Just Back: Kauai, Hawaii

National Geographic Travel digital producer Megan Heltzel Weiler (on Twitter and Instagram @MeganHeltzel) recently tied the knot following a proposal in Paris last winter. To celebrate, she and her husband headed to Kauai for ten days of newly wedded bliss, fish tacos, and sunshine.

Here are some of the highlights from Megan’s trip, in her own words:

Edible souvenir: If you are walking down the street in downtown Hanalei and find yourself inhaling a sweet perfume of spices and nuts—stop right where you are and ask someone to point you in the direction of Kauai Nut Roasters. With almonds, macadamias, pecans, and walnuts that come in flavors like Pineapple Li Hing (salted dried plum), Coconut Kona Coffee, and Indian Curry, you’re sure to find something to suit your taste. A word to the wise: Come hungry; free samples abound here.

Craveable culinary experience: Pono Market, Sushi Girl, and Da Crack all deserve a shout out (and a visit). But The Bistro, an unassuming gem we discovered in Kilauea on a local’s recommendation, wowed us the most.

The sesame-crusted fish (which happened to be ahi the night we were there)—bookended by a fresh beet salad and bananas Foster for dessert—was one of the most mouth-watering meals we enjoyed on Kauai. Say “aloha” to the resident cat if you decide to give The Bistro a go, as he spends his evenings slinking from table to table in hopes of catching a scrap or two.

Sunset at Kauai's East Shore (Photograph by Megan Heltzel Weiler/National Geographic)
Sunrise on Kauai’s East Shore (Photograph by Megan Heltzel Weiler/National Geographic)

Most memorable moment: Experiencing the beauty of the Nā Pali Coast firsthand, by air and by sea.

This rugged stretch of Kauai’s North Shore is extremely difficult to explore on foot, so many visitors rely on boats and helicopters to get a close-up view. And while both tour options fall into the splurge category, I can testify that both are worth it.

During our first week on the island, we hopped aboard a Hughes 500 with Jack Harter Helicopters for an hour-long doors-off tour. As someone who doesn’t particularly love flying, I was apprehensive, but it was—hands down—one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.

The aerial tour—covering everything from Waimea Canyon, “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” to Manawaipuna Falls—widened our perspective of the island, and our pilot offered up a wealth of knowledge along the way.

Prefer to stay closer to the ground—and save a bit of money while you’re at it? A boat tour might be for you, many of which throw in a snorkeling stop as a bonus.

We chose to sail with Holo Holo Charters on a 7-hour “super tour,” which included lunch, happy hour cocktails, and a trip to the “Forbidden Island” of Niihau. It was amazing to see the coast from such a dramatically different angle.

Transportation advice: You will want to rent a car if you’re planning to stay on Kauai for any length of time. The 552-square-mile island takes more than two hours to traverse, and there are must-see sights from coast to coast.

Knowing this, we decided to rent a convertible so that we could enjoy the view as we cruised from Poipu Beach to Hanalei. The weather on Kauai is beautiful, but afternoon storms seem to come out of nowhere. Having a convertible gave us the flexibility to enjoy the scenery with the top down and then quickly cover up at the first sight of rain—a luxury a Jeep (our second choice) wouldn’t have afforded. (For those looking for a reliable rental company on the island, I can recommend Alamo at Lihue Airport.)

Waipo'o Falls in Canyon Trail in Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii (Photograph by Megan Heltzel Weiler/National Geographic)
Waipo’o Falls in Waimea Canyon  (Photograph by Megan Heltzel Weiler/National Geographic)

Must-attend event: The first Saturday of every month, the town of Kapaa transforms itself into an art-lover’s paradise for its monthly Art Walk. Local artists and artisans line the streets with their wares, ranging from jewelry to musical instruments and everything in between.

Go early to peruse the offerings, then grab a bite to eat. We enjoyed The Eastside for an appetizer and pre-walk beverage, though there are plenty of food trucks set up nearby.

Practical tip: The best tip that I can offer for visiting the island is to purchase The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook, which offers incredible insider tips about everything from food to day excursions, before you go.

The accompanying app is sold separately but worth paying for. Once downloaded, it can be accessed from your smartphone—even if you’ve turned off your data plan. It also has a wonderful GPS function that allows you to see exactly where you are on Kauai, including several hiking trails.

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  1. Rainbow Voayges
    Philadelphia PA
    December 19, 2015, 10:50 am

    Definitely take a helicopter tour on Kauai. I still have memories of the incredible scenery!

  2. Bethany N. Bella
    Columbus, OH
    November 10, 2015, 1:20 pm

    I second the convertible suggestion for transportation. I went to Kauai with my family in the summer of 2014, and we rented an intimate, red convertible for the four of us … but the views of the tree canopy and green mountains were totally worth the discomfort!! Love the pictures.

  3. Mike
    November 6, 2015, 8:08 am

    The no-doors recommendation is spot-on. Frightening? Yes. Exhilarating? Absolutely. And remember: 1/2000 to counteract the rotating blades.

    A few of the shots I took (years ago when a Canon 10D was cutting edge): https://flic.kr/s/aHsj8js9pM

  4. Jonathan Fisher
    Lihue, HI
    November 5, 2015, 6:50 pm

    You didn’t take a dog on a field trip? /gasp