Backpacking in Kauai

Walks, Strolls and Treks on the Garden Isle
Gorp.com
Kauai Valley
Kauai Valley

"Kauai...Oh, it's just a little island. You can fly over it in an hour in a helicopter. Or you can take a half-day bus tour. Or you can rent a car and see everything in a day. It's just a little island."

That became a standing joke in our house, a metaphor for a common misperception about Kauai. Kauai is a little island only from the outside. Kauai is a big island on the inside, especially when you see it on foot. True, flying over Kauai or touring it with a guide may give you a different perspective on it or helpful information about it. And even a hasty visit like that will leave you with lasting memories of its beauty. But I am convinced that if you're at all able, you need to see Kauai on foot. It's only when you get out of those metal and glass cocoons to touch Kauai with all your senses, to experience it at the slow pace of the walker that Kauai can really touch you. There are rewarding strolls as short as a quarter mile, suitable for just about anyone who's ambulatory; strenuous multi-day trips like the Kalalau trail on the Na Pali Coast; and everything in between.

When you're on foot, Kauai's rugged landscape seems to be faceted like a diamond, so that with every few steps you take, it reveals a new face to you. The rain may fill one face with rainbows, another with waterfalls flying down sheer cliffs. Where rain is abundant, as on the northern shore, luxuriant vegetation clothes the landscape, softening its lines and muting its colors. Infrequent rain, as on the southwest coast, yields dry golden dunes stretching along the sea for miles and bare red cliffs soaring behind them. Inland, dense banks of ferns dotted with wild orchids set off abandoned roads whose eroded surfaces may display an astonishing array of colors. Cascades barely glimpsed from the highway show themselves to the hiker as immense falls, like Namolokama, the great waterfall that leaps down into Hanalei Valley. Dozens of unnamed waterfalls may be apparent, from broad ribbons of white to stair-step cascades to fragile wisps blowing in the wind. A stroll down a cane road shows you how the clipped, gray-green carpets of the cane fields unfold across the plains and stop abruptly at the shaggy, dark green mountains of the forest reserves.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

Best Hotels in Kauai

$322
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Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa
$349
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Koa Kea Hotel and Resort
$275
Average/night*
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Outrigger Waipouli Beach Resort and Spa
$293-$405
Average/night*
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The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas

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