Even though all of Hawaii has jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery, experts seem to agree that the island of Kaua’i is unparalleled in its rugged beauty. Seeing as the Garden Isle is the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands, it consequently is the most eroded with the most dramatic scenery.
In addition to being eroded and old, Kaua’i is also the only island that has any sort of navigable rivers. Whereas all of the kayaking on neighboring islands takes place just off the shoreline, Kaua’i has places where you can paddle upstream through the surroundings of a tropical rainforest.
Of the main rivers for kayaking on Kaua’i, the Wailua River is the most popular and the river with the most amount of activity. Flowing its way through eastern Kaua’i—most often referred to as the “Coconut Coast”—tours up the river begin in Kapa’a and make their way inland towards the mountains. This is more than just a lazy paddle upstream, however, as many tours of the Wailua River also include hiking to a thundering waterfall which is known as “Secret Falls.”
Also on the eastern shore of the island, the paddle up Hulei’a Stream passes through the Hulei’a Wildlife Refuge and skirts in front of the Alekoko Fishpond. This ancient fishpond is surrounded by the backdrop of a 2,000’ mountain range, and much like the paddle up the Wailua River, you have the chance to hike inland to a three-tiered waterfall known as “Hidden Falls.”
For a completely different river experience which is a window into traditional Hawaii, the Hanalei River on the north shore of the island is a conduit back into time. Staring at the backdrop of 4,000 ft. mountains you will paddle upstream through traditional taro fields which are cultivated in the ways of Old Hawai’i. Or, heading the other direction, kayak downstream towards the mouth of the Hanalei River and emerge in a bay that has the best view in the state.
More than just river kayaking, however, some of the best paddles on all of Kaua’i are found out on the ocean. On the south shore of the island, the paddle from Poipu to neighboring Port Allen is a classic early-morning run, and when the water is calm you can often see sea turtles poking their heads above the water.
Meanwhile, on the north shore, during summer days when the surf is calm, a kayaking tour along the Na Pali Coast is one of the most epic adventures in Hawaii. On this somewhat arduous, breathtaking paddle, you are awarded with views of the eroded cliffs that you can normally see only from a helicopter. Paddle to beaches which are completely empty and sit at the base of soaring mountains, and gaze upon one of the last shorelines in Hawaii where modernity has yet to reach. For the fit traveler who is looking for an adventure unlike anywhere else on the planet, a kayaking tour of the Na Pali Coast will be embedded in your memory for eternity.