Exploring Kauai - SchuylerPhoto

So by using the IRS as our vacation savings account this year we were able to take a vacation with our tax returns. Having previously been to the Big Island, Maui and O'ahu, We decided that Kaua'i would be a new adventure. 


Travel time was about 14 hours with a 2 hour layover in Pheonix before touching down on Kauai. We went to K-Mart and CostCo, grabbed dinner and retired for the night. 

Set an early alarm for the following morning to start our explorations. We awoke to a great view of both the insanely large pool and Kalapaki beach adjacent the hotel grounds. 

Day 1

Early morning view from our Kauai Marriott balcony.

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Day 1 was dedicated to exploring and finding where we wanted to revisit later in the week and truly enjoy. First stop Lydgate Beach for sunrise.

Lydgate Beach

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After heading to Ha Coffee Bar for a some amazing cold brew and breakfast we headed back up the coast. The next stop was Ahukini Recreation Pier State Park. Nothing too exciting here but I was able to mess with my recently purchased circular polarizing filter. What a huge difference that makes.

Ahukini Recreation Pier State Park

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Continuing up the coast we stopped at Nukolii Beach Park. There were some middle aged guys surfing who got out, showered and got in their work trucks to begin their day. Warm water and surfing sounds like a good substitute for caffeine in the morning. 

Nukolii Beach Park

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It was mid to late morning by now so we ventured up to Kauai Juice Co in Kapaa so an organic, cold pressed energy boost.

After downing a bottle of juice, we make a quick stop at Opaeka'a Falls which weren't all that exciting but provided a nice view of the Wailua River valley.

Wailua River

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We then continued north along the coast stopping at a scenic overview just outside Kapaa. We were blown away with by the coastline view and planned to return later in the week to rent bikes for the coastline path.

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Further north after a few tries we finally found the entrance to the walking trail for Papaa Bay. The trail was steep and covered with pine needles which made for slow going down the hidden cove. I think we saw 2 or 3 other people here... total.

Papaa Bay

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View walking back up to the car.

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Back on the road again. We made the trip down to both the Moloa'a Beach and Secret Beach parking areas, both of which were full. So we put these on the list to revisit later in the week. 

It was lunch time so we headed to the Princeville Shopping Area for a quick bite to eat. We went just a couple feet up the road to another scenic view spot but decided this was far enough for Day 1 on the island. We still hadn't really adjusted to the 6 hour timezone change. So we headed back south with plans to stop at a few more locations.

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We ventured down to Anini for a quick swim as we hadn't been in the water yet. Jet lag and exhausted were slowly keeping in at this point. Here are a couple of my favorite shots from the area.

Anini Beach

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After relaxing for a while we did a quick drive by of Kalihiwai Beach but the clouds were starting to roll in, so we didn't stay long.

Kalihiwai Beach

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At this point I can't remember what we did for the rest of the afternoon.... Instagram'ing while travel has been a huge help with jogging my memory and most photos I posted I geo tagged... but the last few hours of the afternoon are blank. Remember this was our first full day on Kauai and we drove half the island and visited a half dozen beaches. Aggressive start for vacation.

What I do know is we ended up at Poipu Beach Park for sunset. See pics below.

Poipu Beach Park

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Day 2

We had a scheduled helicopter ride in the afternoon so we decided to check out the two beaches with very limited parking from Day 1. 

First up was returning to Moloa'a Beach. We didn't quite make sun rise but we were the first tourists on the beach. The water was pretty calm and we ear marked this as a beach worth spending half a day at later in the week.

This is another spot with 10-15 parking spots. So if you head there it has to be early or just well timed with someone leaving.

Moloa'a Beach

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Next up we went to Secret Beach.There is an odd parking situation where only 15-20 cars can park so again we were here early and really the first tourists.

When we got to the bottom of the short hike down, it was us and two people who appeared to be living there. So we only stayed for a few minutes as Naked Guy was starring at us while washing his pots and pans in the ocean. The Counting Man was slowly walking backwards while counting to himself across the whole beach... not the most inviting two people to share the beach with. 

