My 17-year old cousin made her first visit to Kauai, complete with a few squeals and screams whenever she encountered one of the ever-present insects and other creepy-crawly critters.
Autumn’s first exposure to a super-sized island insect was on the Sleeping Giant trail where she spotted one of Hawaii’s venomous centipedes. She let out a quick cry and dashed up the muddy pathway, while I stopped to snap a photo of this ugly “buggah.”
I didn’t make fun of her reaction because I know from experience, you don’t want to mess with these massive centipedes since this particular species (Scolopendra subspinipes) can grow up to 12-inches long, has an extremely painful bite, and highly poisonous venom which has sent some people to the local E.R.
Autumn’s next vocal cord workout came when she spotted a brown cane spider (Heteropoda venatoria) in our cottage bathroom. He was only a 2-inch “baby,” but a spider with a big body and eight hairy legs can be very intimidating if you’ve never seen one before. Cane spiders are super fast, so it took me nearly a dozen tries before I could snag him with a paper towel and take him outside, unharmed, because you should never kill any of the local insect-eaters.
I’m sorry my cousin didn’t get to see one of Kauai’s giant cockroaches (periplaneta americana) because I’m sure she would have shared my revulsion and disgust. There are multiple varieties of roaches on the Garden Isle, but my least favorite are the ones locals have dubbed “B-52 bombers” because these lovely cockroaches not only crawl… They fly!
My cousin heard a firsthand account of the horror caused by these flying roaches at Calvary Chapel North Shore. That’s where the pastor’s wife shared how she was relaxing on her lanai eating some potato chips when a flying cockroach, apparently aiming for her snack, detoured and dive-bombed into her cleavage.
OMG! Of course, Ana Rex says she screamed, jumped up and down, and shook her blouse to get the creepy thing out of her clothing. How grose!
Autumn’s biggest freak out came when she encountered a tiny house gecko in the shower, clinging to her bath sponge. Some people are scared of these harmless lizards, but I think they’re cute and Hawaiians love them because they eat mosquitoes, red fire ants, and nasty cockroaches.
Most geckos come out after dark and make cheery chirping sounds as they cling to windows, walls and ceilings using special toe pads with suction cups. The main drawback is the droppings geckos leave behind after gorging themselves on roaches and other insects during their nightly bug buffet.
During the daylight, you may get to see a colorful gold dust day gecko. We spotted this brilliant green one, with red stripes and blue eyes, at the Kauai Coffee Company plantation. A similar one was seen hanging out by the Moloa’a Fruit Stand, a perfect place for geckos that like to eat ripe fruit and drink nectar, as well as munch on a variety of insects.
I end by writing that this blog isn’t meant to scare anyone, or discourage tourists from visiting Kauai. It’s just a “reality check” that unusually large insects and a variety of tropical critters live on the Garden Isle, so be prepared for them to greet you.
And remember, you can still celebrate the fact there are no snakes here!
I got my license in the rolling hills of West Virginia, so Kauai’s narrow, winding roads don’t freak me out. Still, driving on the Garden Isle is different from the mainland, so here are a few things to keep in mind before you get behind the wheel during your visit to paradise.
Kauai only has two major highways, Kamualii (Rt 50) and Kuhio (Rt 56), which cover about two-thirds of the island, with no automobile access to the rugged Napali Coast. Roadways are mostly single lane each direction, with little to no shoulder, minimal lighting and seemingly arbitrary repairs. The maximum speed limit is 50 MPH, with the average posted limit much lower, so prepare to get into vacation mode and slow down, or face hefty fines.
Aloha Driving: The majority of Kauai drivers are super polite and more kickback than those on the mainland. There are exceptions, of course, but most local motorists yield to pedestrians, let you merge into traffic, and even flash you a shaka when you yield to them at one-way bridges. Honking your horn as a show of impatience is highly frowned upon and will mark you as a rude tourist who pisses off the locals, so only use your horn when there’s a an actual emergency.
