PHOTOS: Gary Corsair
Forget Waikiki, Kauai is unspoiled Hawaii.
Ma and Pa Kettle, the Brady Bunch and Elvis had wonderful vacations in Waikiki, but they missed the real Hawaii.
Waikiki is dirty, crowded and full of hotels desperately needing renovation. Hawaii’s beachfront neighborhood on the island of Oahu can’t hold a tiki torch to Hawaii’s Garden Isle, Kauai.
Kauai is a wonderland of uncrowded beaches, hiking trails, farmers markets, quaint small towns, stunning mountains and endless photo opportunities.
And you can experience Kauai without breaking the bank.
No need to pay a fortune for lodging. Find quality lodging for less than you’d spend for an Orlando hotel room.
Use airbnb.com, VRBO.com and flipkey.com to find deals. Ask questions and do diligent research before sending a deposit. Don’t take anything for granted. Some condo owners in Princeville promise beach access, but don’t mention that you have to traverse a potentially dangerous rocky trail to get to the sand and surf.
By all means, stay away from Craigslist. “We hear scams here and there, even in paradise … be careful,” says Domie Bucasas, appraisal support services administrator in the Kauai property appraiser’s office.
End negotiations immediately if someone asks for the entire payment up front.
Leave the driving to someone else
There’s no need to rent a car for your entire stay.
You can ride all around the island on buses that are comfortable, modern, rarely crowded and affordable for $2 per trip.
Wonder after wonder
You will, however, need a car to see Kauai’s most awe-inspiring site, Waimea Canyon, a natural wonder 10 miles long and 3,000 feet deep.
The twisting, turning road to the top of the canyon is 18 miles long, but the destination is worth the drive.
Stop at every lookout point and linger long enough to see colors change against the canyon walls.
Follow the road to its end for breathtaking views of the Na Pali coast.
When you return to flat land, book a boat tour to see the rocky majesty of Na Pali you can’t see from land. You’ll also see dolphins, turtles and possibly whales. Or take a helicopter tour.
Wailua Falls is another must-see. The twin waterfall is accessible by car. Most visitors snap photos from a waist-high wall a few hundred yards away, never realizing they can hike to the base of the falls for truly stunning photographs. Of course, adventurers who make the 15-minute trek on the unmarked trail should be prepared to get dirty, muddy and a little wet.
Kauai is the rainiest Hawaiian island, so plan sightseeing on overcast days and head to the beach when the sun is prominent.
Which beach? Doesn’t matter; they’re all special. And most are right off Kuhio Highway. If you can only visit one beach, make it Makua Beach, better known as Tunnels, on the north shore.
Tunnels is both welcoming and intimidating. The shallow inner reef is great for snorkeling and kids, while the outer reef draws experienced surfers, scuba divers, paddle boarders and wind surfers. Stay long enough to enjoy a spectacular sunset.
The water is seldom rough at Hanalei Town, a charming, storybook hamlet just west of Princeville. Go for a swim and walk the Hanalei Pier (built in 1892 and featured in the film “South Pacific”) after touring the historic Waioli Mission House and nearby art galleries and quaint shops.
Kauai has seven golf courses, and while you can pay $200 to play a round at the fabulous Poipu Bay Golf Course or the Princeville at Hanalei Prince (rated Hawaii’s No. 1 golf course by Golf Digest), you can also play the Kukuiolopo Golf Course in Kalahelo for under $10.
For all-day shopping, head to Kapaa. But don’t pay and arm and a leg for Aloha shirts or muumuus. The bargains are at Hawaiian Wear Factory on Highway 581 behind the ABC Store on Kuhio Highway.
Coffee lovers must visit the sprawling Kauai Coffee plantation in Kalaheo. Hawaii’s largest coffee grower has 4 million trees on 3,100 acres, a wonderful gift shop and daily tastings of more than a dozen brews.
While you’re in the boonies, drive through the picturesque, mile-long fragrant tunnel of 100-year-old Eucalyptus trees near Koloa Town.
Before returning to civilization, eyeball the Spouting Horn blowhole in Koloa, where incoming waves are forced upward through a coral formation. It’s a 10-minute gander, but there are gift shops nearby.
And don’t overlook Hanapepe, one of the smallest towns on Kauai. Hanapepe is home of Talk Story, the western most bookstore in the United States; the abandoned Aloha State Theatre; a bouncy pedestrian suspension bridge (across the Waimea River); and the Kauai Cookie Company, famous for cookies flavored with guava, coconut, mango, corn flakes, Kona coffee and of course, macadamia nuts.
Don Livingstone is a fixture at the Waimea Falls lookout area. Don lives off the land and supports himself by making hats and baskets.
Good eats (Ono Grinds)
Kauai is for sightseeing, relaxing and … experiencing inexpensive cafes and food trucks serving poke, malasadas, manapua and other delectable dishes. Here are a few of the locals’ favorites:
Hamura Saimin in Lihue is nothing fancy, but it is the place to go for saimin, a Hawaiian noodle soup augmented by roast pork, onions, fish cake and other goodies.
The Village Snack and Bakery Shop in Hanalei serves great plate lunches of teriyaki steak, Katsu chicken or short ribs with white rice and macaroni salad for $8.
Ono Ono Shave Ice in Kapaa. Shave Ice is sold on practically every street corner, but no one matches Ono Ono’s grapefruit-size ball of iciness drenched in dozens of flavors.
Getting to Kauai is the big expense, but you can fly round-trip from Orlando to Lihue for less than $800.
Take away the airfare and Kauai is downright affordable. You can eat for $20 a day and lodging can be had for less than $80/night.
Shucks, even Ma and Pa Kettle could afford that.