To explore Kauai's South Shore, take Highway 50, the Kaumualii Highway, west from Lihue. After about 8 mi/13 km, take Highway 520, Maluhia "Tree Tunnels" Road—named for the canopy formed by fragrant eucalyptus planted on each side. Follow the road south to Koloa, where sugar got its start in 1835. From the main intersection, you can see the old sugar mill's smokestacks and a monument commemorating the workers. The tall white church on Poipu Road is the site where one of the first Protestant churches in Kauai was founded. (The original meeting house was a grass hut.) The congregation now meets in the stone church next door.
Continuing south to the coast, turn right on Lawai Road. As you pass Prince Kuhio Park and continue along the coast, you'll arrive at Spouting Horn, a blowhole that's fun to watch as the waves force ocean spray out of the openings of a lava tube. Local crafts vendors set up booths and tents around the Spouting Horn parking lot with good bargains on coral jewelry, shells and more.
Across the road is the Visitor Center of the National Tropical Botanical Garden at Lawai, one of the finest gardens in the state. It includes the nearby Allerton Garden (former summer home of Queen Emma of Hawaii) and McBryde Garden. On tours, you'll see views of Lawai Bay, statuary and tropical plants from throughout the world.
As you return to Poipu Road, you'll be in the Poipu resort area, which has many shops, galleries and good restaurants. A little farther on the right is the turnoff to Poipu Beach, which is a fantastic and safe place to snorkel and swim.
Continuing west back on Highway 50, just after Mile Marker 14, pull over to admire the colorful view of Hanapepe Valley from the lookout. If you're lucky, a rainbow will be hanging over the breathtaking valley. A few miles/kilometers beyond the lookout is the town of Eleele (on the left), behind which is Port Allen, where many boat tours to Na Pali Coast depart.
Continuing beyond Eleele, you can admire the bougainvillea on the steep banks on your way to Hanapepe. You may recognize Main Street, as it has been used as a backdrop for many movies. It holds several art galleries and a couple of island-style cafes and shops.
Leaving town and continuing west, you'll arrive at Waimea. Just before the Waimea River are the remains of a Russian fort in Fort Elizabeth State Park. About all that's left of the fortification built in 1817 is rubble—but the view of Waimea Bay is commanding. Just west of Waimea, a small marker commemorates the site of Capt. Cook's Landing near Lucy Wright Beach Park—the first place the British explorer landed in Hawaii.
The West Kauai Technology & Visitors Center is off the highway near the outskirts of town. It has an interesting display of Hawaiian artifacts and offers a walking tour and cultural classes. Phone 808-338-1332.
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