Kauai Is a Perfect Tropical Getaway to Unplug

Hanalei-Bay-Resort
The view of a rainbow over Hanalei Bay from the Hanalei Bay Resort in Kauai.
Heather Cassell

My girlfriend and I went over the rainbow and left the hustle and bustle of city life behind during a winter escape to Kauai, Hawaii. The island is a perfect place to break free from everything.

Known as the Garden Island, Kauai is known for healing, romance, and outdoor adventure, making it the perfect destination to unwind, reconnect with your partner (or go solo), and do nothing.

The northern-most island in the string of eight well-known Polynesian islands (actually, there are 137 islands in Hawaii) attracts fewer tourists than Maui, Oahu, and the Island of Hawaii, making it a great destination — especially during the global pandemic.

However, Kauai’s COVID-19 rates spiked for its more than 72,000 residents when the Hawaiian Islands opened to visitors on November 1, 2021, threatening the Hawaiian Islands’ delicate ecosystem and community. Cases have been decreasing there since late January, but as of January 5, travelers must provide proof of vaccination, including being boosted, to bypass the five-day quarantine requirement.

Locals ask visitors to be mindful of their impact on the island when booking their stay and during their visit. Betsey Ashley, a 42-year-old out lesbian committee member of Kauai Pride, said people should travel “respectfully and mindfully” to “help create a good experience for everyone involved.”

My girlfriend and I, who are fully vaccinated, were also conscious about protecting Kauai’s local community by wearing our masks and keeping our distance from other people in public. Hand sanitizer was also our common travel companion.

While Ashley is cautious about welcoming visitors to Kauai, she’s also excited about Equality Kauai, a new website intended to connect LGBTQ visitors with local queer businesses.

“It aims to provide a safe and supportive and empowering home for local LGBTQ as well as tourists,” said Ashley, who is a designer and former mental health therapist who has lived on the island with her family for five years.

Kauai’s small LGBTQ community is vibrant and visible with Kauai Pride, now in its fourth year. The latest queer addition to the island is the Kauai Brunch Babes drag brunch, which happens at the end of each month at the Sheraton Kaua‘i Coconut Beach Resort’s Sunrise Restaurant.

Play and relax

Every morning my girlfriend and I woke up to a rainbow as we sipped our coffee and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on our balcony at Hanalei Bay Resort, located on Kauai’s North Shore in Princeville.

There was no schedule, except dinner reservations, leaving my girlfriend and me plenty of time to freely wander around Kauai.

The best times to escape to Kauai are April to June and September to November when the weather is pleasant, and you can score a reasonable hotel rate.

Traveling off-season was a bit wetter on the island, which ranks as one of the world’s wettest places on earth, but it was manageable. Untethered to a strict itinerary, we randomly booked our adventures as we wandered around the island due to few tourists traveling off-season soon after Hawaii lifted its strict COVID-19 travel restrictions and welcomed visitors back.

We familiarized ourselves with the island and its culture by taking the self-guided tour on the Koloa Heritage Trail. We drove up to waterfalls at Wailua Falls and Opaekaa Falls and saw the water spout at the Spouting Horn. We hung with the locals, sipping the island’s brews at the Kauai Beer Company and the Kauai Island Brewing Company.

My girlfriend and I also waded in the calm waters at Hanalei Bay, the Hanalei Pier, and Poipu Beach while locals and tourists swam, paddle boarded, surfed, and snorkeled. We saw whales off the Napali Coast aboard Captain Andy’s Sailing Adventures.

Kauai visitors can drive up to some waterfalls, such as Wailua Falls.Heather Cassell

To get our heart rates up, we went ATVing with Kaua‘i ATV through the tropical forests and horseback riding at one of Hawaii’s oldest cattle ranches, Princeville Ranch, established in 1831.

Golfers can hit the greens at some of the island’s championship golf courses that have stunning views at the Princeville Makai Golf Course and the Poipu Bay Golf Course. Tennis players can rally at one of the world’s top 50 tennis destinations, ranked by Tennis Resorts Online in 2019, at the Hanalei Bay Resort. Hikers can enjoy any one of Kauai’s 78 trails around the island.

Eat

Kauai isn’t known for its food, but there are three good restaurants on the island: Postcards Restaurant, Sam’s Ocean View Restaurant and Bar, and The Beach House.

Postcards is a charming restaurant located in a house in Hanalei serving up innovative fine dining dishes. It is worth the drive for visitors staying at other parts of the island.

Sam’s Ocean View looks like a dive in Kapaʻa, but this intimate restaurant and bar with ocean views also serves elevated food from its kitchen.

The Beach House in Koloa, often rated as one of Kauai’s top five restaurants, has the best views with its unobstructed sweeping panoramic vision of the ocean from every seat in the restaurant. It’s designed for romantic sunset dinners.

Stay

We stayed at the Hanalei Bay Resort. The 134-room resort features a picturesque view of the bay, a beautiful inlet surrounded by three mountain peaks: Hihimanu, Namolokama, and Mamalahoa.

Get away

New Yorkers can leave JFK mid-morning and be in Kauai by dinner on Hawaiian Airlines. The airline offers non-stop flights directly into Honolulu from New York. The transfer to Kauai is quick.

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