Waimea, Princeville, Hanalei, Bali Hai—it seems like every part of Kaua'i is legendary. The island is a place of unparalleled natural beauty, and thus far, all of the commercialization has occurred along the coastline. Although big-city dwellers occasionally complain about the lack of nightlife, most visitors feel that Kaua'i offers a near-perfect tropical getaway.
The first town that one sees upon stepping off the plane is Lihue. While it isn't nearly as industrial as Honolulu, or even Kahului, it holds the County Seat and is home of the island's main airport. It also boasts the Kaua'i Museum and the only still-active sugar mill. Upon heading inland, one quickly notices civilization disappearing—replaced by jungle, waterfalls and finally near impenetrable mountains. But most people don't head inland from Lihue; instead they go in the opposite direction, toward the ocean.
Just north of Lihue on the East Shore is the famed Coconut Coast, so named because of the hundreds of coconut palms that shade the main highway. The Wailua River runs along this coast, and a half-dozen famous natural attractions cluster around it. Fern Grotto and Sleeping Giant are two favorite sights. Kayaking down the river is a popular pastime.
Hot, humid and lushly landscaped, the North Shore is home to yet another of Hawaii's incomparable resort areas. Princeville, that land of perfectly manicured greens and spectacular vistas, is known for its golf as well as its other activities. The Princeville Ranch offers everything from hiking to kayaking to horse-drawn carriage rides. Fine dining, world-class health spas and plenty of shops cater to the multi-national tourists.
The West Shore might be the most famous part of Kaua'i, but it will never be the most commercially developed. About a half of the coastline belongs to the state park system. Even if it didn't, there would be no way for modern machinery to tame the wilderness. Ke'e Beach marks the beginning of the Na Pali Coast, the majestic stretch of jagged cliffs and hidden valleys that tower 4,000 feet above sea level. Imposing, stunning, ancient and almost magical, the cliffs are a must-see for any Kaua'i visitor. The method of seeing them varies, however. Some people opt for a birds-eye perspective, as seen from a helicopter or private plane. Many people choose to take a catamaran or sailing cruise along the coastline. The most rugged people try their strength against the world-famous Kalalau Trail.
While it's hard to say which spot in Kaua'i is the most tourist-filled, trendy Poipu on the South Shore definitely claims the largest number of big-name hotels. The Hyatt Regency, the Sheraton Kauai and the Embassy Vacation Resort Poipu Point are all located in Poipu. Near the resort area is charming, funky Koloa Town, a restored old-style village that blatantly angles for Poipu tourist dollars.
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