I knew Hawaii was a haven for surfers and sunbathers, but I wasn’t expecting the variety of things to do away from the beach. Kauai’s hiking and Maui’s snorkeling definitely were the main highlights. Check out my recent Expedia story how I learned to love tropical beach destinations.
Do you only have a week and a half and are you on a budget? Consider following a similar itinerary.
Day 1 – Waimea Canyon and Beach Camping
After arriving late in the night, we couldn’t wait to see Kauai in the daylight. The first part of our trip, we focused on the southern part of the island and drove until we found interesting places to stop and explore.
Watch the sunrise from Spouting Horn Park before grabbing breakfast.
Drive the Waimea Canyon Road and take advantage of the many smaller, no-so-popular viewpoints.
From the Kalalau Lookout, check out the Nā Pali Coast and hike along the ridge. Don’t forget Kauai is a rainforest. Beware, hiking can cause dirty shoes.
Pack a tent on your tropical vacation and spend the night at Polihale Beach. Apply for permits early and sip beverages as the sun sets below the horizon and the waves crash against the soft sandy beach.
Day 2 – Day Hiking and Island Hopping
With only half a day before heading to Maui, it was fun to meet with a friend living in Kauai for a morning hike before heading to the airport.
Avoid the crowds and hike to the canyon floor. It’s a good workout if you needed a little cardio before putting on the bathing suit.
Taste the tropics and drink straight from the coconut. It was delicious and refreshing after the dry desert-like hiking. It’s surprising how such a small island can have micro-climates.
Time to jet off to Maui.
Day 3 – Driving around Maui
Seeing the most of Maui, we decided to drive for almost a full day, which included watching the sunrise from atop of a volcano and driving one of the windiest roads I have seen.
Wake up at the crack of dawn and follow the winding road as it switchbacks to the summit of Haleakalā National Park to watch the sun rise. Make sure to allot enough time before the sun rises.
Stop at Waianapanapa State Park while driving Hāna Highway for its black, sandy beaches and waves crashing against the shoreline.
Being an island, it’s really easy to find fresh produce and homemade goods throughout Maui. The banana bread at Hāna Farms is to die for.
Named after its beautiful sand color, Red Sand Beach is a short walk to an inlet. Find snorkelers or others just hanging out. Be careful on a wet day as the path can be muddy, rocky, and steep in sections.
After a long day of driving, it was nice to grab dinner and have a relaxing night and watched the sun set.
Day 4 – Snorkeling Maui
Never getting the hang of snorkeling the one time I attempted ten years ago, I wanted to have a good experience. Waking up early, we headed on a tour of the Molokini Crater and Turtle Town to see Pacific marine life. After the tour, we had a breakfast and then drove around the western side of the island to find snorkeling spots and a more developed part of the island.
Head on an early morning tour to avoid the crowds and have the crater to yourselves. It’s a great way to start the day. Keep an eye open for whales and dolphins as a tour boat does all the work in shuttling you between the Molokini Crater and Turtle Town. Stay close to the guide when spotting for turtles for better spotting or stay within view and try to find some on your own.
Head northwest around the island to one of the beach strips off the highway. It’s a great way to break up the drive. Hang with the locals or just relax and picnic before continuing your day.
Walk around the beach shops and find antiques to bathing suits to beach wraps. Try out fresh seafood or take in the vibes.
Be mindful of the tidal swells when heading to this top-rated bay for free snorkeling. Parking may be a little difficult, but it can be worth it if the waves are low and the water clear.
Day 5 – Island Hopping and Backpacking
We woke up early and returned to Kauai for backpacking plans of the Kalalau Trail. Permits ready, we headed to the trailhead and started the hike mid-day. With hopes of getting to Kalalau Beach that night, we were cruising on the trail. Though after making it to Hanakoa Valley at mile 6 and decided to stay the night.
Start hiking the Kalalau Trail with blue skies and beautiful weather. Hike for a day or continue for an overnight backpacking trip.
Days 6 through 8 – Kalalau Trail
It started to rain the first night and continued to rain for days. The rain from the upper valleys draining to the ocean caused us to be “stranded” as we weren’t able to cross the Hanakoa River back to the trailhead. We stayed at Hanakoa for a second night not wanting to cross Crawlers Ledge down to the beach and not being able to cross the river to turn around. After the second night, we braved the raging waters and crossed the Hanakoa River and made it back to Hanakapi’ai River but couldn’t cross it or the beach. We were stranded for yet another night.
Camp at the Hanakoa Valley campsites midway to Kalalau Beach. The tent flooded many times as the campsite is designed as a terrace (or shelves) that the water flooded down.
The first time crossing the Hanakapi’ai River was easy peasy as we skipped the small rocks to cross. Flash floods are a serious risk while hiking the trail, and it’s important to keep an even head and only cross when it’s safe.
Day 9 – Helicopter Rescue and Tour
It was Christmas Eve, and we were one night past our anticipated time on the trail. Having missed our early morning helicopter tour, I was worried we would miss our Christmas Day flight back to the mainland. Fortunately, the Kauai Fire Department decided to pull all the stranded hikers off the trail and started with us! As soon as we returned to cell phone service, I called the helicopter company and was able to get 2-one seat open tours later in the day. I had my first and second helicopter rides both in one day that were completely different experiences.
The Kauai Fire Department rescued 60+ hikers on the Kalalau Trail on Christmas Eve and continue to monitor the trail when heavy rains drain to the Nā Pali Coast.
Most of Kauai isn’t viewable by the road or even trails and is best seen from the air. With many local helicopter tour operators, it’s easy to find the right option for you.
It was good to be back in civilization with hot food, access to showers, and beds.
Day 10 – Last Day in Kauai
Wanting to get the most of our last day in Kauai, we headed to Hanalei for breakfast before heading back towards the airport. The day was spent doing small things we didn’t have time to do yet on our trip like trying shave ice, walking a beach and chasing waterfalls.
The small beach town of Hanalei is fun to explore. As the northern swells visit the island, head Hanalei Bay Beach Park to watch surfers catch waves. Spend hours secretly cheering on the surfers as they pick perfect waves to ride.
Secret Beach isn’t all too secret if you know how to read a map. It’s a great place to go hang out for a few hours and stroll along the beach with a lighthouse off in the distance.
A quick detour doesn’t take much time with a small overlook to see the Wailua Falls.
A trip to Hawaii isn’t complete without having shave ice. It’s especially good with sweet coconut milk or vanilla yogurt.
Drive Highway 520 off of Highway 50 and find a mile-long eucalyptus tree tunnel. The road isn’t good for stopping or walking along, but the tree canopy over the road is gorgeous with the sun shining through.
My island hopping trip to Hawaii varied from normal trips but was similar in many ways. I can’t wait to explore more of these islands with a short flight from Washington. Hawaii isn’t all about beaches and relaxing. If you are an adventurous, on-the-move traveler, consider heading to the tropical islands of Kauai and Maui.