Ten Things

We Learned in Kauai

Family Travel Tips for Educational Fun

on Hawaii's Garden Island

We just returned home from the “Garden Island” and don’t tell the neighbors, but we have a new favorite! Between the laid-back vibe, to the lush landscape, to the miles of beaches, Kauai exceeded our expectations in every way possible. To give you an idea of just how rugged it is, did you know that 70% of the island is inaccessible by foot and 97% of the island is used for conservation and agriculture? And to make sure they never look like Waikiki, Kauai has a unique building code that states, no building shall be taller than a coconut palm! Now, that sounds like a good plan!

During our week-long stay in January, we explored and hiked, relaxed and swam. But we also learned a thing or two. Keep reading, and you’ll find out about chickens, sugar growing and shave ice.

1. Humpback Whales Like Warm Water Like the Rest of Us
It turns out that the Hawaiian Islands are a favorite spot for humpback whales and they can be seen playing in the shallow waters from December to May. We learned that they return every year from the Gulf of Alaska to breed, birth their calves, and nurse their young. On our first day on Kauai, we were lucky enough to witness this. We went out with Captain Andy’s half day charter to explore the Napali Coast, do some snorkeling and enjoy a delicious grilled lunch. Humpback whale sightings were not guaranteed, but we hoped that would be part of our experience, and it was! The crew was terrific at keeping their eyes open for spouts of water in the distance and then also providing lots of exciting information about their migration patterns and habits. The most incredible humpback whale moment of our day was when we spotted a mother and calf near the shoreline. We kept our distance, but it was quite spectacular to witness them enjoying the warm shallow waters together.

2. The Napali Coast Will Take Your Breath Away
The Napali Coast is known to be one of the most scenic coastlines in the world.  It can only be seen by boat, helicopter or foot. Stretching fifteen miles long, this rugged coast is characterized by pali (high cliffs) that rise to 4,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, sea caves, waterfalls, and narrow green valleys. No wonder it’s been the location for movies such as King Kong, Jurassic Park, and Pirates of the Caribbean. We highly recommend booking your Napali Coast tour with Captain Andy’s. Modern and sleek catamarans, delicious food, and friendly staff make them an excellent choice.

We also enjoyed quite a few dolphin sightings on Captain Andy's excursion.
Part of the Napali coast by foot
Part of the Napali coast by foot

3. Captain Cook Should Have Stayed on Kauai
We learned that Captain James Cook landed on Kauai’s Waimea beach on January 19, 1778. He stayed about two weeks and then headed over to the Big Island where things didn’t go so well with the natives. After some dispute over a boat, they threw him over a cliff and to his death. Our twelve year old had just written a paper for school about Captain Cook, and so it was especially meaningful to come across this memorial dedicated to him in Waimea.

4. Kauai Has its Own Grand Canyon
Often referred to the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” Waimea Canyon is approximately one mile wide, 3600 feet deep and about 10 miles long. This lookout spot was a great place to take it in and we were glad to be there on a clear day! Cloud cover is common here.

5. Kauai is Home to the Wettest Place on Earth
We learned that Kauai’s Mt. Waialeale is known as the wettest place on Earth! It averages 450 inches of rain per year. So that’s where all those waterfalls get their water!

6. Sugar Farming Takes a lot of Water
We learned interesting facts about the growing of sugarcane on Kauai.  It began in the 1800’s and boomed during the Civil War as sugar growing in the south declined. We learned that each pound of sugar requires two thousand pounds of water! Think about that next time you put a heaping spoonful in your coffee! This is why gathering some of the rainwater from Mt. Waialeale was so significant. We enjoyed a half-day excursion with Kauai Backcountry where we were able to see these historic irrigation systems up close. These canals were hand-dug around 1870 by Chinese immigrants. Today, tourists can float down them in tubes and learn about the history of sugar growing in Kauai.

Tubing with Kauai Backcountry in an old irrigation canal

7. The Kilauea Lighthouse Holds a One-of-a-Kind Treasure
An icon of Kauai, we learned that the Kilauea Lighthouse was built in 1913 and then officially decommissioned in 1976. For more than fifty years it served as a beacon for trading ships between Hawaii and the Orient. It has the world’s largest clamshell lens.

