Lihue, Kauai

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Overview

Kauai is the northernmost of the Hawaiian islands, sitting 4,000 km from the continental U.S. Settled roughly 1,500 years ago by seafaring Polynesians, these pioneers found a wondrous island they called Kauai (pronounced kah-why).

At a little more than 1,400 sq. km in size, it is the fourth largest of the Hawaiian Islands. It is known as the "Garden Isle," an abundance of green atop a rugged tangle of mountains and deep valleys. Its powdery-soft beaches are swept by warm trade winds. Kauai is the quintessential tropical paradise.

Though it has a population of roughly 65,000, the island still retains its sense of the wild. Visitors come here, not just to stake out a patch of beach, but also to explore Kauai's many charms. It is also a popular destination for people looking to tie the knot and to honeymoon.

Kauai tugs at the adventurer within. It inspires you to get out and explore its incredible hiking trails and to test its waters with a surfboard, boogie board or stand-up paddle board. Or perhaps even travel across the water on an outrigger canoe to experience the way the ancient Polynesians travelled, guided by the stars and an intimate knowledge of the sea.

This beautiful island still has a way of enticing visitors, sometimes turning them into permanent residents. It may have a similar effect on you. Inevitably, first-timers vow to return to Kauai for those emerald-green mountains, cascading waterfalls, satiny beaches and coral reef-rimmed lagoons.

Lihue, Kauai is a fantastic destination for:

  • beaches
  • outdoor adventure
  • culture and history

Airport served by: LIH

Destination basics

Kauai's soothing climate hums along with the predictability of the trade winds. Temperatures are near perfect year-round, with daily averages ranging from the low- to high-20s C, edging slightly warmer in the summer.

The prevailing northeast trade winds bring refreshing breezes and, at times, lots of rainfall that gives the island its lush landscape.

The rugged north and east sides lie on the windward side of Kauai and typically receive more precipitation than the gently sloped and drier south and west sides.

Winter sees big surf on the north and east shores and calmer waters on the south. In summertime, the swell picks up on the south and the north becomes more swim- and snorkel-friendly. When it comes to ocean sports, it doesn't matter what season you're visiting, if locals aren't in the water, there's probably a good reason for it. As the beachside warning signs say, "If in doubt, don't go out."

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Lihue, Kauai

From the air, Kauai looks like a tropical paradise, with lush volcanic mountain ranges, palm-lined beaches and rolling surf. On land, you sense a relaxed and mellow vibe. Like the other islands, Kauai has undergone a renaissance of pride in native Hawaiian culture encompassing all parts of island life, from music to cuisine.

Many hotels regularly host story evenings with Hawaiian elders eager to share traditional knowledge about plants, healing, mythology and other aspects of a culture dating back thousands of years to Tahiti, Samoa and other South Pacific Islands. Locals still pay tribute at ancient heiaus, or sacred shrines, like the one near Kee Beach dedicated to Laka, the goddess of hula. The Kauai Museum in Lihue is dedicated to telling the story of the island, from its birth up through the Territorial Period (before Hawaii was recognized as a US state in 1959).

Unlike the other islands, Kauai has a unique independent streak. It was the last of the major Hawaiian Islands to be reigned over by King Kamehameha and brought under the umbrella of a united kingdom in 1810. It happened only after Kauai's King Kaumualii finally agreed to give up his territory to avoid all-out war with Kamehameha, who had conquered the other islands.

Kauai's determination to remain distinct and unique lives on. Though Lihue is the county seat of Kauai, it retains the feel of a laid back country town – just the way locals like it. Even the building codes here maintain that no structure is allowed to be taller than a coconut tree.

The island's population of approximately 63,000 is dispersed among mostly small towns. The rugged interior remains wild and largely uninhabited, the domain of the ancient Hawaiian gods.

Locals love nothing more than a big, multi-generational family barbecue at the beach. Parents and kids, brothers and sisters, grandmas and grandpas gather for a weekend cookout at the beachfront parks. They bring along surf and boogie boards and portable music systems to crank out some "Jawaiian," a distinctly Hawaiian and popular local form of reggae music.

This warm and inviting island, with its unique culture and proud history, has an ideal combination of relaxation and adventure – it is the perfect spot for your next vacation.

It is recommended that you bring U.S. dollars for general expenses. For entertainment and shopping, a credit card will give you the exchange rate at your time of purchase. There are multiple ATMs around the island for your convenience, but do note that transactions fees vary by ATM.

Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, forged by volcanic forces and sculpted by wind, water and waves. It's incredibly diverse, with steep mountains draped in rainforests, desert-like canyons, rolling farmland, soaring seaside cliffs and white-sand beaches.

