What is Hawaii if not America's most remarkable island treasure?
Oahu's cultural attractions could keep you clear of the beach for weeks, or you could surf its famed North Shore until you grow gills. Maybe just fix a hammock to a tall palm and spend your days plucking away on a ukulele?
Tropical Kauai is the sparkling emerald of the Pacific, a garden oasis of striking natural beauty and Hawaii's oldest major island.
These beautiful diversions raise some serious questions for the intrepid traveller – if a coconut falls from a tree and lands in the sea, does it still make a sound? Do parrots speak Polynesian? Of course, there's only one way to find out...
Begin your cultural expedition in Honolulu. Rise and grind your way to the spectacular summit of Leahi, known otherwise as Diamond Head, the geographic wonder that stars in countless photos shot from famed Waikiki Beach.
The panoramic views of Honolulu Waikiki and West Oahu are memorable. The appetite you've summoned will be well deserved – you could grab a quick bite from one of the food vendors operating at the park, or head out to Waiola Shave Ice to dine with the locals as they feast on azuki bowls – ubiquitous shaved ice made with azuki beans, mochi balls and sweet condensed milk.
Roll on to Oahu's North Shore to explore cosy Haleiwa – this is a popular tourist destination but gone are the crowds and the bustle of Honolulu proper.
Visit Deep Ecology for some sweet surf gear, place an order for a custom surf board at Strong Current, or shop for a hand-made ukulele to accompany you to hammock time.
Visit the North Shore Soap Factory, located in the Waialua Sugar Mill; the old mill is now home to numerous shops and pop ups, selling everything from coffee (fun fact: Hawaii is the only state in America that grows coffee) to hand-crafted chocolate.
Time now for what you've come all this way for – a visit to one of the North Shore's legendary beaches. You don't have to be a surfer to appreciate the soft sand, blue sea and picturesque setting of the North Shore.
Sunset Beach features swells that can rage to six metres in the winter, but the break is quite far off shore and the beach itself is stunning. Waimea Bay Beach Park is another top place to unwind – or rip some truly gnarly waves. When the big waves are breaking, there's a good chance you'll spy some of the world's finest pro surfers.
Sign up for an excursion with Wild Side Specialty Tours and see the deep blue side of Oahu few experience. Expeditions grant guests face-to-face meetings with wild dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, rays and whales on safe, personal guided trips that always feel like once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Set aside a few hours to explore the sublime Honolulu Museum of Art; open since 1927, the collection includes more than 50,000 pieces. Explore the history of art in Hawaii or experience the large collection of Japanese and Chinese pieces.
Time to explore Hawaii's most underrated island. With its wide-open spaces, great beaches and tropical gardens, Kauai has long been Hawaii's hidden gem, a family-friendly hangout and perfect escape.
Set out for the North Shore – Kauai's chilled-out surf paradise – where you'll find the Kalalau Trail, your gateway to the Na Pali Coast, Hanalei Town and the Limahuli Garden and Preserve. The trail is a quintessential bit of Kauai and one of the most remarkably beautiful destinations that the Hawaiian Islands have to offer.
Beginning at Ke'e Beach and ending at Kalalau Beach, the trail runs for 17 kilometres and whips up and down over sea cliffs, through green valleys and past towering waterfalls. The trail is demanding and requires a full day from even experienced hikers.
Many visitors opt instead to hike three kilometres to Hanakapiai Beach, where monk seal and whale sightings are common. If you're not keen on the hike itself, you can park at the trailhead and visit the beach for the day.
After your trek, zip back toward Hanalei Town and visit Trucking Delicious, the gourmet grilled sandwich outfit usually located between Hanalei Liquor and Tropical Taco. The Angry Goat is something of a revelation, though Lili's Cristo has become a local favourite.
Pink's Creamery is ready to reward your trekking efforts with a wide selection of ice cream and smoothies, while locals swear by Hanalei Taro and Java Kai, where you can find Shoyu pork belly specials and the island's best pre-hike breakfast, respectively.
The Kilohana Sugar Plantation is a historical landmark that includes the Tudor-style Gaylord Mansion, the Koloa Rum Company, the Makiko Lounge, a Luau centre, a farm where you can run among the pineapples and play with goats and pigs, and the award-winning Gaylord's Restaurant, run by executive chef Todd Barrett.
Ingredients are locally sourced, while Kilohana's farm itself grows much of the produce used in the kitchen. Gaylord's is well-known for hosting a fabulous Sunday brunch.
Smith's Family Garden Luau is consistently ranked as the best luau on the island and with good reason; the family puts on an amazing show.
Watch the fellas heft the massive Kalua pig out of the underground imu oven, pile your plates high with island staples (you'll need a big bowl for your poi), work off a bit of the meal by posing with peacocks and hop up on stage for a hula lesson with the always-entertaining and incredibly welcoming Kamika Smith, General Manager and ukulele virtuoso.
You'll leave having felt the spirit of aloha. You'll be awestruck by the Limahuli Garden and Preserve, part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden system. Set in a tropical valley on Kauai's North Shore (which was the setting for Jurassic Park), Limahuli Garden is flanked on one side by the spine of Makana Mountain and on the other by the Pacific Ocean.
The gardens are home to ancient terraces built by early Hawaiians and from the highest point on the preserve you can sometimes see whales out at sea.
Considered the 'Best Natural Botanical Garden in the United States' by the American Horticultural Society, Limahuli is sure to inspire you to eat local and tread lightly – the perfect prep course for a visit to the Garden Cafe at Common Ground, where you can order a lamb burger with goat cheese and a hand-crafted kombucha tea and learn a bit about the company's dedication to health, sustainability and community.
Kauai, colloquially known as the Garden Island, is strikingly verdant year-round thanks to a substantial amount of precipitation. Yet one of the island's most remarkable attractions is generally dry as a bone.
Waimea, known as the 'Grand Canyon of the Pacific', is more than 16 kilometres long and 1,066 metres deep in places, and offers up awe-inspiring panoramic views that are easy to come by; a well-maintained road cuts across the island and through the canyon, while numerous pull-outs offer access to viewpoints and trail heads.
WHERE TO STAY
Halekulani is neither a hotel nor a resort – it is a Hawaiian experience unlike any other. Diamond Head suites offer tremendous views, the common areas feature unbelievable floral displays and the restaurants, including La Mer and Orchids, will put you into a food coma of the highest calibre. What's more, the beach is never more than a few feet away.
Aqua Kauai Beach Resort is sensational in itself – the centralised location makes day trips to any place on the island a breeze. About half of the rooms feature ocean views and room rates are some of the most affordable in Hawaii (extra night specials make package deals a steal). The grounds are well-tended with open grassy areas, fantastic pools, a spa and outdoor dining facilities. But what makes Aqua Kauai especially alluring is the beach; kilometre after kilometre of golden sand, spectacular seaside vistas and dramatic surf coupled with incredible sunrise views.
WHERE TO EAT
Get acquainted with Kauai by way of food writer Marta Lane's excellent handbook, A Taste of Kauai, which promises to guide you from seed to table on a 'culinary romp through paradise' in which she explores farmers markets, fine dining outfits, cultural hotspots, food trucks and more. Tasting Kauai Food Tours offer two distinct culinary adventures – a Taste of Kilohana, an off-menu, three-course Kilohana Plantation experience – and the one-hour Farmers Market Tour, though either can be tailored to your taste buds. Perfect for families.
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