One-Way Bridge Etiquette: Kauai has more than a half-dozen one-way bridges on the north shore betweenPrinceville and Ke’e Beach. Local courtesy is to allow 5 to 7 cars to cross before switching directions. The Hanalei Bridge is the busiest, so enjoy the amazing view of the taro fields and surrounding mountains while you wait your turn. The double bridge over the Wainiha River can be tricky because you have to make sure traffic has cleared both bridges before you start to cross. I’ve actually seen cars forced to back-up because drivers started to cross prematurely and came bumper-to-bumper with oncoming traffic.
Erratic Rain: Kauai is a tropical island so it can be sunny one moment and pouring rain the next. Visiting motorists need to adjust accordingly, anticipating the potential for reduced visibility,slick roads, and mudslides. Plentiful showers also help tropical vegetation smother street signs and speed limit signs making them difficult to see.
Contraflow Confusion: Kauai uses a contraflow lane reversal between Kapa’a and Lihue to help reduce congestion during the morning and afternoon rush hours. Here’s how it works: Traffic cones are placed in the middle of Kuhio Highway so the center lane can be used as a second southbound lane in the AM and a second northbound lane in the PM. Driving on the wrong side of the road rattles my nerves because a confused motorist could easily cross the flimsy divider and cause a head-on collision, so I avoid the contraflow traffic zone whenever possible.
Critter Crashes: Kauai is famous for it’s feral chickens and crowing wild roosters, both of which can create driving hazards for the uninitiated motorist. Visitors tend to hit their brakes or swerve to avoid hitting these critters which creates the potential for a serious, or even deadly accident. Personally, I slow slightly, but always chose “road kill” over “people kill.”
Random Repairs: The main highway is actually well maintained considering the beating the asphalt takes during stormy weather. The pavement on side roads and private roads is another matter. Ironically, some of the worst road maintenance I’ve seen on Kauai is in the upscale community of Princeville. Axle-challenging, tire-munching potholes are blamed on an ongoing dispute between developer, Steve Stone, and the homeowner’s association over who’s responsible for maintenance and upkeep.
Rental Car Rules: Be aware that the fine print on your rental car contract prohibits driving on unpaved roads like the ones used to access Larsen’s, Secret and Polihale Beaches. This means you’ll be billed for towing costs and repairs if you break down, or have an accident, even if you buy their supplemental insurance.
GPS Needed orNot? It’s personal preference, but not necessary on a small island like Kauai. If you do use a GPS device, the audible navigation tends to mangle the Hawaiian language, making it a challenge to match the mispronounced words with street signs. I sometimes use Google maps on my cell phone, but there are areas on Kauai where the lack of service means maps won’t load. I recommend a printed map or guidebook for visitors that uses mile markers to help you locate special sites and hidden beaches. My personal favorite is The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook, available online or at the Costco in Lihue.
A vacation on any Hawaiian island can give visitors “sticker shock,” so it should come as no surprise that the “price of paradise” is even more pronounced when you fly to the outer island of Kauai where the cost of living is about double the national average.
Shipping costs, some of the highest gas prices in the nation, plus the most shocking energy prices in the U-S are among the factors adding to the loud “ka-ching” you’ll hear at the cash register. To add insult to injury, a 4% excise tax is added to everything you buy on the Garden Isle.
One of the most noticeable price differentials for visitors from the mainland is the cost of food. I remember my brother and sister-in-law gasping for breath during their vacation when they saw milk for sale in a local supermarket for more than $5.00/gallon, eggs for around $4/dozen and bread for nearly $6/loaf.
Other areas where you’ll suffer sticker shock: –Gas is a buck more a gallon than the mainland average, rental car prices spike when supplies are tight, and you’ll cough up (pun intended) between $10 to $12/pack for name brand cigarettes.
But enough whining about the high prices on Kauai! You’re coming for a visit and hope you won’t get totally screwed, right? I can’t promise a bunch of “bargains,” but I’ll use the rest of this blog to suggest some ways to stretch your vacation dollars as far as possible.
**If you’re a local, or a frequent visitor, feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section below.**
If you’re coming to Kauai for an extended stay with access to a kitchen, you’ll find the lowest food prices on Kauai at the Costco membership warehouse in Lihue. Even if you don’t have a Costco card, the food court is located outside, so you can still stop by for a cheap hot dog, slice of pizza, or chicken caesar salad when you’re hungry.
