Development is coming to Kauai in giant steps. And along with more hotels, more condos, and more timeshare properties are more tour companies offering more activities — at a cost, of course. Nevertheless, the best activities on the Garden Isle are still free or nearly so. Here are my favorites.
1. Stick your head in the sea
Kauai doesn’t have the best snorkeling in the islands, but it’s a heck of a lot better than any snorkeling I’ve done in Des Moines. The best beaches for snorkeling are on the north shore, but almost any cove or reef will suit the casual underwater spectator.
(Hint: Take your own mask, fins and snorkel or buy a set when you arrive. If you use them only one other time in your life, it’s cheaper than renting — and you won’t be sucking on somebody else’s cooties.)
2. Take a hike
Probably one of the most popular hikes on the island is along the Kalalau trail. And although it’s popular, it isn’t all that crowded because it isn’t all that easy either. If you are in fairly good shape — and you aren’t dragging along little kids — it is worth the effort.
The trailhead is at the end of the road on the North Shore. It offers spectacular views of the Na Pali coast from the Na Pali coast. At two miles you’ll arrive at Hanakapiai Beach. From there, you’ve got three choices: Continue on to Kalalau (for serious backpackers only), ford the stream and turn inland to Hanakapiai Falls (another and a more strenuous two miles to a fantastic 300-foot waterfall) or return (my favorite).
(Hint: Wear sturdy shoes and don’t hesitate to walk through the water and mud. You’re shoes will be indelibly red by the time you return no matter how careful you try to be. Better yet, just take and old pair of sneakers to Kauai and toss them before heading home.)
3. Get some sand between your toes
The beaches of Kauai are relatively uncrowded, but if you want a stretch of sand all to yourself, head to Polihale State Park — a two-mile long beach with very few folks. There are no conveniences anywhere near the beach so make sure to take everything you need, and be mindful that the surf on this northwest facing shore can be treacherous.
(Hint: The sunsets from the beach are reported to be awesome. However, you don’t want to be out there after dark. I’d suggest a sunset view from Kekaha Beach Park on the way back.)
4. Check out the boobies (The seabird kind; not the Sports Illustrated kind. Sorry guys.)
Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge offers a little history, a little nature and a grand view of the pacific all for a $2.00 entrance fee. And it is one of the best places to catch sight of humpback whales as they migrate from Alaska.
(Hint: Take a pair of binoculars to spy on the lives of the cliff-dwelling birds and, if you are there between December and April, to spot a humpback. Guided walks by volunteers are given periodically. Call 808-828-1413 for details.)
5. Park it
Kokee State Park is up the road from Waimea canyon. The natural history museum is worth a couple of bucks donation, and the views from the Kalalau and Puu O Kila lookouts — if it’s not foggy — are dramatic. So too is the view from Waimea Canyon Lookout on the road up to Kokee State Park. Be sure to stop.
(Hint: State Park docents and Sierra Club members occasionally offer guided hikes. Check the local newspaper and call for reservations.) Each of these activities can fill up a day, but if you like, you can string a couple together too. Just make sure to time your travel to avoid traffic. With the increase in development an increase in traffic has arrived in Kauai as well.
Terry Riley, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., is a corporate psychologist specializing in the management of travel behavior. Terry is the author of "Travel Can Be Murder" and "The Complete Travel Diet." He also edits , a satirical news report. or .