The waves and undertow were very intense so we did not venture into the water here. The sun was in a bad spot for photos so we snapped a few and headed back up the hill to our car. That's the Kilauea Lighthouse in the background.

Secret Beach

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We went back to to Kalihiwai Beach where it had been very cloudy on Day 1. Part way down the road we discovered a very small path that led out to the edge of a small cliff. This was kind of off the beaten path and very dicey being on the edge of a 100' drop into the water. Didn't stay here long but the coast line with full sun on the water looked great.

Coast just south of Kalihiwai Beach

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Since we were near the Kilauea Lighthouse we made a quick stop. Neither of us are crazy about lighthouses... but figured we had to take a photo.

Kilauea Lighthouse

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Up next was heading back to the hotel for lunch and getting ready for the afternoon helicopter tour from Jack Harter Helicopters. This is the first time we had seen the hotel pool in full action.

Mid Day Pool Use

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Finally it was time for the helicopter tour... this was not cheap but ended up being worth every cent.

We chartered the entire helicopter and opted for the doors off experience. The pilot knew the history of everything on the island and even showed us some stuff he had discovered. We left from Lihue and headed up the western coast of the island, went around the Napoli Coast and then up and over the middle of the island. So many sights were amazing and couldn't be seen by any other means.Lots of pictures as the entire ride and island was worth capturing.

Jack Harter Helicopter Tour

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After the amazing helicopter tour of the entire island, we headed back to the hotel to relax by the pool.

Ended the night with some pretty terrible room service food... and some local Koloa Rum!

Day 3

The third day started very early for us as we had to be ready to board a 16 person boat at 7am. We drove up to Anini Beach to get one of the Sea Breeze company's early morning tours.

The boat starts on the eastern side of the island and heads north along the coast. The captain explained a lot of details about the native traditions and history of the islands. After seeing the Napali coast from the helicopter the day before it was a totally different experience slowing motoring by on a boat. 

We had out of season winds and large swells so the caves were off limits and snorkeling was touch. This didn't matter much because it was nice to spend 4.5 hours on the water cruising by wild coast line and cliffs.

The only bad part was shooting into the sun for the majority of the ride. We hope to return at some point in life and do the hike along the coast... or at least the first 2 miles.

Sea Breeze Tour of the Napali Coast

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When we made it back to shore we were pretty exhausted. We still hadn't caught up on sleep at this point and baking in the sun for a whole morning was catching up.

We made the mistake of continuing north up the coast only to find Ke'e had horrendous rain storms. Pretty much exhausted at this point, we literally pulled over at a random beach spot and slept in the car for 2 hours.

After this we went back to the hotel, grabbed a solid meal from the Ferrule Pig and slept for 12 hours. It was time to slow down and enjoy vacation.

Day 4 - July 4th 2015

We got a slow start to the morning and decided to head to the western side of the island as we hadn't really explored that side yet. 

Grabbed some cold brew from Ha Coffee Bar and headed towards Waimea Canyon State Park. We took the day slow and stopped at a ton of scenic outlook places along the way. 

Waimea Canyon

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The canyon views were pretty amazing but we didn't plan on doing any day hikes or really want to be in direct sunlight for a second day, so we continued north. The road up and down from the canyon was a blast to drive... just wish we were in a sports car or on a motorcycle.

We decided to go all the way north, to the end of the western side of the island, Polihale State Park. At the entrance to the park road there is a large warning sign about unkempt roads and enter at your own risk... and they meant it. Despite the tile of "state park", this 4-5 mile dirt road was both fun and awful to drive. Always glad to be in a rental car for these trips as I'd never take a vehicle I cared about down a road like this.

At the end we found a ton of locals setting up campsites, fishing and preparing for a night of celebrating independence... So we didn't stick around long, no real sense of not being welcomed but we were the only rental car in the parking lot. Snapped one photo and got back on highway 50.

Polihale State Park - Napali Coast Begins

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After almost getting stuck in soft sand twice we left and headed to Pizzetta for dinner back in Koloa. This was the first real meal we'd had in a few days and it was great.

