Cycling all the way around the island isn't much fun, due to heavy traffic and narrow road shoulders. But it's a convenient way of getting around beach resorts, and the Eastside has a recreational paved bicycle path running through Kapaʻa. Bicycles are rented in Waipouli, Kapaʻa, Poʻipu and Hanalei. The best bike ride on the island is down the winding road of Waimea Canyon.
Tourist resort areas and specialty bicycle shops rent beach cruisers, hybrid models and occasionally high-end road and mountain bikes. Rental rates average $20 to $40 per day (easily double that for high-tech road or mountain bikes). Bikeshare Hawaii (www.bikesharehawaii.org) stations may be coming to the island soon.
Generally, bicycles are required to follow the same rules of the road as cars. Bicycles are prohibited on freeways and sidewalks. State law requires all cyclists under the age of 16 to wear helmets. For more bicycling information, including downloadable cycling maps, search the website of the Hawaii Department of Transportation (http://hidot.hawaii.gov/highways/).
The county’s Kauaʻi Bus stops approximately hourly on weekdays in towns along major highways, with limited services on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Routes run islandwide, but don't reach the Na Pali Coast Wilderness, Waimea Canyon or Kokeʻe State Parks. Schedules are available online. Check the website for where to buy monthly passes ($40).
Buses are air-conditioned and equipped with bicycle racks and wheelchair ramps. A few caveats: drivers don’t give change; surfboards (except for boogie boards), oversized backpacks and luggage aren't allowed on board; stops are marked but might be hard to spot; and schedules do not include a map.
Car & Motorcycle
Major international car-rental companies have booths at Lihuʻe Airport, with free shuttle buses running to off-airport parking lots nearby. Locally owned rental agencies Kauai Car & Scooter Rental and Kauaʻi Harley-Davidson are located in Lihuʻe, while Rent a Car Kauai, based in Kapaʻa on the Eastside, offers free airport pickups and drop-offs. Arriving on the island without reservations usually subjects you to higher rates and limited availability. Rental cars may be entirely sold out during peak travel times, so book ahead. Mix it up by renting a VW Westfalia Camper through Kauai Camper Rental.
If you have the money, definitely go for a 4WD (Jeep Wranglers being the most popular version on the island). Cars are sometimes prohibited by contract from traveling on dirt roads and will limit your exploration opportunities. That said, most roads are passable by regular car, if you go slow.
Kauaʻi has a belt road running three-quarters of the way around the island, from Keʻe Beach in the north to near Polihale State Park in the west.
Locals call highways by nickname rather than by number.
|Hwy 50||Kaumualiʻi Hwy|
|Hwy 51||Kapule Hwy|
|Hwy 56||Kuhio Hwy|
|Hwy 58||Nawiliwili Rd|
|Hwy 520||Maluhia Rd (Tunnel of Trees)|
|Hwy 530||Koloa Rd|
|Hwy 540||Halewili Rd|
|Hwy 550||Waimea Canyon Dr & Kokeʻe Rd|
|Hwy 560||Kuhio Hwy (continuation of Hwy 56)|
|Hwy 570||Ahukini Rd|
|Hwy 580||Kuamoʻo Rd|
|Hwy 581||Kamalu Rd & Olohena Rd|
|Hwy 583||Maʻalo Rd|
Road Distances & Times
Average driving distances and times from Lihuʻe are as follows. Allow more time during morning and afternoon rush hours and on weekends.
Kokeʻe State Park
- For 24-hour emergency roadside assistance, free maps and discounts on car rentals and accommodations, Hawaii is served by the American Automobile Association, from its office in Honolulu.
- AAA has reciprocal agreements with automobile associations in other countries, so bring your membership card from home.
- An International Driving Permit (IDP), which must be obtained before you leave home, is necessary only if your country of origin is a non-English-speaking one.
- You need a valid motorcycle license to rent one, but a standard driving license will suffice for mopeds. The minimum age for renting a car is generally 25, though some agencies make exceptions; motorcycle is 21; for a moped, it’s 18.
