The north shore of Kauai Island is one of the most beautiful spots in Hawaii. Check with local residents and beachgoers to see if it's safe to swim at any given beach before jumping in: North shore beaches can have dangerous undertows and currents, especially during winter. It's also fairly rainy (that's why it's so green and lush). If it's raining heavily, always check road conditions before heading to the North Shore as the low-lying bridges can flood, stranding unprepared motorists.
Once a sugar town, Kilauea is trying to keep its small-town atmosphere. The village has a few specialty stores, eateries and historic churches. A drive through the town will lead you to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. It's home to frigate birds (recognizable by their 8-ft/2.5-m wingspan), red-footed boobies and Laysan albatross. In winter, you can often see whales and dolphins off the point. On the point is the historic Kilauea Lighthouse, which has guided ships since 1913.
Turn north off Highway 56 to Princeville. What was once a huge ranch is now a self-contained, planned resort and residential community with one of the best golf courses in the state. First-rate tennis facilities are there, too.
Just beyond Princeville Shopping Center, pull onto the overlook for a spectacular view of the taro growing in the legendary Hanalei Valley. Continuing on, you'll cross a one-lane bridge that was built in 1912 over the Hanalei River. (The bridge is one of 12 along the north shore that have helped to protect the area from tour bus traffic and development.) Once you cross the bridge, the pace of life slows along with the traffic.
Farther out is the town of Hanalei. It lies on one of the most beautiful bays in Hawaii, set against a backdrop of fuzzy green sea cliffs. The Hanalei River empties into the bay, which is a favorite mooring place for sailboats in the summer. (Be sure to walk to the end of the concrete pier that juts into the bay: The view from there makes Hanalei seem a mythical wonderland.) The Hanalei River is a great place to kayak.
You can also take a boat trip from Hanalei along Na Pali Coast. And if you'd rather just lounge on the beach and take in the views, you're sure to find a secluded spot on the long stretch of sand.
Follow the coastline to Haena—a small stretch of shore that's sometimes very busy. There you'll find Limahuli Garden, part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, which include ancient (possibly more than 1,000 years old) taro terraces and breathtaking views. It's considered by some to be among the top botanical gardens in the U.S.
Na Pali Coast stretches away to the southwest, though no roads access the area. You can park and walk the beginning of the Kalalau Trail amid native and exotic trees and ferns. There's a lookout about 0.5 mi/0.8 km from the trailhead (about a 10-minute walk) that has spectacular, sweeping views of the coast. The whole trail is 11 mi/18 km in length and very rugged in parts—don't try it without proper attire and provisions.
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