Plenty of starry-eyed couples head to Hawaii because they’re ‘Getting Maui’d’. But for honeymooners and romantics, the top pick for a tropical getaway made just for two is Kauaʻi. Here on the Garden Island, verdant jungle, white-sand beaches, skyscraping sea cliffs and Hawaii’s own ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’ all make a dramatic backdrop that even Hollywood directors fall in love with.
With luxe oceanfront resorts and private cottage hideaways, sunset drinks on the beach, and thrilling outdoor adventures that just can’t be had on any other Hawaiian Island, you’ll be all set for an unforgettable honeymoon or anniversary trip.
Sail along the legendary Na Pali Coast
Where roads end, there begins Kauaʻi’s legendary Na Pali Coast. Rugged cliffs tower 4000ft above the thrashing surf, and a rainbow of tropical fish float in aquamarine coves. Elsewhere, crystalline waterfalls tumble down streams that meander through fertile valleys. Clamber aboard a catamaran for a snorkel cruise leaving out of Port Allen, or sign up for a bumpier, splashier – and ultimately more thrilling – rafting tour. Some rafting outfitters let you step back in time by landing at Nualolo Kai, an ancient Hawaiian village, now abandoned to the elements and the spirits.
Swim in a cool jungle waterfall
What could be dreamier than swimming underneath a tropical waterfall? Lucky for you, Kauaʻi has dozens of crystalline cascades and emerald pools for taking a dip. Some you’ll have to earn the right to encounter with your own sweat and achy muscles, while others you can simply hitch a ride to on horseback or by helicopter.
On the North Shore, it’s a bushwhacking 8-mile round-trip day hike along the Na Pali Coast to Hanikapiʻai Falls, which drop spectacularly over 300ft into a gently rippling pool. Easier to access are the Eastside’s ‘Secret Falls’ (Uluwehi Falls): start with a lazy paddle in a kayak up the winding Wailua River, and then proceed on a rocky, muddy hike right up to the base of the falls.
Does all that sound like too much work, especially for your honeymoon? At Silver Falls Ranch, you can saddle up a horse and trot back into the Kalihiwai Valley to splash in a private waterfall. If swimming isn't your thing, take a flightseeing tour with Island Helicopters, the only company licensed to land by 360ft-high Manawaiopuna Falls, made famous by the movie Jurassic Park.
Go hidden beach hopping
Although it’s far from a secret these days, Kauapea (Secrets) Beach outside Kilauea still feels like an untouched paradise if you hit it early enough in the day. What keeps crowds away from this long-legged, sandy-blond beauty are big ocean swells in winter (when it’s the domain of surfers only), as well as the effort required to get here: a drive down a dirt road, followed by a steep scramble on foot down the cliffs. If you do make the trip, you’ll discover seashells aplenty, tidal lagoons and wild dolphins leaping offshore.
Another North Shore prize-winner is Pali Ke Kua (Hideaways) Beach, which is hidden almost in plain sight at the popular Princeville Resort. The cliffside beach trail is equipped with metal handrails and ropes for the vertiginous descent, which bottoms out at a crescent-shaped beach perfect for snorkeling, with a teeming offshore reef and green sea turtles basking on golden sands.
On the Eastside, leave the tourists behind and head down to Anahola, a Hawaiian fishing and farming village with a stupendous stretch of coastline. Dirt roads lead to all-natural Larsen’s Beach, which offers mesmerizing snorkeling when the ocean is calm, or to Moloaʻa Beach, which you might recognize from the pilot of the classic TV show Gilligan’s Island.
Catch sunset on the wild Westside
End-of-the world scenery announces the beach at Polihale State Park. At this westernmost point on Kauaʻi, sunsets over seven miles of white sand backed by primordial cliffs are the prime attraction. Despite whipping winds and water usually too rough for swimming, this beach is still worth the detour for a stroll by the sea’s edge. (Be forewarned that the park’s dirt access road may require a 4WD vehicle.)
A dinner date and drinks in Poʻipu
On the sunny South Shore, Poʻipu is the place to be when dusk falls and the tiki torches get lit. Nab an ocean-view table outdoors at the Grand Hyatt Resort & Spa’s Seaview Terrace, where you can toast to love and the good life with cocktails and island-style pupu (appetizers) while the surf crashes below and Hawaiian guitarists strum lilting melodies.
Book ahead for the prime sunset dinner seating at the landmark Beach House Restaurant, a swoon-worthy venue for weddings, anniversaries and proposals. But if your ipo (sweetheart) is a real foodie, head inland for fantastic East-West fusion dishes and tropical sangria at Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill, where low lighting, plush seating and mod decor make it truly date-worthy.
On a budget? Don’t worry, a romantic meal is still within reach. On the drive down to Poʻipu, stop off in the sugar-plantation town of Koloa for fresh poke (cubed, marinated raw fish), sushi rolls or a local-style plate lunch to go. Then spread out your bargain-priced feast for a picnic at one of Poʻipu’s popular drive-up beaches. To really get away from it all, hike down to often-deserted Mahaʻulepu Beach, where you can play at being castaways.
Drive the winding road to ‘Bali Hai’
Kauaʻi has been the setting for countless Hollywood movies, but the one that put it on the map was the 1958 film version of the musical South Pacific. To see where famous scenes were shot, drive the narrow, two-lane highway past sleepy Hanalei town to Haʻena State Park. There the mountain called Makana – which stood in for Bali Hai in the movie – towers above white sands and turquoise waters that tempt you to dive right in (but don’t do it unless the ocean is calm). Laze in the sun while staring at the surf with your honey – that’s paradise.