I suggest you skip some of the generic food you routinely eat at home and try a few of Costco’s local items like fresh opah, pork lau lau, and Kauai coffee. Some of my other favorites include Koloa Rum, macadamia nut kisses and spicy ahi tuna jerky, found in the refrigerated deli section.
Cost-U-Less in Kapa’a is another discount warehouse with no membership card required. They carry smaller quantity packaging and offer a good selection of organic food, local meats and produce. They also carry eco-friendly detergent, cleaning supplies and paper products, with lower prices than the local health food stores.
Walmart, Lihue, has good prices on milk, eggs and other necessities, plus some frozen foods, but no produce.
Kmart, Lihue, has reasonably priced food items and other necessities, plus a small selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, but no ice cream or frozen foods.
Foodland, Times/Big Save and Safeway are the major supermarket chains on Kauai and all offer weekly specials. Note: The Safeway Club Card you use on the mainland, should work on Kauai. You no longer need a “Makai” card to qualify for Foodland’s discount prices, instead, just share your phone number at checkout, and no discount card is required at Times/Big Save. Stores with delis will often offer a selection of local favorites like Huli, huli chicken, poke, and SPAM musubi, pictured at right.
Farmer’s markets are a great way to buy the freshest fruits, flowers and vegetables while supporting local farmers and helping Kauai become more self-sustainable (Sadly, 90% of the island’s food is currently imported). The Saturday market in Hanalei is a favorite among visitors because it includes a spectacular backdrop of mountains with an amazing display of tropical fruits and vegetables that create what I call “edible art.” Smaller, but equally wonderful farmer’s markets take place in all areas of Kauai nearly every day of the year, so I encourage you to put at least one of them on your vacation “bucket list.”
Kauai also offers roadside “honor stands” where you put your money in a jar/box after you select the fruits, vegetables or flowers you want to buy. You’ll also see random cars/trucks parked along the highway with locals selling everything from freshly caught fish, to local honey and homemade tamales.
I don’t eat out a lot, so I’m not the best restaurant critic, but I enjoy several eateries on each side of the island where the food is good and the prices are low to moderate.
West Side: After a day of hiking in Waimea Canyon, I like to stop at Wrangler’s Steak House for grass-fed Kauai beef or seafood at a decent price, plus a soup and salad bar with delicious pickled daikon radishes. I haven’t tried Yumi’s Restaurant or the Shrimp Station, but friends frequent these eateries before and after visits to Kokee State Park and Polihale Beach. Shave Ice might not qualify as a meal, but The Fresh Shave in Kalaheo will rock your world with hand-shaved ice and real fruit juice toppings… Da best! Broke da mouth, bro.
Downtown Lihue: For tasty, inexpensive food, follow the locals to Hamura’s Saimin Stand on Kress Street. I also enjoy Pho Kauai in the Rice Shopping Center where the bean sprouts are locally grown, so they’re crispy and fresh. Mark’s Place, in the Puhi Industrial Park, offers daily specials of “ono” Hawaiian food at reasonable prices. You’ll need a shady place to sleep off the “Polynesian paralysis” after eating one of their generous plate lunches.
South Side: I don’t eat in Poipu very often because restaurants there are pricey, but I have stopped at Keoki’s Paradise for their “early bird” dinner special served between 4:45 pm and 5:45 pm. It’s touristy, but a nice setting for a sit-down dinner that includes an appetizer, entree and dessert for less than $25. If you want to go where the locals go, try Sueoka’s Snack Shop in Koloa, a funky walk-up window serving tasty Loco Moco, kalua pork, and teriyaki beef at some of the cheapest prices on Kauai. The Koloa Fish Market is another local favorite where people line up for their famous avocado and wasabi poke, plus good lau lau and yummy haupia pie.
