Sunday, August 15, 2021

Kauai weekend Girls Trip - Recommended activities

While the interisland travel restrictions were essentially lifted and the COVID numbers weren't quite as high, I planned a quick little trip to Kauai with my friend J. We both live on Oahu (which is just one island over) and have both visited Kauai before, but never with each other, and for both of us there were a lot of things we hadn't previously done!
We stayed Friday night through Tuesday morning, so we had three full days (Saturday, Sunday and Monday). Here are some of the things we did and my thoughts about it if you're planning a (short) trip of your own!

(Morning) NaPali Snorkel Tour with Blue Dolphin Charters
Blue Dolphin Charters offers a few options for their boat tours, but we chose to do the morning version which included a small breakfast, lunch and 1 hour of snorkeling. There were also unlimited drinks like water, juice and soda but also included a selection of alcoholic beverages (alcohol available only on the way back, post-snorkeling). They have an online reservation system but I called to book because I wanted to get the kamaaina rate. 
We met at Port Allen at 07:00am and I think there were around 50-60 other people on the boat with 3 crew members including the captain. You park in a designated gravel lot, check in at their office and then walk to the pier where you remove your shoes and then enter the boat. On this tour you're guaranteed to see dolphins, and we did! 
We got to the snorkel spot at just around 09:15, got instructions about using the equipment (snorkel mask, fins, floatation devices if you need it) and then were just able to jump right in. 
In my opinion, a lot of this tour is just better in person than I could capture in photos, especially the Na Pali coastline which was the major feature. Tbh I also got a bit seasick on the way back (I think swimming made my body feel fatigued since I'm not used to it anymore wtf) so I was just trying to relax for the last couple of hours, so I don't have the best pictures but it really was fantastic irl.
Definitely bring sunscreen, a towel and/or a coverup because there's a LOT of sun, especially on the morning tour. There are some inner cabin areas but you don't get the view from there and if you're feeling a bit sick, it's definitely better in the open air. I might recommend putting your personal items in that lower area because certain areas do get hit with sea spray and we also went under a waterfall for a little bit which caused our bags to get SOAKED since we weren't paying attention to them.
J and I didn't end up eating lunch (her bc she wasn't hungry at the time and me bc I was feeling sick wtf lmao), but there were three options - veggie, ham and turkey wrap, that you ordered ahead of time and it seemed like a pretty good amount of food based on what I saw other people carrying around. 
We got back to Port Allen at around 01:15pm, so it felt like a significant tour length, and the crew was attentive the entire time as well. Despite feeling sea sick for almost the entire second half, I would definitely consider doing this again. 

ZipBike with Kauai ATV
This was a bit of a last minute reservation that I made about a week before we left just kind of on a whim because it had availability. All the other zipline, rafting, ATV and similar type of activities had been booked out since I even had the idea of us going on this trip, so I was a little skeptical about this activity that still had space, but thought it might be worth a try. It's supposedly the only Zipbike experience in the US, so at the very least we'd find out if it's even worth it! 
They request that you check in 30 minutes before your reservation time (for us that was an 08:30am check in for a 09:00am reservation) at their office. You fill out the liability forms and then drive about a mile (or less?) or so down the road to where the vans all leave from. This company also operates zipline and atv activities, so you have to make sure to get in the right van. There were 9 other people with us and once everyone was present, we got in the van and drove to the reservoir area. 
They allow the groups to use the zipbikes separately so we didn't have to ride with strangers which was nice even though there was an extra bike on the third line. There were 3 staff members at the site - one on the ground who helped us get the harnesses on, one at the beginning of the zipline and then one on the opposite side to help turn you around. 
The ride is fairly quick - especially if you end up racing, but the view is really nice. I'd say we spent no more than 5 minutes actually on the bikes because it just isn't a very far distance. Once you return to the beginning spot and get off the bikes, you get to rappel down to the ground by just jumping down from the platform which is kind of a unique experience for me. The whole thing does feel really safe although I wouldn't recommend it for anyone really afraid of heights. 
Since only three people (max) can bike at a time and you're with other groups, for the remainder of the time that you're at the site, there are a few other activities that can keep you occupied such as feeding the ducks (although for some reason they didn't have feed while we were there), kayaking, fishing and water biking. 
I actually had a lot of fun on the water bike although they were a little difficult to steer. If we didn't have to share the bikes with the other people, I definitely would have stayed on it for the entire time we weren't on the zipbike. 
This activity is fun if you're looking for something different and everything else is booked, but honestly it wouldn't be my first choice again with the current format. I wish we were given a set amount of time to ride the bike back and forth along the zipline (like if there were 4 groups in a 90 minute period, we would each get 20 minutes to ride back and forth as many times as we wanted). Although I did think it was fun, the one ride across and back just seemed really short to me for what we paid and how long we were at the site. Apparently they've only been running this activity for a month due to COVID delays, so maybe they'll improve it as more people try it!
Definitely bring sunscreen if you're planning to go out onto the reservoir because it can get really hot. You don't really need full athletic clothes, but you do need closed toed shoes. I only packed my hiking boots so that's what I had to wear, but since it's not a super intense activity, pretty much any old sneaker would be fine. 