8. Hurricanes and Chickens Have Something to do With Each Other
If you’ve been to Kauai, you already know that the island is covered with this unofficial “bird of paradise” the wild rooster. People either love them, hate them or just try to ignore them. (Although that last choice is difficult when they start chattering outside your condo at 2 am). Gift shops are filled with t-shirts and coffee mugs depicting these feathered creatures. But where did they come from? Word has it, that after Hurricane Iniki in 1992 chicken coops were destroyed, releasing domesticated hens and then they just increased. Like a lot! Why might people love them? They eat insects and keep the population down which is a good thing for this mostly rain-forested island. They even enjoy eating the Hawaiian centipede which packs a powerful bite. So that’s a very good thing!

9. Coffee Begins as a Flower
Mama likes coffee, and so a stop at the Kauai Coffee Plantation in Kalaheo was a must! We did the self-guided tour, sampled several different types of coffee, and did a little shopping in their gift shop. This is the largest coffee plantation in the United States with over 4 million coffee trees grown on 3,100 acres.  We learned that coffee beans begin as a blossom and eventually develop into the coffee cherry. The seeds from this fruit become the “coffee bean” we all recognize.

10. Shave Ice Originated in Japan

Last, but not least, we discovered that a really fun way to enjoy a trip to Kauai (or any Hawaiian island) is to sample as many shave ice stands as possible. Many touted awards, and plaques and we were happy to give them a try and offer our opinions. But where did this tradition come from? Shave Ice in Hawaii can be traced back to Japanese plantation workers who immigrated to the islands in the 19th century. We're sure glad they brought this tradition with them.

So there you have it, ten things we "learned" in Kauai. As you can see, our time in Kauai was a very educational experience. We can't wait to go back and learn so more!


Have you been to Kauai? What did we miss? What were your favorite family-friendly activities?


You may also like these related posts:

Beach Vacation Packing List and Tips

Island Life - Books for Kids

Map Journal for Kids


Full Disclosure: Captain Andy's provided discounted tickets for our family to enjoy

our half-day excursion with them. Like always, all opinions expressed are our own.

Pick Captain Andy's! They're awesome!


Add Comment
Lillie says... (Reply)
"I've spent time on the Big Island, but never Kauai! Looks fabulous." (2/18/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"I highly recommend it. There are so many wonderful places to explore here." (2/24/18)
Melinda says... (Reply)
"We want to go to Kauai so badly! Living in American Samoa, we have similar climate and views. Hawaii’s proximity to the Mailand lends to better infrastructure and tourism, while Kauai remains in its more natural state. I had no idea it had its own Grand Canyon. What an incredible place!" (2/18/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Yes, so true. It is definitely the least commercialized. Living in American Samoa must be a beautiful place too." (2/24/18)
Diana Rowe says... (Reply)
"I've visited Kauai with my husband, but I've not yet taken the family -- and grankids. Great list and good reasons to add this to my multigen family travel bucket list." (2/18/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"It would be a great place for a multi-generational trip!" (2/24/18)
Maggie Torsney-Weir says... (Reply)
"we love kauai! we've been twice and every day is something new. my daughter loved the chickens and roosters." (2/18/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Yes, the chickens and roosters are part of the fun!" (2/24/18)
Cathy (MummyTravels) says... (Reply)
"I would love to go to Hawaii one day, and Kauai looks absolutely stunning - I never knew the wettest place on earth was here!" (2/19/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"It's just a quick 5 hour flight from the west coast of the US, so it's a pretty convenient destination for us Californians." (2/24/18)
Katja says... (Reply)
"Wow, Kauai looks amazing! I have never been to Hawaii but I've heard lots of great things about its islands. I've also heard lots of great things about the shaved ice! I hope to get the chance to visit one day. " (2/19/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Oh yes, the shave ice is so yummy! I think we overloaded on sugar!" (2/24/18)