Pros: Staying at a bungalow instead of a resort was perfect (for us)
Cons: Staying at a bungalow instead of a resort might not be perfect (for you)
I spent two weeks in Hawaii in September, 2004 with the first week on Kauai for vacation. I found a great deal on a place and would like to focus much of this review more on how to make a decision as to where or how to stay on Kauai.
Im fortunate enough to have been to Hawaii many times in the past few years. Ive worked and played on the Big Island, Maui, Oahu and finally, Kauai. While each of the Hawaiian islands are very beautiful in their own right and have many unique yet similar qualities, many consider Kauai to be the most beautiful of all the islands. One of those reasons is that it is the oldest of the largest islands in the Hawaiian chain and hasnt experienced a volcanic eruption in a long time giving plenty of time for the landscape to erode into wondrous crags and crevices and be covered with lush, tropical green wonder.
How we stayed in Kauai
One of the first things I learned researching a place to stay is that you have less options for resorts and hotels on Kauai than you will find on the other islands. Granted, if you are wishing to stay at a pricier resort there are many options for that in Kauai (Princeville, Marriott, Hyatt Regency, Sheraton, etc.). However, not as many as you would find on Maui or maybe even the Big Island. Possibly more appealing are the numerous B&Bs, bungalows, and private condos that you can rent, especially on Kauai.
As with most places, the rates I saw in my searches were more reasonable with at least 7 nights stay. My boyfriend and I are not resort/spa type people, we like to explore a place we are visiting and not sit at a pool sipping mai tais -- though I like doing that, too just not the entire time. For this trip, we decided to try a condo rental instead of a hotel. Based on our experience, we will probably do that from here on out for our next trips to Hawaii.
With The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook by Andrew Doughty & Harriett Friedman by my side and my trusty Dell Dimension 8200 in front of me these are some of the websites I used in searching for a weekly rental:
I searched, emailed and phoned many of the listings. Unbelievably, this was a last minute trip so I only had about 2.5 weeks to find a place to stay. Even though it was short notice I was lucky to find a lot of places still available.
South shore or North shore?
This was our biggest debate.
The Poipu area is generally the sunnier, relatively drier southern side of the Island of Kauai. Some people I spoke to suggested that you should always stay near Poipu, its the best!. We were there in September, and that is often the hottest month in Kauai, especially on the south side and it is difficult finding condos with air conditioning, too. Plus, the north shore of the Island is the lush, green, wetter side, has more topography, and more snorkel beaches (more on this below) so I knew wed be visiting that side if it wasnt rainy. Next, any of the kamaaina (Hawaii residents) I talked to said, you have to stay on the north shore, its the best! Ugh. What to do?
In general, my friends that are Hawaii residents have said that in winter the north shore is more stormy and the beaches are very treacherous, but is more calm and drier in the summer months, whereas the south shore is the opposite. We found that to be true. It probably rains somewhere everyday on Kauai, having one of the wettest spots on earth right smack dab in the center of the island. Where we stayed it rained nearly every night (after sunset) but during the day it was either sunny or partly cloudy to somewhat overcast. Rain never ruined one day of our trip, which was great. Especially if you read about the luck I had on Maui about 3 years ago when it rained practically the whole time.
We finally decided from an available list of condos in Poipu (Prince Kuhio and Poipu Shores) and some on the north shore to rent a private bungalow called the Bali Hai in Anahola, which is on the northeast shoreline of Kauai. So it was near enough to the north shore (15-30 minutes), not too far from Kapaa (10-15 minutes), close to Lihue and the airport (about 25 minutes), and a good drive to the south shore (1 hour). All of this, of course, depending upon time of day and traffic but those were about the averages we found driving around. Since we had a rental car (Hertz) we had options based on the weather of either the north shore or south shore each day we went out exploring where we would head to next.
Ah, The Bali Hai
The Bali Hai is one of four rental properties at Kauai Gardens with views of the ocean and not far from the very quiet and unpopulated Aliomanu Beach. It sits just above the end of South Aliomanu Road that is near mile marker 15 on Highway 56 (about 10 miles north of Kapaa town and 20 or so miles southeast from Hanalei). There are four rental properties and the main house, where the hosts live. They were wonderful people. Two of the units are attached to the main house and the other bungalow is detached, however, I thought the Bali Hai was more private sitting on the other side of the winding, palm-lined driveway into the property.
This place was a steal at only $950/week on such short notice. We rented it through Kauai Properties, who were nice, friendly, and easy to work with: http://www.kauaiproperties.com/kauaiaccommodations.html
It was a small, wooden cottage w/a private deck, hibachi-style bbq, 2-person HOT TUB (woohoo), small living area, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. Each room had a TV and full cable channels. The grounds here are unbelievable the owners have put a lot of time, effort and money building the gardens surrounding the property that had lava-stone pathways cutting through it. Our supplies stocked kitchen had a microwave, refrigerator, coffeemaker, toaster oven, and sink (no oven or stove). The appliances were all brand new and very stylish (e.g. stainless steel fridge). The bedroom has nice furniture including a queen-sized bed, a dresser with ample room for clothes and good space in the closet. The bathroom had a stand-up shower tiled in granite and it was very clean. In fact, the whole place was very clean.