East Side: I enjoy several of the locally-operated food trucks located along Kuhio Highway in Kapaa. One of my favorite eateries on-wheels is the Defries Family Food Wagon, parked at the Kapaa Boat Harbor and operated by Sandy Defries and her ohana. Great place to “talk story” and eat amazing garlic shrimp, lau lau and shredded pork Loco Moco, with homemade butter mochi for dessert. Monico’s Taqueria is a favorite among locals looking for Mexican food, including awesome fish tacos. Chicken-In-A-Barrel has BBQ chicken, beef and pork smoked in barrels over kiawe wood… Yummy, generous servings. Tege Tege Shave Ice truck is parked in Kapaa just steps from the ocean, serving organic fruit and Japanese green tea shave ice… Killer good!
Anahola Cafe and Saimin Stand: It’s easy to pass this non-profit Hawaiian eatery hidden inside the Anahola Market Place. Open until 10pm Tuesday through Sunday with the saimin, pulled pork, and smoked pork all yummy. As a bonus, there’s a small white tent next to the cafe that sells the best huli huli chicken on the island, fire-grilled over local kiawe wood.
North Shore: Common Grounds Cafe, Kilauea, is now closed. Bummer! You can still take a 5-mile hike around the farm, following the Wai Koa Loop trail to the stone dam and waterfalls. The Kilauea Fish Market, across the street from Ching Young Village (Closed on Sundays) serves super fresh fish wraps, tacos or plate dinners for about half-price of the fancy sit-down restaurants. When I was low on cash, they even allowed me order from the kid’s menu! If you’re hungry for Mexican food, Frederico’s in the Princeville Center has great carnitas and a different aqua fresca fruit juice every day. Headed to Hanalei and want to try some taro? Stop by the Hanalei Taro and Juice Company food wagon for a variety of organic vegetarian food selections. Village Snack and Bake Shop in the Ching Young Village is a local breakfast favorite. Tasty food with slow service that will help you get in the pace of life on Kauai… Lol.
The Garden Island Newspaper uses volunteers to post current gas prices. Costco has the lowest prices with unleaded gasoline usually $.025 to $.045/gallon cheaper than any other station on Kauai. If you don’t have a Costco card, gas prices in Lihue are next best, with prices about 5-cents/gallon more as you drive to the north or south. Try to avoid buying gas at the Princeville Chevron station where prices at the last gas station on the north shore are jacked super high.
Book early! There are a limited number of rental cars on Kauai, so prices spike during spring break, peak summer months and over the Christmas/New Year’s holidays, and theyoften sell-out well in advance. Even if you line-up a competitive rate, the state of Hawaii has mandatory taxes, fees and surcharges which can nearly double the price you’ll pay for a rental car. Ouch! Taxes and fees are highest at the Lihue Airport, so an off-site car rental company can save you some big bucks. Discount Hawaii Car Rental is a no fee booking company which has a good reputation for tracking down the best rates from a variety of rental car companies.
If you don’t care about driving a shiny new Mustang convertible, a major cost-saving option is to rent an“island car” from the Kauai Rental Car Company. You’ll roll like a local in an older model vehicle that’s likely to come with a faded paint job and a few rust spots.
A true bargain on Kauai is the county bus system. Despite gas prices close to $5/gallon, the fare for a ride on a clean, air-conditioned bus is only $2 per boarding; $1 for seniors/children; $35 for a monthly pass. Use of the bike rack on the front of the bus is free. Buses run once an hour weekdays; every two hours weekends and holidays.
So many options on Kauai, from the funky oceanfront Beach House Hostel in Kapa’a for as little as $40/night to the 5-star St. Regis in Princeville where an ocean view suite runs more than $600/night in the off-season. Kauai also has a variety of public campgrounds where you can sleep under the stars for $3.00/night per adult.
Before you book a reservation, you should decide which part of the island is best for you and your personal preferences. The south coast is the most popular with tourists due to Poipu’s great beaches, drier weather and broad choice of hotels and condos. The north shore has awesome beaches too, with a wetter climate that gives the mountains around Hanalei, Princeville, and Kilauea the lush tropical landscapes Kauai is known for. The east side gives guests a central location and some of the lowest accommodation prices on the island. The west side is somewhat isolated and tends to be drier and more barren than the rest of the island.
There are lots of online sites like Expedia, Kayak and Tripadvisor where you can do comparison shopping for the best hotel prices on Kauai. A multitude of realtors offer vacation rental assistance, Craigslist has a special section for vacation rentals and VRBO allows you to rent a private home or condo directly from the owner.