The island emerged from the sea floor five million years ago with the eruption of a massive volcano. Today, its eastern rim, Mount Waialeale, is the high point of the island at 1,569 metres.

Like most of the Hawaiian Islands, you can divide Kauai topographically along a line separating the windward and leeward sides. Its northern side is heavily vegetated and hard to explore, while the south is drier and more gently sloped. This terrain is where fortunes were once made from the sprawling sugarcane plantations. Now, the main crops are coffee and pineapple, among others.

Thanks to millions of years of evolution, Kauai offers excellent opportunities for birding and experiencing native ecosystems. Hawaii’s state bird, the endangered Hawaiian goose (or nene), has been successfully reintroduced here. You may spot one pecking away on the manicured lawns of five-star hotels. Kokee State Park protects the rare mountain forests full of native hibiscus and iliau flowers, koa and hala trees. Spectacular Kilauea National Wildlife Refuge is home to an array of seabirds.

Car rentals are the most popular option for those looking to explore the island. Driving here is quite easy, especially with Kauai’s small size. There are public buses on the island, but they typically won't get you everywhere you need to go.

While it's not possible to drive around the entire island, you can drive as far as Kee Beach travelling along highway 560 on the north coast, and Polihale travelling along highway 50 in the west.

For your convenience, you can rent a car right from Lihue International Airport or catch a taxi or airport shuttle to get you to and from your hotel and car rental dealership. Just be sure to make a reservation in advance. Rentals go quickly, especially during peak winter holidays. It's also worth noting that gas prices here are quite expensive, so plan wisely.

Arrival

Just three miles away from the town of Lihue, Hawaii's Lihue Airport is the main airport serving the island of Kauai. When you depart Canada, you will first go through security and U.S. Customs. Once you arrive in Lihue, proceed to the general baggage claim area.

If you have pre-booked a transfer or an orchid lei greeting and transfer with WestJet Vacations, please see the Diamond Head Vacations representative in the baggage claim area.

If you are picking up a rental car, proceed from the baggage claim area to the car rental booths located across the street from the airport terminal. Pick up and drop off areas are located behind the car rental booths. Hotel shuttles and taxis are located curb side in front of the baggage claim area.

Keep in mind that Lihue Airport is a 15 to 25 minutes to drive to Wailua and Kapaa and a 30 to 40 minute drive to Poipu. If you're headed to Princeville or Hanalei, it will probably take you around 45 minutes to an hour.

Departure

Smiling WestJetters will be ready to assist you at the international check-in counters at Lihue Airport. The WestJet counters open three hours prior to departure and close 15 minutes after your flight departure time. You can also check in and select your seats ahead of time using the WestJet Web check-in service.

When Hollywood directors go searching for paradise, they often end up in Kauai. South Pacific made the beaches famous. Its waterfalls, ocean cliffs and remote mountain valleys were immortalized in Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Blue Hawaii, Raiders of the Lost Ark and many other hit films.

Kauai manages to satisfy beach lovers, the action-oriented and the culturally curious. Topographically, it is astonishingly diverse. The Napali Coast has sheer, sharp cliffs, soaring hundreds of metres from the crashing surf. The giant, 1,000-metre-deep rift of Waimea Canyon with its walls of red, orange and green rock is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

Its challenging surf has shaped the talents of world-class surfers, like the late Andy Irons, who grew up riding the waves of Hanalei Bay on the north shore.

Kauai is also the only Hawaiian Island with wide, placid rivers, like the Wailua, Hanalei and Huleia that allow you to navigate by paddle, oar or motor deep into the heart of the land. It boasts more beaches per kilometre of coastline than any other Hawaiian Island.

It's also one of the rainiest places on Earth. The slopes of Mt. Waialeale receive a whopping 1,150 cm of rain annually. The rain constantly replenishes mountain streams, and feeds the fertile small-scale farmlands that have turned Kauai into a haven for fresh produce. You can find everything from organic lettuce to pineapples and taro root here.

The island also has some interesting Hollywood connections. Out on winding Route 56, where it wraps around the north shore, Richard Taylor, brother of the late Hollywood siren, Elizabeth, once invited a band of hippies to form a clothing-optional retreat on his oceanfront property during the 1960s. These days, celebrities like Pierce Brosnan choose this secluded stretch of coastline as a retreat from the paparazzi.

Though the State of Hawaii has been a global tourist hub for decades, Kauai is just far enough off the beaten path at the northern end of the main islands to make it feel like an unpolished pearl. Once experienced, it's not easily forgotten.

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ˆTotal price one-way per guest. See terms and conditions. *Prices are per guest, based on double occupancy and are limited; may not reflect real-time pricing or availability. See terms and conditions.

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