Part of the Garden Isle’s appeal is its quaint rural towns coupled with their unique gorgeous vistas. One small town seems to slip into another—each with its own island flavor and lovely tropical scenery. Yet nothing is quite as charming as the westside region of Kauai where you’ll not only experience tropical countryside living but the magic of Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks.
As you drive west on Kauai’s Highway 50, watch for the sign to Hanapepe or “Kauai’s Biggest Little Town,” one of the first locales to stop on your westside journey. This sleepy historic town comes alive every Friday night for an Art Night where the galleries stay open late, and food and craft vendors line the street.
Further along the highway, Waimea town is Kauai’s paniolo-themed (cowboy) town. It’s also the location of Waimea Bay where Captain Cook first stumbled upon the Hawaiian Islands in 1778. Parts of the town have remained the same for more than a century and many of its buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Menehune Road, located in Waimea, leads to Kiki a Ola or Menehune Ditch. Akin to the Menehune Fishpond, legend has it that this structure was also built by the mythical race of leprechaun-like people using construction techniques unfamiliar to the Polynesians.
The creme-de-a-creme of sights to see on this westside tour is Waimea Canyon, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” This is one of the most touted visitor attractions on the island. Drive up Waimea Canyon Road, also located within Waimea town, and check out the many natural splendors along the way while heading toward the end of the road and into Kokee. Stop at Kokee Natural History Museum to learn about the area, and grab a hot cup of coffee at Kokee Lodge before witnessing the most glorious view of Kalalau Valley as your last stop before heading back down the mountain.
Back on the main highway, continue heading west and veer toward Kekaha Road where you’ll pass through another country town of the same name, complete with an old sugar mill and one-story, wooden plantation homes. In the past, neatly planted sugar cane stalks fanned out in fields as far as the eye could see here. The nearby Kekaha Beach is a great spot to lounge and take it a colorful sunset.
North of Kekaha is Barking Sands named for the “woof” sound the sand supposedly makes when underfoot. But you probably won’t be able to prove this rumor, as it’s located on the active Navy base, Pacific Missile Range Facility, and you need military clearance to enter.
Photos by Shutterstock; Brett Uprichard