On the Road to Hanalei

The first place everyone should go on Kauai is Hanalei. The drive along Kuhio Highway (Hwy. 56, which becomes Hwy. 560 after Princeville to the end of the road) displays Kauai's grandeur at its absolute best. Just before Kilauea, the air and the sea change, the light falls in a different way, and the last signs of development are behind you. Now there are roadside fruit stands, a little stone church in Kilauea, two roadside waterfalls, and a long, stiltlike bridge over the Kalihiwai Stream and its green river valley.

Birders might want to stop off at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a mile north of Kilauea, and the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, along Ohiki Road, at the west end of the Hanalei River Bridge. In the Hanalei Refuge, along a dirt road on a levee, you can see the Hariguchi Rice Mill, now a historic treasure.

Now the coastal highway heads due west, and the showy ridgelines of Mount Namahana create a grand amphitheater. The two-lane coastal highway rolls through pastures of grazing cattle and past a tiny airport and the luxurious Princeville Hotel.

Five miles past Kilauea, just past the Princeville Shopping Center, is Hanalei Valley Lookout. Big enough for a dozen cars, this lookout attracts crowds of people who peer over the edge into the 917-acre Hanalei River Valley. So many shades of green -- rice green, taro green, and green streams lace a patchwork of green ponds that back up to green-velvet Bali Hai cliffs. Pause to catch your first sight of taro growing in irrigated ponds; maybe you'll see an endangered Hawaiian black-necked stilt. Don't be put off by the crowds; this is definitely worth a look.

Farther along, a hairpin turn offers another scenic look at Hanalei town, and then you cross the Hanalei Bridge. The Pratt truss steel bridge, prefabbed in New York City, was erected in 1912; it's now on the National Registry of Historic Landmarks. If it ever goes out, the nature of Hanalei will change forever; currently, this rusty, one-lane bridge (which must violate all kinds of Department of Transportation safety regulations) isn't big enough for a tour bus to cross.

You'll drive slowly past the Hanalei River banks and Bill Mowry's Hanalei Buffalo Ranch, where 200 American bison roam in the tropical sun; you may even see buffalo grazing in the pastures on your right. The herd is often thinned to make buffalo patties. (You wondered why there was a Buffalo Burger on the Ono Family Restaurant menu, didn't you?)

Just past Tahiti Nui, turn right on Aku Road before Ching Young Village, then take a right on Weke Road. Hanalei Beach Park, one of Hawaii's most gorgeous, is a half-block ahead on your left. Swimming is excellent here year-round, especially in summer, when Hanalei Bay becomes a big, placid lake.

If this exquisite 2-mile-long beach doesn't meet your expectations, head down the highway, where the next 7 miles of coast yield some of Kauai's other spectacular beaches, including Lumahai Beach of South Pacific movie fame, as well as Tunnels Beach, where the 1960s puka-shell necklace craze began, and Haena Beach Park, a fabulous place to kick back and enjoy the waves, particularly in summer. Once you've found your beach, stick around until sundown, then head back to one of the North Shore's restaurants for a mai tai and a fresh seafood dinner. Another perfect day in paradise.

The End of the Road

The real Hawaii begins where the road stops. This is especially true on Kauai -- for at the end of Hwy. 56, the spectacular Na Pali Coast begins. To explore it, you have to set out on foot, by boat, or by helicopter.

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.