Travel: camping in Kaua'i

I know the news will break your heart, and I apologize in advance: there will be no #FrenchFriday today. As I just came back from an amazing week-long vacation in Hawai'i I'm still unpacking and the 100 degree weather at home makes any activity painful, even keeping my sweaty hands on the keyboard. I've spent a lot of time hanging out in the frozen foods section of my grocery store yesterday... 

Instead of our usual weekly French beauty fix, I want to share a few pictures and thoughts from our Kaua'i trip with you! 
So Kaua'i: this is the northernmost of the main Hawaiian islands, and it's also the oldest geologically. You may know that the Hawaiian islands came out of the ocean because of volcanic activity (and new land is still being created on the Big Island by lava flowing out of Earth's mantle). Well this one was created first, and the volcano that gave birth to it isn't active anymore. Because it's the oldest, the natural process of erosion caused by waves, wind and rain has had more time to carve spectacular landscapes, and Kaua'i is famous for its large canyon, cliffs, ridges and peaks. It's also the greenest of the Hawaiian islands and its lush tropical vegetation earned it the nickname of Garden Isle. 

Looking towards the center of the island: green, mountainous landscape retaining clouds, and countless waterfalls due to the heavy rainfall on the summits. Mount Wai'ale'ale is one of the wettest place on Earth with 452 inches of rain per year on average (that's more than 11 meters).

Limahuli Garden and Preserve, on the North coast, just a couple miles from the end of the road (no road goes all the way around the island, there is an inaccessible area in the Northwest). It's a great botanical garden to visit if you're interested in plants or history, and the scenery is absolutely beautiful. It's also mosquito-infested, so wear long pants or drown yourself in mosquito repellent (more on that later).

Na Pali Coast line. At the very end of the road on the Northwest is the trail head for the infamous Kalalau trail. We only went to the first beach 2 miles in and back, but the difficult, slippery terrain, the elevation gain and the heat made this a challenging hike for me. The trail goes into the wilderness of the Na Pali Coast, seen here from a lookout, with its spectacular cliffs, lush valleys and ridges.

Sunset on Anini beach. Still on the North shore (the most beautiful part of the island in my opinion), Anini beach is one of the safest place to swim on Kaua'i because of the wide coral reef protecting this 3-mile long stretch of sand from the pounding of strong waves. One of the things that makes the North side beaches so beautiful is the tropical vegetation growing almost all the way to the water. 
Several hurricanes and tropical storms passing to the North of Hawaii affected the weather and ocean conditions while we were there, and we couldn't snorkel in some of the places we had planned to because of dangerously high surf. Even on Anini beach, although the waves don't get past the coral reef, the lateral current was strong. We could still snorkel, we saw a multitude of tropical fish and live corals, and I swam with a sea turtle! I wish I had an underwater camera at that time!

Further East, still on the North shore, in Princeville. The black lava rocks remind us of the volcanic formation of Kaua'i, while the view towards the West shows peaks and ridges of the Na Pali coast.

Waimea Canyon: often called "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific". Having visited the actual Grand Canyon last November, I can see the similarities in shapes and structure (pyramidal formations, side valleys, narrow bottom) but of course it's much greener and not as massive. The views are beautiful and vary greatly with the weather.

Kalalau Valley (the end of the Kalalau hiking trail) seen from the Kalalau lookout in Koke'e State Park. The road to the State Park goes up the mountain, past Waimea Canyon, and eventually hangs over the inaccessible parts of the North coast. The view is often obscured by clouds and you have a better chance to see this landscape if you come early in the morning!

Alaka'i Swamp Trail. Another end of the road, another trail. When the road through Koke'e State Park ends at the Pu'u o Kila lookout, the Pihea hiking trail starts. After 2 miles of incredibly muddy, slippery and difficult terrain, it connects to the Alaka'i Swamp trail, mostly made of boardwalk above the bog. The scenery is amazing and different from anything you could have seen before, going through the native rainforest and this high altitude swamp, and the trail ends at a spectacular lookout with views of the North coast (unfortunately it got cloudy very fast after we arrived and I wasn't able to get a picture). 

This was a VERY challenging hike that involved climbing slippery walls of mud and making our way through giant mud puddles, then carefully following a poorly maintained boardwalk with many rotten, broken or missing boards. Some parts also had steep elevation gains with strenuous wooden stairs, and we progressed very slowly. It's about 8 miles round-trip to the end of the swamp trail, and it took us... 8 hours - with multiple breaks including a longer lunch break at the lookout. I slipped and fell on wet rocks once (luckily I landed on my butt but my lower back hurt for a while) and by the end both my hubby and I had bad cramping in our legs, despite drinking over 5 liters of water between the 2 of us (1.3 gallons). While it's really beautiful, I would only advise this trail to fit, good hikers with a steady foot. Waterproof hiking boots are a must, and hiking poles might help.

Hibiscus flower. Kaua'i has a a rich tropical vegetation, with many plants that are considered house plants in the rest of the US growing like crazy in the wild. Most of these plants are not native to the island but were introduced either by the early Polynesian settlers (like palm trees) or the Western explorers that "discovered" the archipelago and the migrants that followed.

Shave ice, an island delicacy! It's shaved ice with fruit syrup, very refreshing in the humid heat.

Chickens chillaxing on the beach. Kaua'i has more wild chickens than inhabitants, they're everywhere, and the roosters start singing long before dawn, around 5am. They have no predator on the island, so they keep proliferating. 

