Kauai’s Top 10 Activities ~ Part One

Go into the caves of the Na Pali

With this post, I’m concentrating on the overall Kauai’s Top 10 Activities  ~ Part 1.  In subsequent posts, I will cover the best for families and also “extreme Kauai” activities.


  1.   Na Pali Boat Trip
  2.   Helicopter Ride
  3.   Horseback Riding to a Waterfall
  4.   Ziplining
  5.   Kayaking to a Waterfall
  6.   Stand up Paddle Boarding
  7.   Surf Lesson
  8.   Kauai Sky Dive
  9.   Water Tubing
  10.   Luau

Apart from the Kauai Sky Dive,  the other activities are open to most people.     Let me clarify here.   For insurance reasons, none of the boat companies will take children under 2.    Same with many of the activities… kind of obvious.    Ziplining for example, you need to be a certain age, a certain height.    For families this rules some activities out and means that perhaps someone has to stay back on the beach (not so bad!) with the kids or maybe do a different activity.

This is not a definitive list.   However, it does cover what  I feel will mean you have seen the best that Kauai has to offer.    Can you do these all in a week?    Yes, if you do 2 a day…. but as I say in my Kauai Guide … take some time just to chill on the beach under a Palm Tree!

Na Pali Boat Trip

As I say on my post about the Na Pali Coast         If you see one thing on Kauai, it has to be the magnificent, celebrated Na Pali Coast.   There are 3 ways to do this, Boat, Helicopter and hiking.    Doing the boat trip gives you the amazing views of the 3000 foot emerald cliffs cascading down into the azure water and if you do a sailing trip (rather than motorboat) you can do it in relative silence, which is my preferred way.

There are many companies offering the Na Pali Boat trip.    Here’s my take.    If you are on the North Shore, book one of the companies (only 2) who go from Hanalei.   Then you don’t have to drive an hour and a half around to Port Allen which is preferable since most boat check ins are at 7 or 7.30 over there.   Yes, you are jet lagged and getting up early, but if you can check in at 8 or a little before in Hanalei, so much the better.   Yep, doing a boat trip along the fabled Na Pali Coast is number 1 on my list for  Kauai’s Top 10 Activities ~ Part 1 !


Sail the Na Pali with Captain Sundown

Captain Sundown along the Na Pali

Captain Sundown has been sailing the Na Pali for more than 30 years.    Their 40 foot sailing catamarran only takes 17 people…. so you have a lot of room.    It’s a bit more expensive than other trips but worth it, especially if the wind is up, the weather is good and you can sail.    Captain Bob and son Larry are the archetypal looking “Captains”.    Leaving from Hanalei means you get to see more of the Na Pali than when you depart from the West Side.

Na Pali Catamarran

This is a smaller boat.. but then you get to go into caves, weather permitting.   Another family run business with a great crew of Captains and crew who know the Na Pali really well.   They do 2 Na Pali tours a day which are shorter (4 hours) so this is a great choice if you don’t want the 6 hour adventure.  Again, they depart from Hanalei so you see more of the coast and if you are on the North shore, it’s closer for you too.

Makana Charters are my pick for tours from the West Side.   Hawaiian owned and operated, they depart from the Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor,    They have 3 different size boats so they cover the entirety of ways to see the Na Pali from a boat :  a 49 foot, a 32 and a 27 foot for up to 6 people private charter.   Kikiaola is also closer to the Na Pali from the West Side than Port Allen which is another plus.

Na Pali Experience

Go into the caves of the Na Pali

Na Pali Experience – into the Caves

I would recommend these guys if you are focused on going into caves.    Small boats, they depart 3 times a day from the West Side at Kikiaʻola Small Boat Harbor which is a great place from which to depart per above.   I haven’t personally taken one of these, but several friends have and said it was terrific.   Good enough for me.

Helicopter Rides

The second way to see not just the Na Pali coast but also the entire island, including the wettest spot on earth, Waialeale.   Spectacular, an hour long in most cases.   6 people per helicopter, most companies depart from Lihue with Sunshine Helicopters the only one departing from tiny Princeville airport (seriously, it’s hardly an airport… just copters and small planes).  But if you are staying in Princeville or North Shore, makes sense to go with them.

Land at a Waterfall on Kauai

Island Helicopters land at a Waterfall

If you want to land at a Waterfall, there’s only one company that does that, Island Helicopters which is one of the oldest companies on island.  Most of the helicopter tours are one hour long, this one is an hour and a half to allow for the landing at the Waterfall – quite the experience!

Although not a helicopter, I want to mention Hawaiian owned (the only Hawaiian owned air company on Kauai) Ali’i Kauai Air Tours who fly a Partenavia P68B small plane all over Hawaii but who offer a similar tour to the helicopters over the Na Pali and even fly over to Ni’ihau, quite the exception.     I’ve seen it flying over quite a few times and thought “I really wouldn’t mind trying that!”  The company is starting helicopter tours soon.    Whether you take the plane or the copter, it’s surely one of Kauai’s Top 10 Activities Part 1!

