It’s here! Our giant, annual Hawaii trip blog post. This year, we decided to visit Kauai, the gorgeous and remote island that is home to my very favorite place in the whole entire world (more on that later!) It’s definitely become a lot busier and tourist-packed in the 5 years since I first visited, but it’s still easy to get off the beaten path if you know where to look.
We stayed in a super awesome camper truck we rented from the very rad Kauai Overlander. They are an awesome, locally owned company and if you need accomodations & adventure while visiting the island, I cannot recommend them enough! We stayed in so many gorgeous campgrounds and ate so much good food.
We spent the first half of our visit on the quieter, more remote, western side of the island. Not only is it the sunny, dry side of the island and home to the Waimea Canyon and tons and tons of other coolio stuff, there are a lot of small, quiet towns like Hanapepe and Waimea that are full of amazing food and super friendly locals. The pace on this side of the island is a little slower, and we loved every minute we spent here.
After soaking in our fill of the rainy canyon views on our first full day in Kauai, we headed out to our first big hike of the trip: the top of Waipo’o Falls! This waterfall is one of the biggest sights in the canyon, cascading hundreds of feet down to the canyon bottom. The hike to get there, while muddy and steep, wasn’t too bad at all, and the gorgeous views of the canyon while hiking along the ridge was entirely worth it.
We saw a super brave couple wander out onto the rocks above the waterfall for a better view, so I snapped a photo of them! Because while I’m definitely not brave enough to try it myself, I figured they’d probably want some photo evidence for later.After we hiked back from Waipo’o Falls, we stopped by this gorgeous little waterfall on the side of the road after the big afternoon rains rolled in. A little sprinkle was enough to shoo the crowds away from this popular spot and we had it all to ourselves for a while.
One thing we definitely learned on this trip is that we’re spoiled by Washington State! Recently we’ve gotten used to having whole trails & vistas to ourselves. Given Kauai’s recent boom in popularity and it’s relatively small size, you’re probably never gonna have a view all to yourself, and if you do, it’ll only be for a few minutes. It definitely made us appreciate the times we were the only folks around!
After an amazing night at a private campground in Poipu, we headed out to the gorgeous Pihea Vista trail to see the Kalalau valley, but even on a sunny day, the clouds rolled into the valley so while we were quite literally walking on clouds, there were no views to be seen. We enjoyed the foggy, misty trail for what it was and promised to come back to the trail on another, clearer day.For my favorite day of the whole entire camping trip was the evening we spent at Polihale State Park. I’ve loved this park since the minute I set eyes on it 5 years ago, after my dad definitely broke some rental car rules and drove our rental car down 30 minutes of rutted out dirt road to see this place. I’m so grateful that he did! I know I say a lot of places are my favorite, but I promise you, this one actually is my favorite. If I could live in a single place forever, it would be here. Luckily enough, it’s one of the few places on the island that allows car camping on the sand dunes! So we snagged the most amazing campsite of our lives and settled in with some beers and snacks to watch the sunset.
It was the most spectacular show with the clouds turning a gorgeous bright orange and lighting up the cliffs red behind us. I dragged out the tripod and took some pictures of us to remember it by, and despite stabbing my foot on a very large beach thorn and our campsite getting epically rained out in a freak thunderstorm that night, it was all so worth it. My favorite evening on Kauai for sure! If anyone is looking for a great place to elope on the island, this would be the tippy-top of my Kauai photographer bucket list.
Our last big hike of the trip was to a waterfall out on the eastern side of the island, which is very much a hidden gem & finding the dang thing is half the fun, so I won’t spoil any secrets here. It’s really inaccurate to call it a trail, the best it could be called is a route, maybe? It’s a literal jungle gymn of unmarked winding paths, hauling yourself over tree branches, giant boulders, through thick, ankle deep mud and across streams. Everyone we saw on the trail had gotten themselves lost several times, even with navigation (we spent an extra hour slogging through a route to nowhere before we finally found the real trail again!) but it ends deep in a canyon with an amazing double waterfall.
When we finally got there, muddy and exhausted and very relieved to have finally found it, there was another couple there! Obviously, I’m an introvert if you haven’t guessed by now, so my immediate thought was “boo. people.” But, I overcame my awkwardness, we got to chatting and they mentioned they were in the middle of a pretty epic island-hopping backpacking trip, and they were celebrating their 10th anniversary together soon. So, obviously I asked if I could take a few pictures of them, because I can take a hint from the universe when I’m at the same waterfall at the same time in the middle of the friggin jungle as a super cute couple celebrating their anniversary. It was actually really quite cool & I’m so happy we could meet them! We ended up taking quite a few different photos for couples all throughout our trip that we bumped into on trails and at overlooks. I guess we emanate photographer-vibes wherever we go, and I’m okay with that. It was really pretty cool meeting so many folks & giving them awesome pictures of themselves to treasure!
For our last few days on the island, we actually spoiled ourselves with a few lazy days at the beach and we even nabbed a hotel for a night or two (because the need for a hot shower and a real bed was overwhelming. Kauai does not play around when it comes to hiking!) before finishing off our trip with a return to Punahoa Point for sunset, which has a lovely overlook along the coast, and one last drive up to Waimea Canyon, because I am obsessed with it.
There’s so much to do, see, eat, and hike in Kauai, it’s kind of insane. We stayed a week and felt like we’d barely even seen a quarter of the place. I will say, having an off-road capable vehicle is seriously a game changer. There are so many amazing dirt and all wheel drive roads all over the island, and being able to access even a tiny portion of them made the trip infinitely better!
We picked up a lot of beach trash on our visit there, and I would implore you to do the same with your visit! If you’re at a beach for the afternoon, take 10 minutes and pick up all the plastic and trash you can find. It’s a small effort and keeps the island beautiful. Additionally, if you’re planning to go to the island and are staying in a hotel with a normal civvie rental car: get out of the tourist bubble! Explore the island. Be respectful, take the muddy trails, eat from the tiny roadside places, and wear ya reef-friendly sunscreen. 😉
For the Extra Credit, here are some of the local restaurants & businesses we loved:
Kilauea Bakery & Pizza (amazing for vegan peeps!)