There’s not a whole lot of choice when it comes to tropical destinations when your little ones are, well, really little. Unfortunately, Mexico is looking a bit dangerous these days. And perhaps you’d rather not get a passport or leave your cell phone at home. You’re probably also looking for some rare relaxation while giving your little explorer opportunities for new sights and sounds. You don’t want to worry about what is drinkable, what if they get sick – will they have the medication you trust?
Hawaii has other-worldly charm without having to research all new resources while traveling with your new little one. And perhaps the best destination for people of all ages looking for a relaxing, lush, tropical escape is Hawaii’s garden isle of Kuaui.
There are many distinct faces of Kuaui – the scorching hot and sunny south coast, city-like east coast, lush north coast, rainforest center, and protected west coast that can only be seen at a distance. Each of the areas had their charm though I found the south to be too sunny and hot – especially with little children – so I will not cover that area. The island likes to boast its silver screen presence due to its stunning beauty and complete lack of poisonous critters. Its films were mostly all shot in the north of the island, so we will start there.
The North: From Tunnels Beach to Kilauea:
Some of the best hang-out locations for your family are centered around Hanalei Bay – made famous by the song about Puff the Magic Dragon. Tunnels Beach, a world-class snorkeling destination is an interesting drive west from Hanalei (see “Driving” under tips). It is a smooth rock beach, so you should have water shoes ready for your little one, but the water is clear, warm and wildlife-filled. The sights around the beach are amazing. In Hanalei itself, there are some good restaurants right in the Ching Young Village Shopping Center and some of them even seem to love it when a little guy or gal walks in: Java Kai for breakfast, Hanalei Gourmet any time, and Hanalei Dolphin for dinner are downright fantastic. Kalypso Restaurant also has good food and great service.
Just east of Hanalei is Princeville and a beautiful, safe place to stay. There is a Princeville Shopping Center right there for all your creature comforts. There are a few restaurants in the complex. Frederico’s Fresh Mex Cuisine is a fast, relatively cheap and pretty good place to stop for a quick lunch on the way out or back from the beach.
In Kileuea there is a lighthouse and wildlife refuge to not be missed. If you’re out for a sunset and want a nice dinner before or after the sun goes down, the Lighthouse Bistro is a good bet. It looks rather more upscale than I would normally take a toddler, but they seem to welcome them with open arms.
The East: Around Lihue:
Lihue is likely the first you will see of Kuaui as the island’s major airport is here. The island’s big department stores and the bulk of its other retail stores and restaurants are here as well. Although I don’t see the charm in spending much time in Lihue, there is a restaurant not to miss: Kauai Pasta. Don’t let its simple name fool you, the dishes are amazing.
Right outside of Lihue is the Kilohana Plantation. There are quite a few fun things to do here: a train that will take you around the plantation to see animals and the lovely estate, an interesting mansion to explore, a rum tasting room and the jewel event on the grounds – the luau. There is another luau on the island, but this one is the most traditional and tells a story of the island. Be sure to know when the luau is happening while you are on the island, it usually happens only a couple of times a week.
Kapaa is a town on the way from the north to the east and doesn’t have much beyond shops and restaurants. One in particular, Scotty’s Beachside BBQ, is a restaurant with one of the best views on the island. Although the food isn’t out of this world, if you are in the area, it’s worth stopping here to eat simply to take in the sights during your meal. When you’re in the Kapaa area, don’t miss Smith’s fern grotto boat tour. It’s perfect for children – there is music, a boat ride, a short walk through a rain forest and the shining gem: a beautiful waterfall that thousands of couples came to Hawaii and used as a background for saying their marriage vows.
The Center and West: State Parks and Preserves:
Seeing the west coast can only be done via a vessel of some sort: motor boat, airplane, helicopter, or kayak. Only the day-time boat tour of the west is considered appropriate for young children and you will not be allowed on any boat if you are pregnant as the water can get too choppy. The views are fantastic, but you can actually see quite a bit of the beauty of the park from the interior. One feature that is sure to inspire awe is the “Grand Canyon of Hawaii” – Waimea Canyon. To access the canyon and to get the best view, take the road north from the south coast town of Waimea. Along the road, there are many places to stop and take pictures, but also to get out the hiking shoes or do a little off-roading. Hanapepe Valley is a little difficult to get to but taking any amount of the journey to the “Jurassic Park” waterfalls (Manawaiopuna Falls) will be an experience that is hard to forget. Kokee State Park is most of the way up the road and cannot be missed. Take your time going up the road and explore along it, you will likely want to take at least a whole day to get a good look at everything it has to offer.
Although Kuaui is a small island, there is little chance of getting where you want to go, when you want to go, without renting a car. Although it does cost a small fortune to rent one, you will have a far more aggravating and less spectacular experience if you don’t.
There are a couple of things to note about driving, and following these rules will not only make your time more enjoyable but will possibly also save you a lot of money in car repair bills.
First, Hawaiians take their time driving. You may first say, “that’s nice, I’m on vacation and I LOVE to drive fast!” Take a few things into consideration. Aren’t you here to experience the island? Slow down and take it in, you might enjoy your time here more. Also, a lot of the roads are one lane in each direction. Trying to run people off the road is not terribly considerate and doesn’t really get you there faster.
Also, there are many bridges around the island, and many of them only allow traffic in one direction at a time. The local courtesy is to let the on-coming car go first if they got there first (basic stop-sign behavior), and if you get to the bridge while your direction is flowing but they already across a part of the bridge when you get there, wait. Let the people that were at the bridge in the on-coming direction go first. Take a look a the animals, plants, mountains, water, etc. around you. Patience, grasshopper.
Being that this is a tropical island, be ready for a lot weather-wise. Of course you want your shorts, sandals and swimsuit, but the weather can also turn rainy or possibly a little cool in certain locations. You will likely also want to bring your favorite water bottle in case you do go off-path for a while. As mentioned earlier, many cell phone carriers also have coverage on the island – check with yours to see if you can just call as normal from populated areas. You may also want to invest in a water-proof or water resistant camera for rainy or underwater shots.