Fuel & Towing
- With the exception of remote areas such as Waimea Canyon Rd and the North Shore beyond Princeville, fuel is available everywhere, but expect to pay 20% more than on the mainland. Towing is also expensive and should be avoided at all costs. Fees start at around $65, plus $6.50 per mile.
- Renting a car often costs more on Kauaʻi than on the other major Hawaiian Islands. Normally, a rock-bottom economy car from a major rental company will cost you $200 per week, with rates doubling during the peak periods. Rental rates will generally include unlimited mileage.
- To minimize costs, comparison shop; differences of 50% between suppliers are not unheard of.
- Another strategy for cost saving is to use a purely local rental agency. These mom-and-pop firms, which generally operate from home, rent used vehicles that may be 10 years old, but can be had for $20 to $25 per day.
- For motorcycle rentals, the go-to place is Kauaʻi Harley-Davidson, which has a 20-bike fleet in Puhi, just outside Lihuʻe. For mopeds, try Kauai Car & Scooter Rental.
- If you want a 4WD for getting to some of the sights, rates average $70 to $120 per day (before taxes and fees). Agencies prohibit driving off-road, meaning that if you get stuck they’ll slap a penalty on you.
Road Conditions, Hazards & Rules
- Kauaʻi remains very rural, with only one coastal highway connecting all major destinations. It’s hard to get lost for long.
- Highway congestion has been lessened by road-widening, but there is still rush-hour traffic, especially between Lihuʻe and Kapaʻa. To help combat this, a ‘contra-flow’ lane is created from 5am to 10:30am weekdays on Kuhio Hwy (Hwy 56) in the Wailua area; this turns a northbound lane into a southbound lane by reversing the flow of traffic.
- Stay alert for one-lane-bridge crossings. Whenever there’s no sign on one-lane stretches, downhill traffic must yield to uphill traffic.
- While drivers do tend to speed on highways, in-town driving is courteous and rather leisurely. Locals don’t honk (unless a crash is imminent), they don’t tailgate and they let faster cars pass. Do the same.
- State law prohibits more than one rider per moped, as well as requiring that they be driven in single file at a maximum of 30mph. Also, mopeds are not to be driven on sidewalks or freeways, but rather on roads with lower speed limits or on the highway shoulder.
- The state requires helmets only for motorcycle or moped/scooter riders under the age of 18. Rental agencies provide free helmets for all riders: use them.
- Talking or texting on a handheld device (eg cell phone) while driving is illegal.
- Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs is a serious criminal offense.
- It's illegal to carry open containers of alcohol (even if they're empty) inside a car. Unless the containers are still sealed and have never been opened, store them in the trunk instead.
- The use of seat belts is required for the driver, front-seat passengers and all children under age 18.
- Child safety seats are mandatory for children aged three and younger. Those aged four to seven must ride in a booster seat, unless they are over 4ft 9in tall, in which case they must be secured by a lap-only belt in the back seat.
Hitchhiking is technically illegal statewide and hitchhiking anywhere is not without risks. Lonely Planet does not recommend it. Hitchers should size up each situation carefully before getting in cars and women should be wary of hitching alone. People who do choose to hitchhike will be safer if they travel in pairs and let someone know where they are planning to go.
Hitchhiking is not a common practice among locals. You’re most likely to find a ride along the North Shore.
The standard flag-fall fee is $3, plus 30¢ per additional 0.1 miles or up to 45 seconds of waiting; surcharges may apply for luggage, surfboards, wheelchairs and bicycles. Cabs line up at the airport during business hours, but they don’t run all night or cruise for passengers. Elsewhere, you’ll need to call ahead in advance. Most taxi companies operate islandwide, but it's usually faster to call one that's closer to your location.
Makai means ‘toward the ocean’; mauka means ‘toward the mountain.’ Refer to highways by common name, not by number.