There was no maid or cleaning service, but we didnt mind. We enjoyed the privacy the hosts offered us. They provided two beach towels and two sets of bathroom towels. They also have a washer and dryer off the carport of the main house that came in very handy for washing towels and beach clothes throughout the week. There were un-curtained windows (but it was still private) in the bathroom and kitchen that we kept open the whole time.
It was very quiet and dark there at night, the only sounds being the waves, the rain, and the occasional chicken. Guests previously mentioned the onsite rooster, but he must have found a new home. One of the things youll see on Kauai is the UNdangered species the wild chickens that are everywhere.
The only negative side was that there wasnt any air conditioning and it was incredibly hot when we were there for most of the time. The trade winds usually cool down the east side, but they died to less than 5mph the week we were there, which also means more mosquitoes. The bungalow had a couple of ceiling fans and a floor fan to help cool us off, though. Bring your Avon Skin-so-soft bug repellant to Kauai. I was practically eaten alive. I saw a few crawling critters around, too, but hey thats life in Hawaii there will be bugs. However, it was a unique lodging experience to have our own little bungalow and sit in the hot tub every night and look up to the bright Milky Way with sounds of the Pacific Ocean rocking back and forth just a few hundred feet or so away.
It was a great place to stay surrounded by lush forests and below the Ape head mountain range you see in the King Kong movie. However, it wasnt walking distance to any eateries or shops but we had a car and plenty of time so this didnt matter.
I really was happy with my stay here, which is why I wanted to share it with others. There were many other similar sounding rental bungalows that came up in my search and it ended up being very serendipitous that this was available on such short notice.
Ponderings about staying in Kauai this way
-The bungalow wasnt really walking distance to any restaurants, convenience stores, or shopping facility. It was on a rural residential road and that added to the charm. This might not be convenient if you want to drink alcohol with dinner and have to drive back from Kapaa town. So, youll be driving a lot. Having the hot tub made for relaxing evenings we basically spent the day exploring the island and then dinner in Kapaa town and the late evening sitting in the hot tub. Thinking about this, it was pure bliss at times! However, having a small kitchenette was plenty enough for us to have snacks, a few meals (especially breakfasts), and keep our own beer cold.
-You dont have a concierge on site to help you make reservations and decisions for guided tours or excursions but the owners kept it stocked with all of the Kauai tourist brochures and guidebooks that had everything we needed to know (even though we grabbed tons of info at the airport waiting for our luggage).
-No pool, except for the gazillion-gallon Pacific
-No AC (usually not a problem though)
-No maid (who cares really)
We would stay here again and I hope this helps you decide if you would be into a bungalow such as the Bali Hai, instead of a high-priced resort for your stay in Kauai. Thanks for reading!
I havent decided if Ill write more detailed reviews of spending a week on Kauai, but heres a quick list of stuff we did or where we ate:
Overall, and unbelievably, it was not that great on Kauai, but there were tons of wonderful beaches. Perhaps it was just luck (or maybe the Big Island and Maui has spoiled me), but the number of fish and quality of reefs wasnt that spectacular. BUT there are so many wonderful, easy access (and hideaway) beaches to visit!
The best beach: Kee Beach, at the end of the road on the North shore. Nice sandy bottom entry, great snorkeling and lots of turtles! Get there early.
Tunnels Beach, North shore, ok snorkeling, hard to get in due to sharp rocks and shallow entry
Lydgate Park: snorkeling was a BIG waste of time. All the guidebooks said this would be great, maybe for kids b/c it has a nice protected swimming cove, but there were 10 fish. We tried it twice just in case the first was a fluke. NOT.
Beach House beach: South shore passed Poipu, just ok, saw fish, no pretty reef really
In Princeville, we hiked down to the Queens Bath. Not really exciting to be honest, especially since it was cloudy and overcast so this protected lava shelf wasnt as blue as it looked in the guide books -- in fact, the water was a bit icky.
We drove the 1.5 hours from where we stayed to the top or end of the road. It was cloudy at times, but other times had great views of the lush valley and the waterfalls. There are a bunch of lookouts and places to stop, as well as a Gift store and ranger station. We opted not to do the helicopter tour, but friends who have said it was incredible.
Towns and Restaurants
Kapaa is a cute little town and has a bunch of places to eat. We shopped here, rented snorkel gear from Snorkel Bobs, and passed through here nearly every day. We stocked up on groceries the first night at IGA (and we joined their membership program to save at least $20). For restaurants, we really enjoyed a nice dinner at Coconuts (expensive, but good). The Olympic cafe for dinner & beers and breakfast (huge portions).
Hanalei is really the only town on the North shore (just beyond Princeville) and is really cute. In Hanalei we stopped twice at Zelos, right off the main. We had the Ono fish sandwiches, pricy and somewhat small portions, but oh so delicious. Great views of the lush, green mountains surrounding the town. There are shops and small promenades that would let you kill about an hour or two just walking around and browsing.
Lihue, where the airport is, seems like any American rural county government seat. Lihue has a Wal-mart, Borders, and a shopping mall like any other small town. We went to the Marriott and had dinner at Dukes Canoe Club (Ive written a review on this place for the Waikiki location).