Waipo'o Falls Trail/Hike
This is a hike that neither of us had done before although I had been to the lookouts in Waimea Canyon a number of times in the past. We took the advice of a friend and started at the parking area after the Puu Hinahina area that had this Kokee State Park sign. 
The beginning of the hike is super easy and some cars even drive through the initial part of it. It was good for just walking and chatting and stopping to look at plants along the way. 
After about 35-45 minutes (depending on how fast you walk), it opens up to the canyon view which is amazing. Much, much more spectacular in person than we could capture in photos and also a lot different than many of the green hikes that we have on Oahu which we really appreciated. 
If you fork to the left, the "end" of the hike is this waterfall area, no more than about 10 minutes after that canyon view. It's not a huge waterfall but for a day where it hadn't rained super recently, it was still quite nice. You can see it's pretty shallow (no more than about waist deep for an adult at the deepest part), so it's not necessarily great for swimming and the water is quite cold! We chose to stop and eat a late breakfast/early lunch here. 
If you go back to the fork and take the right side, it leads you more to the cliff/edge and the continuation of that waterfall you saw earlier. There wasn't really a collection of water (like no small pond) and I can imagine this area is a lot more dangerous depending on how recently it rained. Fortunately for us, there were lots of exposed, dry rock between the flow of water that allowed us to hop across to the other side and even stand in the middle. 
We really took our time, stopping to take pictures or look at the view as often as we wanted, and also stopping for a small meal, so we started heading back about 2 hours after we started. If you were trying to do this trail for exercise, I think it could easily be done in half that time (especially if you don't stay in the waterfall area at all, where we easily spent about 30 minutes). 
On our way back out, we stopped a lot less and it took us about 50 minutes to get back to the car. You end up going uphill on your way out, but it's really not too challenging. You do need shoes with a little bit of grip, and I wouldn't necessarily recommend this trail if it was recently raining since there's a lot of loose dirt, but we had a really good time and I would love to do this again! 
Here's the map of our hike from Strava - which was supposedly about 3.6 miles total. Hopefully this will help a little bit if you're unsure of where to start the hike from, but I think there's 4 different trails that all lead to the same waterfall area. 

Here's the view from the Puu Hinahina lookout (after we finished the hike and drove the car to this alternate Canyon Trail head where there's a parking lot and bathroom along with a Niihau Lookout)
You can actually see the part of the hike we did (yellow line in the above picture) which was really cool! In person, you could even see people walking along that part. 

Queen's Bath 
I had never been to the Princeville side of Kauai before, so this was J's suggestion! She had previously stayed in an Airbnb in this area, so she was pretty familiar with it. The 10-stall parking lot was full when we got there at around 02:00pm on a Sunday, so definitely plan to either get there early, wait until someone else leaves (a pretty huge gamble) or pay $15-20 for parking at the golf course and walk in. 
This isn't really a "hike" and we both did it in slippers and our swimsuits, but I guess there is a small trail that you navigate to get to the ocean, so that's why there's an AllTrails entry for it. It takes about 10-15 minutes to get to the main area, and it was hella crowded when we got there. 
There are a couple other spots further down that you can try to take a look at if you don't want the crowds and don't mind scaling the rocks a little bit, but please, please pay attention to the tides, don't turn your back to the ocean and have safety in mind when you're in this area because it can get dangerous, especially if you get pulled out and you're not a strong swimmer.
We only spent about an hour or so here total before heading back because the tides started coming in and that's when a lot of other people started to vacate as well. It reminds me a bit of Makapuu Tidepools on Oahu but with a bit more "tidepool" spots and much more limited parking. 

Hanapepe Swinging Bridge
This isn't really a huge "attraction", but I wanted to give it a mention because we ended up spending a lot of time in the Hanapepe area and this is a free thing that you can just do for fun at pretty much any time. We stopped here after dinner while the sun was setting and the view was really pretty! 
This is basically just a "swinging" bridge that will take you over the stream. J loved it but the creaking and motion of the bridge always freaks me out a little. 

