90 Kauai highlights
POIPU BEACH, Kauai -- When you're standing on the shores of the one, mostly consistent dry spot on the island at 6 a.m. to shoot a time-lapse, and you look in front of you and see a big, multi-color rainbow suddenly appear in front of you, you know you're somewhere really magical.
Kauai is aptly called the Garden Island because of the lush greenery that peeks out all over the tiny area, which has just over 70,000 full-time residents. It rains here. A lot. So much so that the northern part of the island, near Hanalei Bay, got hit really hard earlier this year with massive flooding that saw nearly 500 residents air-lifted to rescue, and many homes destroyed. The northern tip hasn't fully recovered.
Roads to the Haena and Kee beaches, your gateway to the majestic Napali Coast are closed until further notice. So unless you walk it from Hanalei, or take a boat ride to the coast, you'll have to wait to see this part of the island.
Sue Kanoho, the executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, says the island saw a dip in business post-floods, but picked up an increase after tourists started switching travel plans in the wake of the volcano eruptions on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Overall, lodging bookings are up 13% for 2018, she says.
"We saw a quick dip, and then people started re-booking their stays from the north to the south."
Now, the resorts of Princeville and rental properties in the Hanalei area are fully open and business is back to normal, she adds.
On our recent visit to Kauai, it rained every day on most parts of the island except for one glorious, amazing, and what turned out to be historic day in Hanalei, Princeville and Kee beach, before the floods closed the road to the end of the island.
With a rental car, and one ill-fated boat cruise (we were in the back with people whose stomachs didn't respond well to the choppy waters), we explored every inch of the island, from south (where tourists land) to the north, from west to east. Our cameras were snapping away the whole time -- see the gallery above for photos that showcase the island's unique beauty -- and we came away with this list of five things travelers will love about Kauai.
You want to see green foliage and amazing flowers, this is the place. The bad news, as anyone in Hanalei or Princeville could tell you —is consistent precipitation. The average is 43 inches a year, compared to 17 inches on the most populated Hawaiian island, Oahu. But, without the rain, it wouldn't look like this. And the truth is, aside from the unusual weeks of floods and disasters, most of the rainfall can be light, or drizzle.
The quirky small town of Hanalei (seen in the movie The Descendants, and still up and running, despite the floods) or the arts community of Hanapepe (as depicted in the Disney cartoon Lilo & Stitch) are worth coming back to, time after time. Hanapepe is chock full of art galleries, a thriving book store and restaurants. Friday nights, Hanapape stages an art walk, which on the three times we've gone has been very well attended. Hanalei is cute stores, tiki bars, shave ice and built for strolling. Most calendars tout the majestic Hanalei Pier and the popular beach for surfers and bathers that adjoins it. The road to get to the Pier is under construction, but the Pier and beach is still open, according to tourism officials. But you'll need to hike ten blocks or so to get there.
Sunrises and sunsets
Any of these are great on a Hawaiian island. The Kauai experience is special because unlike the big island, which has mostly lava beaches, or Oahu and Maui, where getting to the beaches means trekking through mega resorts, many of the best beaches in Kauai are on the side of the road, and can be accessed instantly. Where better to watch a sunrise (on the eastern part of the island) or sunset (on the west) than at the beach?
Some of our favorite experiences in Kauai were when we went walking down roads, only to discover hidden waterfalls beneath some trees, or giant caves off the side of the road. The fun on the island is discovery.
The weather forecast
In Kauai, you get different weather on all parts of the island, making constant checks of the weather part of the visitor experience. That's a good thing -- when you see that it's pouring in Princeville but dry in Poipu, it helps you plan for the day accordingly. It also becomes a game: Could the weather forecast be wrong? Let's test it out. (Sadly, it usually was right.)
This was our third time to the island,. Past trips were in December, where it was drier and warmer, but as we were told when we were visiting, this was a very unusually wet winter like locals had never seen.
For 2018, it's clear that visitors will still be able to enjoy the south, east and west sides of the island as they always, and most of the north, including the Princeville resorts and funky town of Hanalei.
Seeing the Napali coast and amazing beach of Kee is out for much of the year, unless by boat or helicopter. But that wouldn't stop me from visiting other, drier parts of the island in a heartbeat.
Follow USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.