Kauai is the fourth largest of the Hawaiian islands, at approximately 550 square miles in size. And while that might not seem like a lot of ground to cover, it has taken us three visits to explore nearly every corner of “the garden isle.” This time, we spent our entire vacation on the tropical, rainy side of the island — on the north. Lucky for us, we were blessed to have sunny, enjoyable weather for the duration of our trip.
What we’ve learned through the years is that Kauai continues to be an affordable vacation destination for our family. On our last trip, we scored a great deal on airfare and accommodations. This year, we did the same, not only taking advantage of excellent pricing on Alaska Air (roundtrip fare of less than $400 per person, direct from San Diego), but also securing an ocean-front, one-bedroom unit at SeaLodge Condominiums at a rate of $140/night.
Situated on a prime spot above a beautiful cove in the Princeville area, SeaLodge is an older development located just north of the Kilauea Lighthouse and within a short distance to Kauai’s most pristine beaches including Anini Beach (frequented by celebrities), Secret Beach and Hideaway. Just beneath the bluff-top complex is SeaLodge Beach, featuring sparkling green water that is perfect for swimming, and golden sand sprinkled with a wide selection of shells. It is a gem of a beach that provides the backdrop for a quintessential Kauai experience.
While it may sound idyllic, the SeaLodge Condominiums are not necessarily the place for everyone. Their dated shingle exteriors are straight out of the 1970s, but their beachfront location can turn an ordinary visit to Kauai into an extraordinary one. Golfing and tennis, along with restaurants and shopping, are nearby. What’s more, the beautiful Saint Regis Hotel, perched on a ridge above Hanalei Bay — directly across from Bali Hai — is just down the road: it’s perfect if you’re in the mood for an exotic drink in a world-class bar that offers breathtaking views. (And who isn’t?)
The SeaLodge units are by no means luxury accommodations, but they have been adequately updated, and the price is right, especially for ocean front. We were thrilled to wake up each morning to gentle breezes blowing through the windows, unobstructed views of the coastline and glimpses of the striking Kauai mountains.
Peaceful and Pristine: Hanalei River Kayaking
From our central location on the northern end of the island, we ventured out on a number of day trips, never tiring of the region’s special sights: Bali Hai, the Hanelei River, the taro fields, Kauai’s lush mountain peaks, and, of course, the ocean. One of our favorite activities was a kayak trip up the lush Hanalei River ($54 for a two-man kayak with Kayak Kauai), where we snuck up on river turtles sunning themselves on the rocks, witnessed native birds hunting for prey and remained in awe of the towering mountain peaks — always on the horizon.
The Stunning Na Pali Coast
No trip to the north coast of Kauai would be complete without a tour of the striking Na Pali Coast, and on this visit, we once again took the opportunity to tour this remote section of the island by boat. Our choice for the trip — Na Pali Coast Hanalei Tours. They are the only company embarking from the north end of the island in November. Their small 28-foot catamaran, the UFO, made the excursion all the more special. With a crew of two, the UFO carried only seven others on a four-hour long voyage on a day in which the weather couldn’t be more perfect. We spotted sea turtles and schools of dolphins, and made our way inside remarkable sea caves carved out by the strong surf.
In the midst of our trip, our fantastic captain, Britt, and his first mate, Tyler, also performed a dramatic rescue, saving three men who became stranded on the sea ledge as the surf surged against the rocks. As Britt maneuvered the UFO amidst the waves, Tyler, a lifeguard by profession, swam out to the men and guided them to our boat for safe return back to a calmer beach. While the $179 price tag seems a bit steep, it was well worth it for the unforgettable views of Kauai’s distinctive Na Pali cliffs, which tower above the ocean.
Verdant Tropical Valley: Limahuli Garden & Preserve
Another favorite outing this trip was a visit to the lush Limahuli Garden & Preserve. The site is nestled behind the rugged Na Pali peaks, and is adjacent to the famous Bali Hai rock formation (known as Makana in Hawaiian), which marks the beginning of the beautiful Kalalau Trail. In this spectacular setting, visitors gain insight into the early Hawaiians and the plants and crops that fueled their day-to-day lives. The trail through the gardens winds upward through the valley and then downward again, with each turn opening up an entirely new vista that is somehow better than the last. For $15 per person, it is highly worth a visit.
Amidst the abundant activities in Kauai, there is always the beach, and the north shore doesn’t disappoint. During our visit we spent many great moments on Hanalei Bay, stopping at nearly every beach all the way northward toward Bali Hai — an incredible stretch of coastline consisting of Tunnels, Ke’e, Lumahai and other beaches. Marked by the mountains on one side (the maka side) and the brilliant jade green ocean on the other, they are all spectacular. In the other direction, we enjoyed the calm beauty of Anini Beach, the charm of Molooa Bay and the quiet adventure of Queen’s Bath. Located within Princeville, Queen’s Bath is a natural pool of ocean water created by waves crashing over the rocks. Deep enough for swimming, it offers jumping rocks and views to Bali Hai. Beware, however, the trail down to the rocks is slippery and dangerous, and big waves have caused tragedy for those who weren’t watchful of the high surf.
As we close the book on another unforgettable journey to Kauai, we’re already thinking of how soon we’ll be able to make our way back to this magical island. At a total cost of less than $2,000 for two for air and eight nights of lodging — beyond the beauty, we appreciated the affordable price of this amazing trip.