How to Do Kauai
Source & Images: Departures
Hawaii’s oldest island holds a wealth of discoveries.
Jaw-dropping Kauai is the northernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago and the oldest, dating back six million years. It is a study in extremes, where sky-scraping cliffs meet plunging valleys, lush rainforests contrast stunning beaches and resort-laden enclaves speckle long, tourist-free stretches. The diminutive island may measure just 552 square miles, but it packs plentiful offerings in a setting so diverse filmmakers have used it to evoke both fearsome jungles (Outbreak, Jurassic Park) and utopian seascapes (South Pacific, Blue Hawaii).
Even among Hawaiians, Kauai is considered particularly exotic. It was the last island to join the Kingdom of Hawaii (in 1824) and it is a holdout in other ways, too. Whereas comparably sized Oahu is home to nearly a million people, Kauai has a population of about 66,000. Agriculture may have slowed elsewhere in the state, but Kauai’s farmers continue to grow their own coffee, taro and tropical fruit. Thousands of wild chickens roam free as there are few natural predators. (Should a visitor leave a terrace door open in hopes of waking to the sound of waves, she may instead find herself rising to cock-a-doodle-doos.)
But the most impactful throwback is the distinct cultural identity of the people. You may encounter the spirit of the island in a simple roadside plate lunch (a traditional combination platter of, typically, rice, macaroni salad and pork), spa products sourced entirely on the island or a snorkeling instructor who hands you the keys to his truck and asks only that you return it before dark. There is a generous, trusting hospitality here that makes it especially fun to visit. One only hopes it will last.
The South Shore of the island has traditionally attracted the most tourists, given its annual rainfall of 10 to 30 inches (compared to the 60 to 85 inches that fall in the north). But the North Shore better showcases the island’s unique offerings. The St. Regis Princeville Resort, which opened in 2009, gives guests an ideal jumping-off point for many adventures. Find access to the natural beauty of the Na Pali Coast, Hanalei Bay, the Kilauea Point Lighthouse and Limahuli Garden and Preserve; snorkel, hike or take a helicopter tour of the stunning surrounds.
However you choose to enjoy the splendor, let our favorite spots on the island lead the way.
St. Regis Princeville Resort
St. Regis Princeville Resort
The chief feature of this 251-room stunner, which St. Regis launched as its first Hawaiian hotel in 2009, is its perfect position. Set on a cliff overlooking Hanalei Bay, with unobstructed views of the Na Pali Coast, the area was considered by ancient royals to be the most beautiful in all of the Hawaiian Islands. At the 10,000-square-foot Halele’a Spa, the signature Kauai Taro Clay Wrap soothes after-sun skin with locally grown taro, aloe and noni fruit. Although many rooms feature terraces and ocean views, the splendid mountain views do not disappoint.
Princeville Golf Course
Prince Golf Course
The North Shore’s Prince Course (pictured; 5-3900 Kuhio Hwy.; 808-826-5001; princeville.com), designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., is the best golf course in Hawaii and one of the top 100 courses in America according to Golf Digest. Positioned to offer views of both the Pacific Ocean and the mountains, the serene par-72 course is known for its irresistible but demanding layout. Jones revisited neighboring Makai Golf Club, which he also designed, and combined the “Lakes” and “Ocean” nines into a par-72 course. It reopened in 2010 with new Seashore Paspalum turf grass on the greens, renovated bunkers and an improved putting green. Casual golfers may enjoy Makai’s inland, 9-hole Woods Course.
The Makana Terrace
In the summer, the sun sets on Kauai around 7 p.m., which makes it imperative to position oneself for pupus and cocktails by 6 p.m. The Makana Terrace at the St. Regis Princeville Resort is a popular option, given its plentiful seating and fantastic views. For an atmosphere as tasty as its tapas, try Bar Acuda (5-5161 Kuhio Hwy.; 808-826-7081; restaurantbaracuda.com) in Hanalei. San Francisco chef Jim Moffat opened it shortly after moving to Kauai in 2005, and it remains the town’s top open-air restaurant that emphasizes local sourcing. (Afterward head to Tahiti Nui [5-5134 Kuhio Hwy.; thenui.com] to sip an obligatory Mai Tai at the town’s celebrated dive.)
When Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten took over the upscale Kauai Grill (pictured; 5520 Ka Haku Rd.; 808-826-2250; kauaigrill.com) at the St. Regis Princeville in 2009, it was a game changer for the North Shore’s food scene, effectively stealing the South Shore’s culinary crown. Vongerichten’s grilled black pepper octopus, heart of palm and tender coconut starter and Hapu’upu’u (sea bass) are among the chef’s extraordinary preparations.
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