Camping at Anini Beach Park. We decided to spend most nights camping on Kaua'i to keep the cost of our trip low, since hotels are pretty expensive there. There are several County Beach Parks that include campgrounds, and the State Parks also offers camping. In both cases, you'll need to get a permit in advance, but they're very affordable. State Park camping permits can be reserved online, while County permits must be obtained by mail and paid for with a money order or cashier check (see their website, sometimes unavailable). 

While camping by the beach is as cool as it gets, there are a few things that made this camping experience a little difficult:

- the heat. According to locals, the temperatures were higher than normal, and this was probably related to the nearby hurricanes and storms affecting the area. The first couple nights were really HOT and we had a hard time sleeping. Because rain occurs daily in Kaua'i, you still need to keep the rainfly on the tent. We were boiling. Consider renting a tent with a roof-style rainfly that only covers the top and lets the breeze go through the mesh (but you might get wet if it rains hard). There are multiple providers that rent camping gear to visitors, and the prices seem fair.

- the mosquitoes. Somehow we didn't realize that mosquitoes were an issue in Kaua'i, but let me tell you, they're out in great numbers determined to eat you alive. The FIRST day and night, I got bitten really badly: about 80 bites on my legs and arms. I'll spare you pictures of my legs, they look like I have chicken pox... The itching was unbearable and I develop allergic reactions to mosquito bites that cause bruising and swelling. My legs will take a month or more to look normal again! So beware, wear light, long pants and long-sleeved shirts, especially at night, and cover yourself in mosquito repellent. I've tried the natural, citronella-based repellents, but unfortunately the mosquitoes were unaffected. We had to rely on bad old DEET repellents (that cause skin rash on me if I use them daily).

- the noise. Some of the campgrounds are used by locals for family gatherings, and there will be noise, music, and lights until late at night. While I'd love to join a beach-side party if I lived there, it's a bit hard to handle when you're a camper trying to get some sleep after a long day hiking, knowing that the infamous Kaua'i roosters will wake you around 5. We experienced this at Anini Beach Park, Salt Pond Beach Park, and even in the mountains at Koke'e State Park, with noise until at least 2am, week days included. Bring ear plugs, and even a sleep mask if flashlights moving around your tent disturb you. We did not have this issue at Ha'ena Beach Park, probably because the camping area is much smaller.

Other valuable information for campers:

- County campgrounds don't have private showers. The only ones available are the beach showers. They're in large areas enclosed by wood panels, but unless you use them very early or late in the evening, you won't be alone in there, some other visitor will be rinsing off, so you'll have to shower with your swimsuit on. They're not connected to the sewer system, there is no drain, so the water just flows towards the beach and ocean, meaning that you shouldn't use soap or shampoo. Oh and there's only cold water.
- Koke'e State Park main camping area has a shower in the toilet building, and it's also open, offering no privacy. Cold water only here too.
- The County campgrounds are closed one night a week for maintenance (see their website). They're pretty strict and a County employee shows up every morning to check your permits BEFORE DAWN. You better pin it to your tent if you want to sleep.
- None of the campgrounds have assigned campsites. They're all fields where you can plant your tent anywhere you want within the boundaries of the camping area. The later you arrive, the less chances that good spots will still be available.
- All campgrounds have flushing toilets with toilet paper that are cleaned daily from what we experienced.

Have you ever been to Hawai'i, or are you planning to? Would you camp there or are you more of a resort type of person?


  1. If anything could help me with the heartbreak of missing a FrenchFriday, it would be these wonderful pictures.
    I have never been to Hawaii and to be honest never knew much about it.

    1. It's basically a bunch of paradise islands in the Pacific, lol!

  2. You may have noticed that Intense Debate comment system is not active in this post, and the comments already entered through it are gone. I have no idea what happened and I'm very sorry if your comment has disappeared :(

  3. Would love to visit Hawaii - looks beautiful! Some day.. when I win the lotto :-)
    Becca | theBeautyInbox

    1. I guess it's a little far and costly from the UK! San Diego where I live is the "closest" city on the mainland, although it's still 6 hours away by plane, and the plane tickets are really affordable off season.

  4. Kaua'i looks incredible! I hope one day I'll be so lucky as to put your valuable tips to use.

  5. Amazing trip! Great pictures and tips. I had a similar experience with mosquitoes one night in the Philippines but luckily we slept in cabins instead of tents. I've never been to Hawaii before but it's definitely on the list of destinations!

    1. You should definitely go! I hate mosquitoes, useless creatures that turn my life into an itchy hell during an idyllic vacation... I still have scars and bruises :/

  6. Your photos are amazing! Hawaii looks just as beautiful as I had imagined. My husband and I have planned to go in the past, but things always came up. I'd still really love to go, but I'd probably opt for a resort. I love nature and all, but I'm not much of a camper. The hiking seems right up my alley though. The mosquitoes? Not so much. I have an allergic reaction to them too. And out here they bite right through my pants! It's horrible! But at least you got to see Hawaii and have such beautiful photos to look back on. That's so cool!

    1. I don't think they ever bit me through clothing there (I wore long cotton pants and long-sleeved shirts at night despite the heat), so at least they're a little less ferocious!
      Resorts can be expensive but there are also mid-range hotels that provide shelter from mosquito harassment, and you spend all your days outside anyway. If you can afford a luxury resort though it's totally worth it, we went through a few places that looked like paradise!

  7. Hi Lulle H,

    Lovely photos!!!!!liked it so much.:-)


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