Choosing family vacation destinations can be challenging, especially when you have kids of varying ages and interests. It’s hard to please everyone and invariably someone will complain – loudly and frequently – causing everyone else to suffer. Often the dissatisfaction is due to the fact that there are just not enough activities available or those that do exist are not geared towards children. On the Island of Kaua’i, however, boredom is not a state of mind your kids will ever experience.
There’s so much for families to love about the “Garden Isle.” It welcomes visitors with the spirit of aloha, offering them incomparable beauty and breathtaking sights, along with a diverse array of accommodations, dining, shopping, funky little towns, safe beaches and activities galore. All of these features entice families, but it’s the latter that assures their return.
Recreation reigns supreme on Kaua’i. The menu of activities is extensive with a range of mellow to high adventure options available. Most are suitable for kids, though some are restricted by age. The whole clan will enjoy a catamaran trip with Kaua’i Sea Tours along the rugged Napali Coast. Formed by 3,000 foot high mountain cliffs that rise from the ocean floor, this jaw-dropping coastline is one of the major sights on the island. Often called the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” it’s an unspoiled piece of paradise that is best seen from a boat, as it is inaccessible by car. On your sailing excursion, you’ll encounter playful spinner dolphins and languid sea turtles as you cruise past lush valleys, mysterious sea caves, sacred building sites and dozens of picturesque waterfalls. The captain will provide narration about the area, including information about Hawaiian history and legends. To top it off, you’ll get to snorkel at one of the best reefs on Napali, with the opportunity to see a host of colorful fish and coral.
If water is the milieu that your kids thrive in, keep the magic coming by renting some boogie boards, or letting them take a surf or stand-up paddle board lesson. They’ll quickly catch the wave fever and delight in their accomplishments. Follow it up with a Kayak Kaua’i’s tour down the scenic Hanalei River and bay Reef Lagoon accompanied by natural historians who will regale you with interpretations of the land, water, fauna and flora. Special highlights include views of Makana Peak and the famed “South Pacific” panorama. For more exciting aquatic fun, mountain tubing down the tropical waterways of the island’s interior with Kaua’i Backcountry Adventures is a must. The kids will feel like explorers as they don headlamps and float through a maze of historic plantation irrigation tunnels and flutes, all of which were engineered and hand dug circa 1870.
Back on land, rent some bikes and go out on your own for a leisurely ride or sign up with a tour company offering guided trips. The Kaua’i Coastal Path is both picturesque and safe with access to picnic spots, beaches and facilities that offer restrooms and showers along its 4.1 miles of coastline. For older kids, participate in a guided ride down stunning Waimea Canyon with Polynesian Adventure Tours. At 3,600-feet deep, two miles wide and ten miles long, this “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” is a true gem, brilliantly layered in hues of red, green and brown. The trip takes you from the canyon’s rim to sea level, and best of all, it’s downhill on a smooth, winding blacktop road.
Since much of Kaua’i is inaccessible by road, hiking is an excellent way to discover the island’s natural splendor. With more than forty miles of footpaths, Koke’e State Park is a hiker’s mecca with trails to suit all abilities. There’s also the Kuilau Ridge Trail, a moderate hike on a wide path that offers to-die-for views of the Wailua Valley. Families with little ones will particularly like the popular half-mile Keahua Arboretum Trail and the Na Aina Kai Botanical Garden with its magical children’s garden. Just remember the advantage to hiking is that you only need to go as far or as long as your kids’ energy and stamina dictate. And make sure to take time to smell the plumeria.
Horseback riding is another alternative when it comes to exploring those hard-to-reach areas of the island. Most kids revel in being able to play cowboy or cowgirl for the day. Saddle up for a ride with Princeville Ranch Adventures across a working cattle ranch and you’ll get more than just your run-of-the-mill horseback outing. The tour includes a hike to a proverbial Hawaiian waterfall where you can take a refreshing dip before roping up and crossing a series of streams, followed by a short climb up a steep rock face. Then it’s back on your horse for the giddy-up home.
After getting a land and water view of the island, try an air perspective. With an Outfitters Kaua’i zipline trek, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of Kaua’i’s diverse topography. Kids will feel like Tarzan or Jane as they soar above the verdant valleys and over tumbling waterfalls and rivers. This exhilarating experience is guaranteed to give them plenty of high velocity smiles, not to mention invaluable bragging rights! For an additional bonus, opt for a zipline safari, which includes aerial walkways, suspension bridges, waterzips and rope swings that drop you into secret jungle pools.
A helicopter tour, however, is the ultimate way to get the lay of the land. It’s definitely a splurge-worthy option and one for the memory books. And if you choose to go all out, make it a waterfall landing excursion. Island Helicopters recently began this exclusive new tour to the 400-foot Manawaiopuna Falls, which was popularized in the movie “Jurassic Park.” The helicopter sets down in a tropical valley at the base of “Jurassic Falls,” allowing visitors to experience the grandeur of this remote, tropical site. The ride also includes a narrated tour of the island with gasp-inducing views of the Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon.
Choosing where to stay on the island is never a problem, as Kaua’i has numerous accommodations ranging from luxurious resorts with all the amenities, such as the Grand Hyatt Kaua’i Resort & Spa and the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas, to more modest hotels like the Kaua’i Beach Resort that won’t break the bank. Other options include spacious condos, cozy cottages and vacation rentals. Many of the full service properties cater to families and have kid day camps, pools with water slides and easy beach access, along with Hawaiian cultural programs and live entertainment.
When it comes to food, Kaua’i has your brood covered with a host of restaurants to suit even the pickiest of eaters. Try one of the numerous food trucks that dot the island or grab a bite at a local plate lunch eatery. Many families often choose accommodations that have kitchen facilities, preferring to buy groceries at the nearby markets for convenience and cost saving measures. At one time or another, however, the whole clan will want to head to a luau for the ultimate Hawaiian dinner show experience. Luau Kalamaku at Kilohana Plantation is well-known on the island for its theatrical, Cirque du Soleil-like production. Kids will be spellbound by the mesmerizing fire poi ball twirlers and traditional fire knife dancing, and everyone will enjoy the tasty buffet of Hawaiian specialties.
Vacationing on Kaua’i means never having to hear the words, “I’m bored.” As a parent, what more could you possibly want?
Photos by Deborah Stone