Kauai, the small northernmost Hawaiian island, is a tropical paradise, full of lush vegetation, probably offering the greatest variety of plant life in the world. Everything grows well here with the humid climate and temperatures nearly always between 70 and 85 degrees year-round. Long sleeves, long pants? Leave 'em at home. The scenery, from Waimea Canyon to the Na Pali Coast, is spectacular.
The 550-square-mile island, said to be Hawaii's oldest, lacks the volcanic activity of the big island, the freeways and congestion of Honolulu on the island of Oahu, and the shopper's variety of Maui. What it does offer is a calm, scenic, relatively uncrowded environment - perfect for hiking and biking nature lovers who like to feel the earth beneath their feet.
The island has several great resorts, including the newly opened Outrigger Waipouli Beach Resort & Spa, located on the east coast of Kauai in Kapaa. Kapaa is Kauai's largest town with about 10,000 residents. The price is $425 a day for a two-bedroom, two-bath condominium, a lot of money to be sure, but not a bad rate for spacious quarters on the beach during peak tourist season. The resort offers beautiful landscaping and a creative pool/spa layout. But the traveler does him or herself a disservice spending any length of time lying around the hotel.
The great thing about a small island is that everything's close. The awe-inspiring Opaekaa falls, fern grotto and the white-sand paradise of Poipu Beach are all a short rental car ride away.
Another popular tourist attraction on Kauai is Smith's Garden Luau at Wailua Marina State Park. For the $63 adult admission price, tourists get a tram tour of exotic plants, trees and flowers, followed by mai tai cocktails, a luau buffet, a ceremonial unearthing of a roasted pig and a "Rhythm of Aloha Show" featuring fire dancers and a trotting out of performers representing the island's diverse cultures, from Chinese and Japanese to Tahitian and Samoan. The shows have a cheesy Vegas feel to them. However, the gardens are lovely and the food isn't bad.
Sightseers can also opt for popular boat trips along the Na Pali Coast. The Pacific Ocean temperature around the island is warm. On New Year's Day 2007, it was a comfortable 78 degrees. Guests can get in about 20 minutes of snorkeling. The half-day trip, aboard a 50-foot catamaran, has its good and not-so-good points. You will find schools of dolphins zipping right alongside the boat. But if you're looking for whales, don't bother. The tip of a whale tail splashing water will leave you disappointed, as will the deli food, seemingly picked up on the fly from Safeway. What really makes the trip worthwhile are breathtaking views of the spectacular Na Pali cliffs. Be prepared for a whole lot of ocean water in your face on the ride back. Snorkel Bob's charges $120 per adult, $80 for kids under 12.
Any way you do it, any time of year, a trip to the Garden Isle makes for a great vacation.
For more information about Kauai, visit www.kauai-hawaii.com or www.kauaidiscovery.com.