This week we are celebrating our wedding anniversary, and so we decided to go on a weekend getaway to Kauai this past weekend to celebrate! The last time we were on Kauai was during a stop on the NCL Hawaii cruise almost 10 years ago so it was due time for us to visit the Garden Island once more. Thanks to my credit card churning hobby, I was able to get us two free nights at the Grand Hyatt Kauai along with a free roundtrip flight on Hawaiian Airlines. Any chance to spend a weekend on vacation is great, but getting to do so with zero travel costs for airfare and hotel is particularly awesome!
Since we’d only be on the island for two nights, we took a very early 5:54AM flight to Lihue from Honolulu. Getting to the airport and making our way through the interisland terminal was easy enough thanks to TSA Precheck. After a short 30 minute flight we walked on over to the rental car area, hopped in our convertible, and sped off to drop our bags at the hotel.
The Grand Hyatt is located on the southern coast of the island in an area known as Poipu. This part of the island has a few beachfront resorts and is a 30 minute drive from Lihue airport. Although we knew we wouldn’t be able to check in at 7am, we did want to drop our bags off as we would be exploring throughout the day and didn’t want to risk leaving our luggage in our (obvious) rental car. After a quick chat with the front desk we were back on the road heading west toward one of Kauai’s most popular attractions.
The winding road leading up to Waimea Canyon state park has some amazing views of the south side of Kauai. On a clear day you can also see the neighboring island of Niihau off in the distance. If you’re driving up Waimea Canyon Road to reach the lookout, there are a handful of scenic points where you can pull off and grab some amazing photos.
As a local boy who grew up on Oahu, Kauai’s natural beauty is a treat due to its low population and lack of obstructive city development. While Kauai shares these attributes with other neighbor islands, the natural splendor of Waimea Canyon is unique. Often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, Waimean Canyon boasts some impressive scenery. From the viewing platform you can take in the full sights of the various valleys and the changing layers of rock in the canyon walls. On the date of our visit a waterfall could be seen (left side of the photo above) cascading down into one of the valleys below.
While Waimea Canyon is certainly the main attraction in this part of the island, just up the road are a few additional lookouts worth visiting. Kalalau and Pu’u O Kila lookouts both provide amazing views of the north side of Kauai, all the way down to the famous Na Pali Coastline. These areas are surprisingly uncrowded as many visitors seem to turn around once they’ve seen Waimea Canyon.
Several waterfalls can be seen looking north toward the Na Pali Coast, along with numerous helicopter tours. Some of these tours land at a waterfall hidden within one of these valleys. We will certainly look into enjoying a ride on one of these helicopters on a future visit to Kauai.
The state park also houses several military complexes, including a missile defense station near Kalalau Lookout which looms over the mountain side with a giant golfball-like radar dome. While these sites have been around for many years, they seem somewhat more relevant given the recent developments over in North Korea.
After our visit to Waimea Canyon state park and the additional scenic lookouts, we headed back down the mountain for our afternoon adventure. Similar to other islands, much of Kauai’s land was previously used for the production of sugar cane. While sugar cane is no longer grown as a cash crop here in the islands, much of the old infrastructure and land that was used during the plantation days are still intact. On Kauai there are miles and miles of hand dug irrigation ditches that the plantations used to use to water their fields. Nowadays, you can go on a tour and go tubing down a long stretch of these irrigation ditches, including a handful of tunnels that make their way through the mountains. It’s a fun experience to float down the irrigation waterways and travel through the tunnels!
By the time the sun had set and we had finally checked in to our room, we were tired. We had been up since 3:00AM to make our early flight! As such we decided it was most convenient to stay on the resort property for dinner, which led us to Tidepools Restaurant. The restaurant is built over a large koi pond and many of the tables provide diners views of the fish as they swim about. The menu is seafood centric, although there are a few terrestrial options as well. Overall the food was good, but came with resort-inflated prices.
To book a stay at the Grand Hyatt I used two free night certificates. Much like booking with points, the free nights were good for a garden view room. However, with my mid-level status at Hyatt I was able to get a complimentary upgrade to a partial ocean view room, which would normally run about $550 per night! The rooms at the Grand Hyatt feature large bathrooms and comfortable beds. There are many amenities in the room including reusable water bottles (and filtered refilling stations throughout the resort) and a reusable Hyatt bag. We didn’t really spend a lot of time exploring the whole property, but from we did see the property seems well kept.
For day two we woke up early in the morning once again to head out to Kapaa for a river kayaking tour we had booked. We set out on the 45 minute drive and arrived early enough to grab a quick bite of breakfast before checking in for our tour. The folks at Wailua Kayak Adventures have great reviews online and have one of the most reasonable costs for a half-day activity I’ve ever come across, just $90 per couple! We set off in our two-person kayak and paddled up the Wailua River. After a 1.5 mile paddle, our group left the kayaks on the riverbank and took a short hike through the forest.
At the end of our muddy hike was this “hidden” 170 foot tall waterfall which was gushing from the previous week’s heavy rains. Kauai boasts many active waterfalls, fueled by the consistent rains that the island receives. In fact Kauai has one of the wettest spots in the world, routinely experiencing upwards of 400 inches of rain per year. It was fun to cool off and swim around at the base of the waterfall. We spent about a half hour here before heading back out on the trail to return to our kayaks and paddle our way back downriver.
After a 3 mile paddle and 3 mile hike we found ourselves starving! We headed just a short distance down the road from Wailua Kayak Adventure’s office to Verde, a New Mexico-style restaurant in Kapaa. The food was quite good, especially the sopaipillas with carne pork. I think the meal would have been more standout if there was a bit more seasoning in the beans and rice, but overall we enjoyed the experience and flavors.
After a morning of activity Judy and I were both pretty tired. We were operating on very little sleep from the day before. We figured – “what the heck”- we’re on vacation! After getting cleaned up from the muddy morning hike we took a nap and enjoyed a very lazy afternoon.
After a revitalizing nap we hit the road once again to Kapaa to have dinner at JO2. This restaurant features local ingredients and appears to be one of the most highly rated eateries on Kauai. The menu is enticing and surprisingly diverse, featuring a variety of difference ingredients and preparations. While I felt our two starter dishes, the opah cheek and green beans, would have benefited from a little more salt, overall the food was tasty and well prepared.
For our last day on Kauai we spent it relaxing and, quite honestly, having a midday nap which is a rare indulgence for us. We did wake up initially and headed out to a popular breakfaster eatery just down the road from the hotel, Anuenue Cafe. We ordered what appeared to be the “greatest hits” lineup according to some online reviews we found. The food here undoubtedly uses fresh ingredients, but overall was kind of middle-of-the-road. There was a overlying sweetness to everything, even in savory dishes like the pork fried rice. Once again I felt that a little more salt would have helped the meal.
Our celebratory weekend getaway went very quickly, especially since the first 70% of our 2.5 days on Kauai were so jam packed with activities. We enjoyed our short stay on the Garden Island and really got to enjoy its natural beauty in a variety of ways. Next time I visit Kauai I’d love to stay up north in Hanalei, perhaps at the St. Regis Princeville. We will also be sure to visit the Na Pali Coast!
Until next time Kauai!