Food shout outs
- Lapperts ice cream in Poipu
Lapperts is a local ice cream and coffee shop that is quite popular! We wanted to go to the Hanapepe location but it was temporarily closed (probably due to COVID), so we hoofed it over to Poipu (which is a huge resort area) and boy, was it crowded. We waited in line for maybe 25-30 minutes, but it was worth it! We both got a cone with a keiki scoop since we had just eaten dinner. J got mac nut ice cream with a chocolate sprinkle cone, and I got an oreo/cookies & creme flavor. 

- Jojo's shave ice in Waimea
This is one of my favorite places to stop for a treat on Kauai. I think they have 3 locations but I've only ever been to the Waimea one. For locals, the bright colored sign kind of throws you off because it seems really touristy, but they really do the flavors right. I recommend trying the li hing mui flavor here - that's my go-to for any shave ice place and Jojo's version is so unique. 

- Japanese Grandma in Hanapepe
This is another restaurant that I always go to in Kauai so I wanted to be sure to share it with J. It was recommended by a coworker and is a must-go-to place for us when we visit for work. They've expanded a lot to allow for outdoor dining and it seems like they can serve so many more customers now! Based on my coworker's past orders, I recommend trying the different sushi rolls here (although I always get the Jidori chicken since I don't eat fish). 

- Koloa Fish Market in Koloa
This was recommended to us by one of the Zipbike staff and it was my first time here. It's kind of similar to Yama's Fish Market on Oahu where there are Hawaiian plate lunch options + daily specials and then poke available and is currently only doing a take out window (you can't enter the store part). There was a bit of a line to order and then waiting for the food to be ready (about 30 minutes) but it went fairly quickly. The parking lot is a bit small as well.
Since it's not a dine-in restaurant, we took our food and then drove towards the beaches in Poipu about 6 minutes away by car. We just stopped when we saw a bit of open beach with shade and ate right there on the shore! It was actually really perfect and I recommend doing that compared to eating in the lawn at Koloa Fish Market or eating in your car. There's a lot of beaches in that area with street parking, so you shouldn't have any problems finding a space for yourself. J even went in the water for a little bit after haha. 

- Ishihara Market in Waimea
This is where we stopped in the morning to get our to-go meal for our hike! Be sure to go in the morning so you have all the different bento options to choose from. This was perfect for us because we could just pack it into my backpack and the trash is minimal too. I got the korean chicken and spam musubi combo which was just the right amount of food, but there's so many different choices. 

- Brick Oven Pizza in Kalaheo
We do have branches of this on Oahu, but I believe the Kalaheo location is the original. We ordered a large pizza and had a little less than half of it leftover. For two people who aren't huge eaters, I think you can go with a medium, especially if you get an appetizer or a salad to go with it. 

- Hamura's Saimin in Lihue
This is a staple for Kauai that pretty much everyone knows about. Saimin is a staple local food and Hamura's is iconic for it. We got there at around 07:30pm and there was a bit of a line, but once we got inside, we ordered and were served quickly. I ordered a medium saimin (ham only lmao), and J ordered a shrimp saimin without really knowing what it would be. She's a pescatarian, so having the shrimp tempura ended up being perfect for her. This place is cash only! Typically people also get a beef or chicken stick and the lilikoi chiffon pie, but we were already full, so this was the perfect amount of food for us. 

- Ku'ulei's Gourmet in Hanapepe
We had actually intended to go to Midnight Bear Bakery right next door, but they were closed on the day that we went, which is just as well because we both really ended up liking Kuulei's Gourmet! We were looking for a small, simple meal and this was just perfect. Their indoor seating is closed during the pandemic, but there were small tables available outside. J got a "menehune meal" which included a green salad, a sushi roll and soup + bread. J really enjoyed this Hungarian mushroom soup a lot! I got a cup of Portuguese bean soup which came with bread, and I also ordered 2 giant cookies as omiyage to share with my family which were excellent as well. 

It was a fun-filled 4-night stay, and I was glad to be able to take this little trip with my bestie for us to both experience parts of the island we hadn't been to before. We opposites in so many ways, but still manage to find things that we both enjoy so much. The tourism has definitely picked up here, so do be sure to make reservations when you can - and keep them! I know some of the restaurants have been having issues with no shows :(
Although the COVID numbers haven't been looking too good here lately, I can't wait until we can all travel freely and safely again. This was my first trip I took with a friend (no couples) and I'm looking forward to doing more when it's reasonable.
Stay safe and get vaccinated when you can, everyone!