The Real Side of Hawai`i: Far from the Crowds
Did you know that each of the Hawaiian Islands has a nickname? It’s true. In addition to their proper names – O`ahu, Hawai`i, Maui, Moloka`i, etc. – each of the eight main islands has a descriptive nickname. For example, O`ahu is “The Gathering Place,” Hawai`i is “The Big Island,” and Lanai is “The Pineapple Isle.” How about Kaua`i? Try to guess...
Exactly 97 percent of the island’s land area is undeveloped mountain ranges and rain forests. That’s a lot of green. The landscape is verdant and lush, and there are more scenic overlooks and waterfalls than you can shake a well-worn hiking stick at. From above, it looks like a big, beautiful garden.
So, have you guessed? Think “big, beautiful garden.” Kaua`i is known as “The Garden Isle,” and the moniker couldn’t be more fitting. With a much smaller population than O`ahu and Hawai`i and all that green space, you might think that Kaua`i would be a good place for some world-class parks. Well, you’d be right. In fact, Kaua`i is home to several extraordinarily beautiful state parks and recreational areas. It’s a way to see a side of Hawai`i – not tourist-packed beaches, high-rise luxury apartments and kitschy souvenir shops – but the real Hawai`i.
Ahukini State Recreational Pier
Located on the edge of Hanamā`ulu Bay on the island’s east side, Ahukini State Recreational Pier offers great fishing along with the beautiful scenery. Both pole fishing and crab netting are allowed. This is an unkempt, obscure place that is not without its own particular charm. Look for tiny sea creatures in the tide pools, and you may even see a stingray or two from the pier. It’s near the Līhu`e Airport, so if you have some time to kill while waiting for your flight, definitely spend it there.
Ha’ena State Park
Sometimes referred to as “the end of the road,” the North Shore’s Hā’ena State Park has a beautiful beach, 4,000-year-old sea caves just begging to be explored and a rigorous hiking trail to a waterfall. It’s a great place to swim and snorkel during the summer months. The beach is guarded, and there are picnic tables, restrooms and showers on-site. Non-residents must obtain a pass; only 900 per day are issued to lessen foot traffic and trail degradation. Passes can be reserved for up to 14 days in advance.
Koke’e State Park
If it were in any other location, Koke’e State Park would be the main attraction. Lush vegetation, native birds and a spectacular view of the ocean are just some of what Koke’e offers. The park is also home to no fewer than seven major hiking trails, including the Nu`alolo Cliffs Trail, a 7.6-mile out-and-back with breathtaking views of the Nu`alolo Valley and Nāpali Coast. Park amenities include campsites, a gift shop, picnic tables, restrooms and water fountains.
Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park
Towering up to 4,000 feet above the blue Pacific, the cliffs of the Nāpali Coast offers some of the most magnificent views in all of Hawai`i. The park is home to Kalalau Trail, generally considered Kaua`i’s best and most scenic hike. The 11-mile trail can be quite strenuous in places and is recommended for experienced hikers only. A permit is needed to go past the two-mile mark, but within those first two miles the views are absolutely spectacular. Restrooms are available at the park.
Polihale State Park
Ten miles of pristine beach are available to the public at Polihale, making it one of the longest beaches in all of Hawai`i. Because of its sheer size and remoteness, it is definitely the place to go to avoid the crowds and be alone with the gloriously pristine nature of Hawai`i. Walk, swim, sunbathe or just watch the sun disappear into the Pacific at day’s end. The five-mile access road to the beach requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Popular activities include fishing and picnicking. Camping is allowed with a permit. Restrooms and showers are on-site.
Russian Fort Elizabeth State Historical Park
As you might have guessed, this park is noteworthy because it is home to the last remaining Russian fort in the Hawaiian Islands. It was built in 1817 by the Russian-American Company as the result of an alliance with High Chief Kaumuali’i. Visitors can take a brochure and a self-guided interpretive tour to explore the remains of the fort and learn more about this fascinating period in the history of Hawai`i. And be sure to bring your camera. The fort overlooks the terrifically photogenic Waimea Bay.
Wailua River State Park
Home to the only navigable river in Hawai`i, visitors to Wailua River State Park can take a boat tour into the rain forest. The park is also home to two scenic waterfalls, ‘Opaeka‘a Falls and Wailua Falls, as well as the Wailua Complex of Heiaus, a site that was once the center of chiefly power in old Hawai`i. The National Historic Landmark contains remains of several structures including places of worship, refuge and royal births.
Wiamea Canyon State Park
Often called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon offers some of the most dazzling views in all of Hawai`i. The 10 mile long fissure cuts into the earth over 3,500 feet deep in spots, and the colors, textures and patterns on the rock walls – together with waterfalls and rainbows – make it an astonishing place to visit. Several challenging hiking trails wind through the park. Check out the two lookouts – Pu`u Ka Pele and Pu`u Hinahina – for awe-inspiring panoramas.
Kaua`i is truly the definition of a tropical paradise. Pristine beauty, reminiscent of the day the world was born, is seen in every direction. Visit Kaua`i’s state parks and discover why those who know keep returning again and again to the Garden Isle.