My personal experience is that Kauai still has an abundance of the “Aloha Spirit.” This tendency to treat people kindly and take everything in stride, without getting overly upset, was particularly evident during preparations for what was expected to be back-to-back hurricanes in early August.
As Iselle and Julio were bearing down on the Hawaiian islands, Kauai residents took precautions, stocking up on food, water and gasoline. Lines were long, but tempers didn’t seem to flare at any of the grocery stores, hardware stores, or gas stations where I stocked up on supplies.
In fact, some people went out of their way to make sure everything went smoothly. I even saw a local resident at the Shell station in Kapa’a get out of his car and become the unofficial traffic director. He calmly guided cars to the pumps in an orderly manner and politely directed a lady who was blocking a motorist’s exit to back-up and get in line with the rest of the very patient motorists.
There were a few nervous tourists who complained about long lines and empty shelves, but most of the kama’aina (locals) just calmly accepted the fact that supplies are limited on this remote island and that replacements wouldn’t arrive until the ports reopened.
Before I arrived on Kauai, the only thing I knew about “Aloha,” was that this Hawaiian word meant both “hello” and “goodbye.” Since then I’ve come to understand, there’s a deeper meaning behind this common greeting that’s an integral part of the local lifestyle.
Did you know this special “Spirit of Aloha” is an actual law on the books in the State of Hawaii? Revised statute 5-7.5 describes it as the working philosophy of native Hawaiians.
(a) The Aloha Spirit is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the Self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, Aloha, the following unuhi laulâ loa (free translation) may be used:
A – Ahahai, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
L – Lokahi, meaning unity to be expressed with harmony;
O – Olu’olu, meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
H – Ha’ah’a, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
A – Ahonui, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
I’ve seen the “Aloha Spirit” in action on Kauai even before the recent storm preparations. A paddle-out for a 23-year old man, killed in a car accident in 2012, demonstrated a unity of love and affection when hundreds of surfers joined Bruce Perdue’s family at Kalihiwai Bay to scatter his ashes and celebrate his life.
My personal favorite is the “Aloha Spirit” I experienced at the Kauai County Office of Motor Vehicle Registration. I won’t give too many details because I’m sure the employee who helped me out “bent” the official rules on my behalf, but here’s the gist of what happened:
I was driving a car registered to my now ex-husband, who left Kauai 90-days after our arrival on the Garden Isle. I drove to Lihue the day before the registration expired and explained to the clerk I didn’t have the required signature on the application form. She asked when my husband was expected to return to Kauai and I told her the truth: “Maybe never,” I said.
The clerk had a sympathetic and knowing look in her eyes, like she’d heard this sad story before.She hesitated momentarily, then turned to her computer and began typing. “I’m not supposed to do this,” she quietly said, as she processed the registration without my husband’s signature. Then, she handed me the necessary tools to replace the Scion’s old California license plate with a brand new Hawaii plate.
I mailed the registration application to my ex that same day, got his signature, and returned it to the attention of this helpful clerk who embraced me with the “Aloha Spirit” by showing compassion for a stranger.
Even now, I say, “Many thanks!” or mahalo nui loa for this exceptional kindness.
I have to make a disclaimer upfront. I’m a light packer no matter where I travel because I don’t like to check my luggage and pay baggage fees. With that said, the following list is for the “minimalist” who doesn’t want to bring a bunch of stuff to Kauai that they’ll never use during their vacation.
Suggested necessities for a week long visit on Kauai:
–Start with a small suitcase or duffle bag that will fit in the overhead bin, plus a backpack.
Backpack can double as your beach bag and it’s handy for day hikes on Kauai’s many trails to carry water, snacks, and a rain jacket.
I suggest tucking a small purse or fanny pack into the backpack for your wallet, airline tickets, keys, etc. The cotton print mini-shoulder bag, pictured here, is locally-made and runs less than $20.
–-Swimsuit/bikini. Assuming you have space, it’s nice to have two swimsuits if you plan to swim, snorkel, or surf every day. Good news: If your swimsuit is shot, you can buy one year-round on the Garden Isle. You’ll find inexpensive suits at Costco, K-Mart and WalMart. You’ll also find pricey designer suits at local surf shops and specialty stores.
