Getting Lost in Kauai

If you close your eyes and imagine Hawaii, then you’re probably thinking of Kauai, one of the most remote islands in the 50th state.

You know — jagged peaks plunging into hidden rainforest valleys, beaches with impossibly blue waves thundering ashore, and of course, endless summer weather.

That’s Kauai. But that’s not all there is to it. Behind that postcard facade there’s a funky island that your kids can connect with. Ours did.

A canyon and a forbidden island

The signature attraction in Kauai is Waimea Canyon, also known as “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” If you only have a few days to spend in Kauai, put this at the top of your list. Think of it as a tropical Grand Canyon, because — well, that’s what it is. It’s a mile wide, 14 miles long, and roughly 3,600 feet deep, and on a clear day you can see all the way to the secretive (and privately owned) island of Niihau.

Chickens are ubiquitous on Kauai. (Photograph by Emily Murphy, My Shot)

Kids don’t just notice the big things, like the terrifying drop-off in front of them or the diminutive guard-rails separating them from the abyss. But they do notice animals. Like the free-range chickens my 10-year-old son was obsessed with photographing (and which he later made into a collage using PhotoShop).

My daughter paid no attention to fowl or the scenery, and instead set her gaze on the mountain goats scaling the cliffs. Who knew there were mountain goats in Hawaii?

The real danger lurks in the valley, where shops line the road selling authentic and intricate Niihau shell lei necklaces that can set you back thousands of dollars a pop. They managed to take us for five aloha shirts. Isn’t that what visitors to Hawaii are supposed to do to support the local economy?

One of these days I’m going to return to Waimea Canyon with a full-frame DSLR camera and a tripod and take real pictures of the place. It is unspeakably beautiful, but in a surreal way. How else do you describe the odd confluence of livestock and extinct volcanoes?

Espressos and … puppies?

Kauai isn’t as well known for its coffee as Hawaii’s Big Island. That’s a shame, as we discovered when we visited Kauai Coffee, which offers free tours of its working plantation and plenty of samples. We found the coffee to have more character than some of the Kona coffees we tried a few weeks before. But, then again, Kona coffees are known for their subtlety.

Waimea Canyon, "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific." (Photograph by Daniel Lockhart, My Shot)

A word of warning: When you visit a coffee plantation with your kids, remember to keep an eye on them. We failed to pay close attention and all three of them decided to try the coffee, too. I caught them as they were pouring themselves a sampler of espresso. It wasn’t their first cup, either.

You can probably imagine what happened next. The sedate retail floor became a playground for three caffeinated children. At some point, if I’m not mistaken, they decided to chase a chicken, because there are chickens everywhere in Kauai. We were thankful there were no puppies to be found — the only thing that could have made the situation worse.

For what it’s worth, Kauai’s coffee is really good. Even the kids liked it.

Gimme some sugar

Kauai is known for its historical sugar plantations, and the one we visited came with its own train. The Kauai Plantation Railway offers two tours: a short one that takes you around the old plantation by rail, and a longer one that includes a guided hike on the property and lunch. If you’ve ever wondered what sugar cane looks like, how it’s grown and processed, opt for the longer tour. The most fun part – at least for the kids – came at the end, when our guide brought us to the mango and starfruit groves, and allowed us to pick and sample some of the fruit.

Kauai is the kind of place where you can really get lost. Once the kids are older, I’ll bring my hiking boots and backpack and set off into the rainforests to discover the real island. But you don’t have to rough it to get an authentic experience. Just take your kids to some of the attractions, and you’ll see things they won’t show you in any tourism brochures.

And you’ll thank them for it…once the caffeine buzz wears off.



  1. scarleth
    costa rica
    May 17, 2013, 11:51 pm

    i read the article and i really think that describe how beautifull is kauai. It mention be carefull with yours kids when you visit a coffee plantation, but if you take yours kids to some of the attractions you will see things that you dont see in any tourism brochures

  2. Lin Chan
    Costa Rica, Puntarenas
    May 17, 2013, 10:20 pm

    this place sounds so amazing, i have to go with my baby! i would like to know this place with all my family some day, and go to the canyon and all that beautiful places..

  3. Jose Gabriel Johnson
    Costa Rica
    May 17, 2013, 8:50 pm

    Well, Kauai sounds so nice, to all the family. I felt excited when I read this text about Kauai, someday, I would like to go there, to enjoy all the things that Kauai have.

  4. Yarif Wabe
    Costa Rica, Puntarenas
    May 17, 2013, 6:42 pm

    This place is very awesome, the nature is beatiful and i enjoyed the pictures… This is a good place for go…

  5. Pablo
    Costa Rica
    May 17, 2013, 2:46 pm

    This is a amazing place! When I saw the photos I thought: It’s a beautiful and relaxing place. It is perfect to visit with your family and enjoy the nature. I loved the first photo! Maybe one day I will travel to Kauai.

  6. Dylan López Padilla
    Costa Rica, Puntarenas
    May 15, 2013, 12:53 pm

    This part of world its so amazing also has many things like insects, birds this place is perfect for the people. Its completly wonderful I would like to know this place!!!

  7. margoth
    costa rica,puntarenas
    May 12, 2013, 8:52 pm

    This is a very good point of view of Kauai. I enjoyed the photos

  8. Lace Andersen
    December 19, 2012, 4:30 am

    Hi! Thank you for using my image for your blog!!!

  9. 徐雄
    December 18, 2012, 2:20 am


  10. Nel
    December 17, 2012, 10:14 am

    Never lost on Kauai with a good guidebook. Get the Kauai trailblazer guide.

  11. Ally
    Ambitious Traveler
    December 16, 2012, 2:41 am

    The first picture is beautiful! Love the colours

    December 15, 2012, 4:42 pm

    Adorei, belíssima foto.Obrigada.

    N.E. OHIO
    December 15, 2012, 2:00 pm

    I am a 25 year resident of Kona. This is a very good over view of Kauai and the islands in general. All the inhabited islands have each been the home to many great surfers. I would encourage anyone, who visits the islands, to be sure to visit the Big Island (the youngest, highest, largest, most volcanically active and growing island). Then go to the island of Kauai to see the results of millions of years of growth. The oldest Hawaiian Island with spectacular flora growth, the unique animal and birds and wonderful native Hawaiians.

    December 15, 2012, 12:00 pm


  15. Synz | From Sea to Summit
    December 13, 2012, 10:59 pm

    If I’m not mistaken, Kauai is the home of great surfers.