3.  Horseback Riding to a Waterfall or a Beach

One of my favorite tours offered by Princeville Ranch Adventures who have been offering tours on the North Shore since the mid 90s.      I love this one because you ride to a waterfall, hike a little to get to the actual waterfall which is private so there’s only the people on the tour, swim, have lunch and ride back.   All the way you are surrounded by stunning north shore mountains and riding through beautiful tropical scenery.  It’s quite special.     Princeville Ranch Adventures do a range of other activities you can check out on their site.

Horseback Riding across Kauai's splendour

Horseback Riding to a Waterfall

On the South Shore, CJM stables which is just past the Hyatt have two rides to beaches…. one to gorgeous Mahalepu Beach and one to what they call a “secret” beach.   Hmm wonder where that one is!

Silver Falls Ranch which is also on the North Shore, also does a ride to a waterfall but shorter than the one at PRA.   Then they do a “tropical ride” too.    For horse lovers, any of these rides will be a treat.

Where you choose to do this activity, horseback riding to a Waterfall is definitely one of Kauai’s Top 10 Activities!


4.   Ziplining

Princeville Ranch Adventures were the first to offer ziplining on the island and they have a few different options, all brilliant!   The majesty of the north shore views is also wonderful to glimpse as you a zipping through the tropical greenery.   Koloa Zipline down on the South Shore offers what they call the “Kauaian” which is flying head first.    Hmmm!

Flying Ziplining Kauai

“Kauaian” Ziplining on Kauai with Koloa Zipline

Kauai Backcountry also offer ziplining in Hanamaulu (close to Lihue.

Here’s the thing:   Ziplining is FUNNNNNNN!!!!!    I mean it’s fun anywhere you do it….. but to be zipping through the tropical greenery on Kauai is pretty darn cool I’m here to tell you.   You may not be in the water, but you are flying!    Definitely one of Kauai’s Top 10 Activities


5.  Kayaking to a Waterfall


Kauai has 7 main rivers with several other smaller rivers and streams coming off those.    Waialeale is the wettest spot on Earth (wetter than the Amazonian Rain Forest, it’s true) so no wonder.    Having fun on the rivers is something that’s an obvious choice for both visitors to the Garden Isle and those of us who live here.   The Ancient Hawaiians have great respect for the rivers… they are the life giving Sacred water that gives life.   There are chants that those who follow the ancient ways will chant going across the river, any river.

The ocean that surrounds Kauai is so powerful, magnetic and truly beautiful.   The rivers are too :  sometimes the waterfalls remind us of the power of the life giving water and at other times we sit next to a pool and feel the peace of the river running through a jungle forest.

There are lots of companies that offer kayaking on Kauai.    You can kayak from Hanalei town along the river there with  Kayak Hanalei  and also kayak the ocean.     You can kayak up the mighty Wailua River (the biggest on the island) to some “secret falls” . or you can do the same along other rivers.

My favorite river kayaking adventure is to kayaking to a watefull u the Huleia River out of Lihue.   Most tours operate the Waterfall Kayak tour along the Wailua River and whilst that is wonderful, there are more companies doing the tours and you also have the tour boats taking people to Fern Grotto so it can feel a bit crowded.  Definitely one of Kauai’s Top 10 Activities ~ Part 1

Kayaking up the Huleia River Kauai

Kayaking the Huleia River with Outfitters Kauai

By contrast, the only company I know that does the Huleia River tour is Outfitters out of Poipu.     Much less crowded, the Huleia River offers a peaceful, beautiful trip and a similar hike through the jungle to a gorgeous waterfall.     Raiders of the Lost Ark was filmed here… the part right at the beginning where Harrison Ford is running away from the South American Indians after grabbing the gold headpiece…. and swings on that vine into the river… that was the Huleia River.   I think the vine/rope is still there, though the part with the plane taking off was filmed in Nawiliwili harbor … they couldn’t fit the plane on the Huleia river.     Since I did this tour, Outfitters now come back in a motorized kayak, interesting.    So many kayaking tours, has to be one of Kauai’s Top 10 Activities ~ Part 1!

Happy Kayaking!

I realized half way through this post that it really had to be two posts because of all the recommendations.   If I was just saying – here’s the list, ok, but including all the recommendations makes it longer..    Kauai’s Top 10 Activities Part 2 here


Kayaking in the ocean


About the Author

Kauai Advisor ~ Francesca Azuremare ~ has lived on Kauai for 20 years. I feel blessed to live in such a magical, beautiful place. Over the years I have helped thousands of people find the perfect place to stay on Kauai whilst also advising on everything from places to propose to the best Na Pali boat ride. Now I'm sharing that information here. It's the Hawaiian way. Aloha!