The Gift of Rain: A Perfect Rainy Day on Kaua‘i

what to do in kaua'i
Images by IJfke Ridgley

What to do on a grey day on the north shore of Kauaʻi.

Driving along Kuhio Highway on the north shore of Kauaʻi can seem like an endless journey with no destination. In stark contrast to the wide expanse of flat, red dirt on the west side of the island and the sizable cities of Līhuʻe and Kapa‘a on the east, the north shore is dominated by wet, breathing jungle.

The road curves through miles of dense greenery from Kīlauea to Hāʻena. Flanked by dramatic mountains, one catches glimpses of the coastline before reaching the road’s end at the base of the towering Nā Pali coastline.

Even Princeville, with its combination of resorts and a strip mall, passes in the blink of an eye. But if you are looking for action, you are missing the point: precisely, all that nature.

Garden Isle

The daily rainfall, especially on the north shore, is what keeps everything lush on the Garden Isle. In the winter, high surf pounds the coastline and morning showers can turn into weeks-long deluges.

Flash floods, originating in the mountains, rage through the numerous streams and valleys, and locals watch the water level to make sure they won’t get stranded—when the Hanalei River reaches eight feet, the bridge between Hanalei and Princeville closes.

While summer brings calmer seas and drier weather, sunshine is never guaranteed on the island that is home to the wettest place on earth, Mount Wai‘aleʻale.

On Kauaʻi, drizzling and downpours are a year-round phenomenon. So when you’re here, don’t be afraid to get a little wet. Here are some ideas to beat the rainy-day blues:

Take in the Views

Follow Kīlauea Road through Kīlauea town to its end at Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. On the way, stop for some roadside provisions at Eden’s Garden Stand, which holds fresh, organic produce like mandarin oranges or lilikoʻi—simply leave money in the box in exchange.

Hike to the lighthouse on the tip of the peninsula to view the north shore scenery and perhaps even spot some humpback whales during the winter months. The refuge closes at 4 p.m. (and is also closed Sundays and Mondays), so before sunset, head down the road to the former St. Regis Hotel in Princeville.

Have a drink on the lānai overlooking Hanalei Bay and iconic Mount Makana, also known as “Bali Hai” from the movie South Pacific. This area is also the starting pinnacle of the dramatic Nā Pali coastline.

Think Green

The north shore of Kauaʻi is at the top of every outdoor fanatic’s must-see list, as it serves as the jumping off point of the legendary Nā Pali coastline.

Miles of velvety green peaks and valleys, folded as tightly as an accordion, wrap around the northwestern corner of the island and plunge directly into the ocean, leaving the famous Kālālau Valley accessible only by hike or boat. Where the road ends at Keʻe Beach, just after Hāʻena, the Kālālau Trail starts.

The 22-mile-roundtrip hike is arduous and takes planning—you must factor in camping, supplies, permits, dangerous conditions, and weather—and is not for the amateur hiker.

For Amateur Hikers

However, if the weather holds, even beginners can try the first section, the four-mile-roundtrip hike to Hanakāpīʻai Beach, which can be completed in a day. Start off with an early meal at Hanalei Bread Company, with items like fresh-baked pastries and warm breakfast biscuits.

Pack a few of its burritos for the perfect mid-trail snack. A nice hike for a drizzly day is the ‘Ōkolehao Trail, which begins just after the Hanalei bridge.

The two-mile trek passes high above Hanalei and offers views of the bay. Beware, the trek will be muddy and steep. Those who prefer a casual stroll should instead head to the Limahuli Botanical Garden.

Tucked in next to Mount Makana, the garden focuses on plants native to the islands or significant to Hawaiians. Entrance costs $20, and the garden is closed on Sundays and Mondays.

Get Active

When most of the north shore is encountering huge swells and rip currents, there is one beach that remains decidedly calm: ‘Anini Beach, located halfway between Kīlauea and Princeville.

Here, a long stretch of sand in a residential neighborhood is flanked by a fringe reef that keeps out the waves. You are already wet, so why not go snorkeling? Even during a drizzle, the water is clear and calm, and there is plenty to see.

Another activity that is great for a rainy day is a tour of the placid Hanalei River via stand-up paddleboard or kayak. Rent a vessel in Hanalei—you can’t miss the signs advertising this along the road—and head upstream under the Hanalei Bridge and along lush banksides of taro fields and coconut trees. You may also spot the occasional nēnē, Hawaiʻi’s endemic goose.

It’s a great way to see the part of Hanalei not visible from the road, and to get a core workout while you’re at it. For lunch, pick up a poke bowl or maki roll from Sushi Girl in Hāʻena, which serves healthy takeout meals made from fresh fish and local ingredients.

Next door to this adorable stall is the equally picturesque Wainiha General Store, the last stop for shopping before the end of the road.

Have a Drink

When the weather isn’t cooperating, there is nothing a cocktail (or three) can’t fix. Bar Acuda is the closest thing to a swanky cocktail bar in Hanalei, with its tasty tapa menu and extensive wine list.

For a more laidback island vibe, Tahiti Nui in Hanalei hosts good crowds and live music among décor reminiscent of a thatched tiki hut.


Caught in Princeville? Nestled in a strip mall is a gem of a tiki bar, Tiki Iniki, complete with the requisite kitschy interiors and rockabilly bartenders.

The lively establishment also has full menus served from daybreak to midnight featuring ingredients sourced from local farmers—and of course, it also offers all your favorite tropical drinks.

Be sure to try the Iniki, the signature cocktail named after the 1992 hurricane that decimated Kauaʻi, which is served in a tiki tumbler and topped with a broken umbrella.

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