A rash guard is nice because it provides extra sun protection, so bring one if you own one because they’re kind of pricey on Kauai where they rarely go on sale.
–2 pairs of shorts, Bermudas, or capris.
–1 pair of long pants for cool evenings and/or hiking.
–3 T-shirts/tanktops. Pack less if you plan on buying one of Kauai’s “Red Dirt” shirts, or other souvenir T-shirts. Yeah, for real… You can buy a shirt dyed with local dirt. A YouTube video shows how “Kauai’s Red Dirt Shirts” are made at a local sportswear company in Eleele where the tradition began after Hurricane Iniki stained the inventory.
–Ladies: 1 or 2 sundresses. They make great swimsuit cover-ups and can double as your “dress-up” clothes. They can be purchased for cheap at WalMart, Costco and a variety of flea markets in fun tropical prints.
–Men: 2 casual shirts/polos. And, yes! Hawaiian-print shirts are popular here. Even Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho has a collection.
–Lightweight hooded rain jacket. Average temps on Kauai range between 75 to 85 year-round with the possibility of daily rain showers and the potential for strong winds and heavy rain in the fall and winter months when a trip to Kokee can be chilly (sometimes 10 to 15 degrees cooler than temps at the bottom of the hill).
–1 pair of flip flops/thongs. Locals call them “slippahs” and they are the universal shoes on Kauai, so it’s OK to wear them to restaurants, church, etc. If you don’t own a pair, you can buy them nearly everywhere on the Garden Isle, including WalMart, Kmart, local surf shops, even at most grocery stores and some gas stations.
–1 pair of sturdy tennis shoes, lightweight boots or Teva-type shoes for hiking. These shoes are guaranteed to get stained by Kauai’s red dirt and/or red mud, so don’t bring those nice new ones you want to keep sparkly white.
–Socks. Same warning as above… Stains guaranteed.
–Underwear, as needed.
–Cell phone. Reception can be sketchy on Kauai, and non-existent on the North Shore past Hanalei, on the West Side in Waimea Canyon, and on most remote beaches. Still, a great way to take photos, check Email, and brag to your friends on Facebook that you’re hanging out in paradise.
–Toiletries. Most hotels provide you with sample-size goodies. If you’re staying in a private home or condo, it depends on the owner. Full-size necessities are available at a variety of local stores.
Be sure and buy some sunscreen after you land, and use it, because the trade winds can fool you and make you forget that the sun is still cooking you when it’s cool and breezy. I’m a mosquito-magnet, so if you also tend to attract those nasty little blood-suckers, you’ll want to buy some insect repellent and keep it handy, especially when you’re outside at dusk.
Ladies: No need to overpack your cosmetics bag because heavy make-up melts in the tropical heat if you’re hanging out at the beach all day.
My daily beauty routine: Tinted moisturizer with 15 spf sunscreen, and waterproof mascara. I add waterproof eyeliner and lip gloss for “dress up” and evenings out.
Most hotels and private rental condos/homes provide hair dryers, but wash and wear hair works best when you’re in and out of the ocean multiple times a day. A lot of locals have long hair which they pull back in a ponytail or bun. I sometimes sweep mine back with real or silk flowers.
Wash & Wear Hair:
Some generic tips if you have trouble packing light: Wear your heavy shoes/bulky clothes, pack neutral interchangeable colors so you can mix or match. Take a vacation from toiletry gadgets (Electric shavers, hair dryers, etc) and buy “cheap” stuff like sunscreen and shampoo locally.
There’s a much quoted phrase in the travel industry: “Pack half the clothes and twice the money.” Pretty good advice for your visit to Kauai where prices of food, gas and activities can cause some serious sticker shock, but that’s the topic for another blog.
Almost forgot the most important tip of all… Pack your luggage light, and leave your “baggage” at home. Seriously, Kauai is a remote island that offers stunning beauty, multiple locations to relax and discover tranquility. If you need a tourist mecca with every imaginable amenity, best to head to Oahu and hangout in Honolulu.