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Polynesian Paradise

Green Hawaii: the garden isle of Kauai

Mike Quane,  Apr 26, 2009

The most northern of the eight major islands and the oldest geologically, Kauai is Hawaii without the high-rises. It also has some of the world's most spectacular scenery, even though it's only 25 miles long and 33 miles wide. Since Kauai is more than 100 miles from Honolulu, the overdevelopment that has encroached on much of the state hasn't made much of a dent on it. And because its rainforests are rimmed by almost impenetrable mountains, the island's interior has defied "civilization."

Kauai is called the "Garden Island" precisely because 97 percent of its land is composed of undeveloped mountain ranges and rainforests. It also has 43 miles of beaches, the most per coastal mile of any of the island chain. Local codes prohibit buildings over four stories, and the 58,000 permanent residents, most of whom live in small communities along the coast, prefer to keep it that way.

On Kauai, you're sure to find the strand of pristine sand and palm trees that fits your daydreams of a Polynesian paradise.

Among the scenic attractions waiting to be discovered are Waimea Canyon, a wondrous phenomenon Mark Twain called the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." You can see it best on a helicopter tour , but if you're not that daring, you can take a (still heart-in-your-throat) drive to a viewing area overlooking the rim.

The Na Pali Coast, with its 3,000-foot cliffs, can be also be seen via a helicopter flight or on a catamaran day cruise from HoloHolo Charters . The cruises also have a stop for snorkeling, and lunch is served onboard.

Wailua and Opaekaa Falls, two beautiful waterfalls near Kapaa, the island's largest town, are easily accessible from the main road.

Kilauea Point, noted for its landmark lighthouse and bird sanctuary, is also an excellent site for whale-watching.

Other activities include surfing, fishing, hiking, cycling, horseback riding, and jungle trekking on foot or via all-terrain vehicles. Golfers will find four of Hawaii's top 10 courses on Kauai, and movie buffs can take in scenery familiar from films such as "Jurassic Park," "Blue Hawaii," and "South Pacific." You can also tour sugar and guava plantations, enjoy free tastings of Kauai coffee, and shop in unique-to-Hawaii emporiums like Hilo Hattie's.

No visit to Hawaii would be complete without a luau, and although group luau tours may be touristy, you can certainly enjoy these traditional feasts if you get into the spirit, preferably with a mai tai cocktail.

The feast and show run by the descendents of Walter Smith, a British wanderer who came to Kauai four generations ago and married a local wahine, is a good night out. It features not only hulas and Hawaiian delicacies like roast pig and poi, but a tribute to the Pacific ethnic groups that have populated Kauai. The 30-acre gardens at Smith's Tropical Paradise can be seen from a tram, or you can take a riverboat tour to the Fern Grotto, a popular site for weddings .

United and American Airlines offer direct service from California to Kauai, and several other airlines offer service from Honolulu, about a half-hour away by air. Cars can be rented at Lihue Airport. For more information, contact the Kauai Visitors Bureau at or 1-800-262-1400.

Green Hawaii: the garden isle of Kauai
Wailua Falls - Photograph by Mike Quane

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