Here is a summary based on my 3-day observations of Kauai, Hawaii. Of course there are the usual “camera moments” and must-see spots that I intend not to repeat. And there are to-dos/not-to-dos that are not particular to Kauai.
Snorkeling? You can cross that from your list, especially during the winter, and especially if you want a clear shot of fish you see underwater. I never expect the effect of trade swells can be so damaging to my snorkeling experience. The fact that it rains much more often in Kauai adds more problems. I have snorkeled at the north shore of Oahu in winters, in particular the Shark’s Cove, and have never had this bad experience before. To make to Tunnels, the so-called best snorkeling site in Kauai, it takes so much effort that by the time you get to the beach you would be so exhausted.
Drive a PT Cruiser. In the land of Kauai, PT Cruiser rules! I cannot tell you how many PT Cruisers that I have seen on the road. Of course our rental car is a silver PT Cruiser too. Once at a parking lot I counted 6 PT Cruisers in one lane.
Shop for Kona coffee at local Costco. Although Kona coffee grows in the Big Island, it is available at virtually all Costcos in Hawaii. What can I say? I love Kona coffee. At Costco you can buy 100% whole bean Kona coffee at $19.99 per pound. In some reputable coffee shops back in the continental United States, such as Porto Rico Importing (New York City), expect to pay extra $5 per pound, plus shipping.
What about Kauai coffee? Yes, Costco of Kauai does carry 100% whole bean Kauai coffee. And yes there is a significant difference between Kona coffee and Kauai coffee in taste, and therefore in price. Kauai coffee is not bad and actually is pretty smooth, but Kona coffee does taste better. Psst… just do not bring it up when you talk to the locals — it might hurt their feelings. It happened to us once.
There is also a dramatic difference between 100% whole beans and Kona blends. Do not bother with Kona blends. No matter what percentage of Kona coffee beans is blended with others, the difference is obvious.
As a matter of fact, a couple of old ladies who grow Kona coffees in the Big Island posed nude for a 2008 calendar. The goal? Call for the awareness of the quality of the 100% Kona whole beans.
Visit Waimea canyon. The drive to the canyon is not easy, but the whole trip is totally worth it. In fact there are so many movies we can now recognize scenes of Waimea canyons from.
Get down the black beach to experience the Spouting Horn. Do not just stay behind the fence. There are non-official ways to go down to the lava beach, to get truly up and personal with the Spouting Horn. The thundering breath of the nature through that lava tube is amazing.
Do not leave home without your rain gear. You might leave home without your American Express but if you want to be outdoors all the time in Kauai, bring your rain gear. It rains so often during a single day, sometimes heavily enough to soak you wet from head to toe. And do not expect being near the south shore can let you get away from rains completely. In the end, Kauai does have the rainiest place on earth: Mount Waialeale.
Do not book your return ticket from other islands to the mainland. You will probably be better off with a stay in Oahu and then heading from Oahu (Honolulu airport) to the mainland United States. There are not many direct flights from mainland to other islands in Hawaii, so very often you end up connecting at Honolulu.
At the Honolulu international airport you need to take a shuttle bus (wiki-wiki bus; in Hawaiian “wiki” means “quick”) from the main terminals to the terminals for inter-island flights. Just do not expect that a bus named “wiki-wiki” is in fact wiki-wiki. So if you are in a rush or if your inter-island flight is delayed, then you risk missing your flight to the mainland.