Vacation Kauai: Top 5 Island Experiences

Best Hawaiian Resorts

Kauai may be known as the Garden Isle, but these lush tropics are just the beginning. The island has a wilder side that’s begging to be experienced. You can dive, sail, snorkel, kayak, raft or learn to hula—and that’s just the beginning. Kauai is the perfect place to try something new. Here are our best picks for the five top Kauai experiences.

Zipline Trek Nui Loa

The first sentence on their website says it all: “This isn’t a zipline, it’s a ZIIIIIIIIIIIIIIPLIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE.”

Outfitters Kauai
Dare to fall with your hands behind your back on the Nui Loa Zipline.

The seven ziplines (two are tandem) at Zipline Trek Nui Loa will set your spirit flying. Operated by Outfitters Kauai, the Nui Loa Ziplines fly through and over lush treetops on the private Kipu Ranch. If it looks familiar, think “Jurrasic Park,” “50 First Dates” and any of the countless Hollywood blockbusters that have filmed in this lush tropical location. Ziplining was our top Kauai experience, even though it was raining off and on all day.

What made this zipline experience so much fun? Maybe it was the rush of falling backward off a platform with your hands behind your back. Or it could have been the tandem ziplining where you fly through the air with that special someone. Eighteen hundred feet of zipline, though? Yes, that was definitely the highlight.

High above the trees and waterfall, you zip for over 90 seconds and are “in-flight” for more than a quarter mile. Nowhere else on Kauai can you have that long of a zipline experience.

Be sure to wear your swimming suit and trek down to the natural swimming hole after your last zipline. There’s a WaterZip that you won’t want to miss.

Outfitters Kauai
2827A Poipu Road
Poipu Beach
Kauai, HI 96756
808-742-9667, toll free 888-742-9887

Luau Kalamaku

Hula, poi and fire dancers are all part of the Luau Kalamaku at the Kilohana Plantation. This luau is different than any other on the island, though, since it’s a theatrical experience rather than a hula show. The original play tells the story of the voyage of the first Hawaiians who traveled from their homeland in Tahiti to the Hawaiian Islands.

An innovative stage and media system places the audience around the stage to view the actors up close. High-intensity hula, fire poi ball twirlers and fire knife dancing all add to the storyline. Of course, all this is served up with an all-you-can-eat luau buffet, complete with a roasted pig from the underground imu (oven). Hawaiians love to share their history and culture with visitors, and the Luau Kalamaku is a perfect example of this done right.

Kilohana Plantation
3-2087 Kaumualii Highway
Lihue, HI 96766

Napali Dinner Sail

A sunset sail through the ocean blue, check. Dinner that satisfies you till tomorrow’s lunch, check. Sea caves, lush valleys and the rugged cliffs of the Napali Coast? Yes, this sailing trip offers it all.

Kauai’s Napali Coast boasts 3,000-foot cliffs and fern-filled valleys—and it’s a must-see for any visitor to Hawaii. Due to its remote location, though, the best view of the coast is by sea. Many companies offer Napali Coast cruises, but our sunset dinner cruise with Kauai Sea Tours was nothing short of “Wow! I’m so glad we did this.”

The four-hour cruise left the dock at 2 p.m. under a blue Hawaiian sky. The captain of our “Lucky Lady” catamaran showed us playful spinner dolphins, whales (whale season runs from December to March) and little-known beaches on the west coast of Kauai. We pulled in closer at times to view sea caves and wildlife along the shore.

After all the sightseeing, we enjoyed a delectable dinner buffet of Polynesian teriyaki chicken, oriental tofu stir fry and much more. A romantic sunset topped off the evening as we sailed back to Port Allen Marina. This is an experience the whole family can enjoy.

Kauai Sea Tours
4353 Waialo Road
Suite 2B-3B
Eleele, HI 96705
808-826-7254, toll free 800-733-7997


Snorkeling in Kauai
Shallow waters may be more enjoyable for first-time snorkelers.

Kauai is known for its beauty and warm weather, but there’s an entire watery playground to explore—and snorkeling is a great way to do that.

You can rent snorkeling gear at shops on the island, or purchase a set for around $35. (Target carries them.)

First-timers might be more comfortable learning in protected shallow waters where you can stand up, rather than in open waters. There are many protected bays where you can snorkel right off shore. At some beaches, you’ll be surrounded by fish even at knee-deep.

Poipu Beach Park is good option for families. Its protected bay has nice snorkeling, and there are lifeguards, bathrooms and showers onsite. Anini Beach, which has the longest reef on Kauai, is another favorite. The near-shore water is shallow, and the underwater canyons at reef’s edge are brimming with life.

Kee Beach is also a popular snorkeling spot, but visit it only in the summer. During the winter, high surf and powerful current make it dangerous. In Kauai, swim and snorkel on the north shore during summer and on the southern shore during the winter. Even then, always be careful when visiting the north- and east-facing shores, even in the shallows, as there are dangerous riptides.

Tubing with Kauai Backcountry Adventures

tubing with Backcountry Adventures
Taking it slow before heading into a flume tunnel.

Ever been tubing down an irrigation flume? Kauai Backcountry Adventures turned a former sugar cane plantation into an exciting natural playground. Those who want a truly unique Hawaiian experience can grab a tube and float down the flumes of the Lihue waterway system, which originates in the rainforests of Mount Waialeale.

Dug by hand for irrigation back in 1870, the Lihue ditches are still in excellent condition—and they’re perfect for exploring by tube. Riders drift past wild cane and lush vegetation, and even through the irrigation tunnels. Tubers wear helmets and headlamps to light their way through the tunnels. The result is a fun adventure that you’re not likely to experience elsewhere. But hey, you can do it here in Kauai!

Kauai Backcountry Adventures
3-4131 Kuhio Highway
Hanamaulu, HI 96715

Read more: Romantic Hawaii: Kauai for Couples