Most visitors don't come to Kauai when the weather's best in the islands; rather, they come when it's at its worst everywhere else. Thus, the high season -- when prices are up and resorts are booked to capacity -- generally runs mid-December through March or mid-April. The last 2 weeks of December in particular are the prime time for travel to Kauai; if you're planning a holiday trip, make your reservations as early as possible, count on holiday crowds, and expect to pay top dollar for accommodations, car rentals, and airfare. Whale-watching season begins in January and continues through the rest of winter, sometimes lasting into May.
The off seasons, when the best bargain rates are available, are spring (mid-Apr to mid-June) and fall (Sept to mid-Dec) -- a paradox, since these are the best seasons in terms of reliably great weather. If you're looking to save money, or if you just want to avoid the crowds, this is the time to visit. Hotel rates tend to be significantly lower during these off seasons. Airfares also tend to be lower -- again, sometimes substantially -- and good packages and special deals are often available.
Note: If you plan to come to Kauai between the last week in April and the first week in May, be sure to book your accommodations, interisland air reservations, and car rental in advance. In Japan, the last week of April is called Golden Week because three Japanese holidays take place one after the other; the islands are especially busy with Japanese tourists during this time.
Due to the large number of families traveling in summer (June-Aug), you won't get the fantastic bargains of spring and fall. However, you'll still do much better on packages, airfare, and accommodations than you will in the winter months.
Because Kauai lies at the edge of the tropical zone, it technically has only two seasons, both of them warm. The dry season corresponds to summer, and the rainy season generally runs during the winter from November to March. It rains everyday somewhere in the islands at any time of the year, but the rainy season can cause "gray" weather and spoil your tanning opportunities. Fortunately, it seldom rains for more than 3 days straight, and rainy days often just consist of a mix of clouds and sun, with very brief showers. The year-round temperature usually varies no more than 15°, from about 70° to 85°F (21°-29°C), but it depends on where you are. Kauai is like a ship in that it has leeward and windward sides. The leeward sides (the west and south) are usually hot and dry, whereas the windward sides (east and north) are generally cooler and moist. If you want arid, sunbaked, desertlike weather, go leeward. If you want lush, often wet, junglelike weather, go windward. Your best bet for total year-round sun is the Poipu coast.
Kauai is also full of microclimates, thanks to its interior valleys, coastal plains, and mountain peaks. If you travel into the mountains, it can change from summer to winter in a matter of hours, because it's cooler the higher up you go. In other words, if the weather doesn't suit you, go to the other side of the island -- or head into the hills.
When Hawaii observes holidays, especially those over a long weekend, travel between the islands increases, interisland airline seats are fully booked, rental cars are at a premium, and hotels and restaurants are busier than usual.
Federal, state, and county government offices are closed on all federal holidays: January 1 (New Year's Day); third Monday in January (Martin Luther King, Jr., Day); third Monday in February (Presidents' Day, Washington's Birthday); last Monday in May (Memorial Day); July 4 (Independence Day); first Monday in September (Labor Day); second Monday in October (Columbus Day); November 11 (Veterans Day); fourth Thursday in November (Thanksgiving Day); and December 25 (Christmas).
State and county offices also are closed on local holidays, including Prince Kuhio Day (Mar 26), honoring the birthday of Hawaii's second delegate to the U.S. Congress; King Kamehameha Day (June 11), a statewide holiday commemorating Kamehameha the Great, who united the islands and ruled from 1795 to 1819; and Admission Day (third Fri in Aug), which honors Hawaii's admission as the 50th state in the United States on August 21, 1959.
Other special days celebrated by many people in Hawaii but that do not involve the closing of federal, state, or county offices are Chinese New Year (Jan or Feb), Girls' Day (Mar 3), Buddha's Birthday (Apr 8), Father Damien's Day (Apr 15), Boys' Day (May 5), Samoan Flag Day (Aug), Aloha Festivals (Sept or Oct), and Pearl Harbor Day (Dec 7).
Honoring the Dead: Obon festival -- The Japanese immigrants who came to Kauai brought their cultural Obon Festival, which honors the departed spirits of those who have died. During the summer months, several Buddhist temples have an Obon Festival, which usually includes dancing and food. They welcome visitors to come to the festivals and encourage people to join in the dancing.
The festival has its origins in the story of Buddha's disciple, Mokukren, who used his supernatural powers to see how his deceased mother was doing. He saw she was in the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering. Upset, he went to the Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from this realm. Buddha told him to help the many Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. The disciple did this and felt his mother's release. He also began to see the true nature of her past unselfishness and the many sacrifices that she had made for him. The disciple, happy because of his mother's release and grateful for his mother's kindness, danced with joy. From this dance of joy comes Bon Odori or "Bon Dance," a time in which ancestors and their sacrifices are remembered and appreciated.
Participants in the Obon Festival traditionally wear colorful yukata, or light cotton kimonos. Many Obon celebrations include a huge carnival with rides, games, and summer festival food. The festival ends with Toro Nagashi, or the floating of lanterns. Paper lanterns are illuminated and then floated down rivers symbolically signaling the ancestral spirits' return to the world of the dead. This ceremony usually culminates in a fireworks display.
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.