We wanted to catch the fireworks back in Lihue, as it was the 4th of July, but made a quick stop at Kiahuna Beach for the last glimpse of sunset.

Sunset at Kiahuna Beach

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We caught the fireworks at "the stadium" back in Lihue as well as tons of personal displays throughout the neighborhoods we passed. Having covered a lot of ground we retired early.

Day 5

We decided to head back to Kapaa to rent bikes and cruise along the bike path had seen a few days prior. This proved to be one of the best things we did the entire trip.

I believe the path is only 4 miles each way but it's nothing but incredible views the entire time. Unfortunately, my "big stopper" from Lee Filters requires the use of a tripod to take some long exposure photos during the day which slowed us down a little more... but it was so worth it.

I would highly recommend everyone bikes, runs or walks along the paved path in Kapaa if you make it to the island.

Kapaa Coastline

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Now having seen the majority of the island, we were in relax mode. So we headed back up to Anini beach where the water was calm and there was space and shade in abundance. 

I used my iPhone to control my Fuji x-t1 and grabbed a picture of a shy crab while hanging out for the afternoon at the beach.

Anini Beach on a "busy" weekend

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The final stop for today was to return to Ke'e beach, or the most northern point you can drive on the eastern side of the island. We had been rained out two days prior so we wanted to catch sunset at the beach.

We read our books and relaxed while waiting a couple hours for the sun to drop but the cove proved to be well worth the wait.

Ke'e Beach at Sunset

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After sunset we had an hour and fifteen minute ride ahead of us and were both exhausted. Luckily Mediterranean Gourmet in Hanalei was willing to keep it's kitchen open a few minutes longer for us to grab some dinner.

It felt good to have a drink and eat some real food (i.e. not granola bars or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). 

I'm not sure I would have been able to drive back to Lihue had it not been for this meal, so we were very appreciative of the hospitality, mahalo. 

Day 6

After all the driving the day and night before we wanted to take this day slow. We headed to Opaeka'a Falls in Kapaa which was pretty unexciting... but I found an amazing tree in a field along the way. 

The field was insanely green, the clouds were rolling around and to the right of the tree was a group of horses. I got a lot of strange looks while pulled over on the side of  field with a tripod/camera sticking through a barbed wire fence, but the image is one of my favorite form the trip.

Tree on way to Opaeka'a Falls

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We spent the rest of the day touring the locally produced goods:

- Koloa Rum Company and their tasting room

- Kauai Coffee Company and their free samples of amazing coffe. They had a great video documenting all of the steps going from dirt to cup.

Since we hadn't been able to spend too much time at Polihale State Park, we trekked all the way up to the most north western point of the island for sunset. Many websites and books recommended this as a great place to watch the sun drop but I found the sun to be in the wrong spot relative to the cliffs. It was nice to relax either way but it wasn't what we had been expecting.

After it got dark we had a long dirt road and an hour plus ride to look forward to before making it back to the hotel.

Polihale State Park

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Day 7

We stopped randomly just north of Kapaa to watch sunrise on our final day.

Kapaa Sunrise

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This was our final day on the island. We paid for the "linger longer" option at the hotel so we could really enjoy the full day as our flight wasn't until 10pm. We still hadn't been back to Moloa'a Beach for any length of time so the goal today was to relax there.

When it got "crowded" there were probably 10-12 other people enjoying the white sand, gentle waves and natural shade. Again, this beach is very limited by the number of parking spots available and we were the first ones there this time. 

I spent 1/3 my time relaxing and reading, 1/3 swimming and 1/3 exploring and continuing to use my set of ND filters for extended shutter speeds.

Moloa'a Beach

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After the beach we grabbed lunch and spent the rest of the day at the hotel pool and beach just outside of the grounds.

Overall this was an amazing vacation. Enough relaxing at the end to make up for all the craziness in the beginning. Drove about 850 miles in 7 days which sounds awful to some but we were able to really experience a lot in our short time. 

When (if) we return, we already have a list a mile long of things we didn't get a chance to do.

Our Final Scenic Overview

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