private lessons $150 per person. Walk-ups are welcome, but reservations are recommended.
Kauai Beach Boys (www.kauaibeachboys.com) gives 90-minute lessons three times a day at Kalapaki Beach (808/246-6333) and Poipu (808/742-4442); the $79 fee includes a rash guard, which also helps prevent sunburn. Rental gear costs $25 an hour, $70 a day. Also in Poipu, Hoku Water Sports (www.hokuwatersports.com; 808/639-9333) gives twice-daily 90-minute group lessons ($80); semi-private and private classes are an option ($125–$225). Once you’ve got the hang of it, rent a board from Nukumoi Surf Shop, across from Brennecke’s Beach (www.nukumoi.com; tel. 808/742-8019), for $20 an hour, $60 for a full day, or $250 a week, including wheels for easy transport.
In Hanalei, launch directly into the river and head to the bay from Kayak Hanalei (www.kayakhanalei.com; tel. 808/826-1881), 5-5070A Kuhio Hwy., makai side, behind Hanalei Taro & Juice. Rental boards are $40 daily, $30 half-day, offered daily; 90-minute lessons are available Monday through Saturday, with group classes $85 for ages 10 and up (semi-private, $110 for ages 8 and up; private, $130 for ages 5 and up). Based in Hanalei Beach Boys Surf Shop, 5-5134 Kuhio Hwy., Hawaiian Surfing Adventures (www.hawaiiansurfingadventures.com; tel. 808/482-0749) offers 90-minute group classes for $65 to $75; private lessons, for ages 13 and up, costs $100; yoga fans should try the 90-minute SUP yoga class, from $75 per person for a group of four to $150 for a private class.
Outfitters Kauai (www.outfitterskauai.com; 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 $129 for adults and $99 for kids 12 to 14.
With the global expansion in surfing’s popularity, the most accessible breaks around the island have plenty of contenders. Practice patience and courtesy when lining up to catch a wave, and ask for advice from local surf shops before heading out on your own. Hanalei Bay’s winter surf is the most popular on the island, but it’s for experts only. Kalapaki and Poipu beaches are excellent spots to learn to surf; the waves are generally smaller, and—best of all—nobody laughs when you wipe out. To find out where the surf’s up, go to Kauai Explorer Ocean Report (www.kauaiexplorer.com/ocean_report) or call the Weather Service (808/245-3564).
Pro surfer and Garden Island native Chava Greenlee runs Aloha Surf Lessons (www.alohasurflessonskauai.com; 808/639-8614) at both Kalapaki and Poipu, just south of the Sheraton Kauai. Group lessons, offered four times a day, cost $75 and include a short briefing on land, an hour in the water with an instructor, and 30 minutes to surf on your own; private lessons cost $300, but you can include up to four people if you choose. Rates include a rash guard and reef walkers. Reservations are recommended. Note: “All-girl” lessons with a female instructor may also be arranged in advance.
Keep practicing in Poipu with a rental from Nukumoi Surf Shop (www.nukumoi.com; 808/742-8019), right across from Brennecke’s Beach at 2100 Hoone Rd., where soft boards cost $8 an hour, $25 a day, or $75 a week; hard (epoxy) boards, for experienced surfers, cost $10 an hour, $30 a day, or $90 a week. Keep surfing at either Kalapaki or Poipu with a rental from Kauai Beach Boys (www.kauaibeachboys.com; 808/246-6333) for $15 an hour, $25 a day.
If you’re staying on the North Shore, consider a lesson from Hawaiian Surfing Adventures (www.hawaiiansurfingadventures.com; 808/482-0749), which offers smaller group lessons (4 students max) that include 90 minutes of instruction, up to an hour of practice, and soft boards for $65; it’s $150 for a private class ($100 ages 12 and younger). The exact surf spot in Hanalei will vary by conditions; check-in for lessons is at the Hawaiian Beach Boys Surf Shop, 5-5134 Kuhio Hwy., makai side (just before Aku Rd. when heading north). Daily rentals start at $20 for soft boards and $25 for the expert epoxy boards, with discounts for longer periods; rent for the same rates at Hanalei Surf Co. (www.hanaleisurf.com/rentals; 808/826-9000), 5-5161 Kuhio Hwy. (mauka side, in Hanalei Center), Hanalei.
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; 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). 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 $110, 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 up to 13 times a day, from 8:30am to 3pm. Tip: The water is always cool, so starting midday, when it’s warmer, may 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 windsurf-ing. Lessons and equipment rental are available at Windsurf Kauai (www.windsurf-kauai.com; 808/828-6838). Owner Celeste Harzel has been teaching windsurfing on Anini Beach for decades, with special equipment to help beginners learn the sport; she and fellow teacher Lani White offer novice and refresher classes at 10am and 1pm on weekdays and advanced classes by request. A 2-hour lesson is $100 and includes equipment and instruction. Competent windsurfers may 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 Makua (Tunnels) Beach on the North Shore, and the Mahaulepu coastline (including Mahaulepu/Gillin’s Beach and Kawailoa Bay) on the South Shore. See “Beaches” for details.
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.
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.