30 Top Things to Do in Kauai, Hawaii During a Cruise

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You are in luck if you are cruising to this tropical gem of Kauai, Hawaii. There are plenty of things to do in such as hiking canyons and rugged mountains. Viewing gorgeous waterfalls and landscapes. Or exploring the only navigable river in Hawaii and of course exploring the local’s culture and food.

Rightly named as the Garden Isle, this island is covered with lush jungles, deep valleys, rugged mountains, and stunning beaches.

It’s no wonder all major cruise lines make a stop here, including Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise Line, and Princess.

As you can see, a visit to this island means lots of activities and fun. But to get the most out of your short stop here, you must plan wisely. Hopefully, this list of 30 things to do in Nawiliwili, Kauai, helps you achieve just that.

Where is Nawiliwili (Kauai), Hawaii?

Nawiliwili named so after the wiliwili trees that used to line its harbor is Kauai’s main harbor. It is located 1.9 miles southeast of Lihue, Kauai’s main town, on the Island’s Northwestern side. Discovered in 1778 by Captain James Cook as Kauai’s heart, it’s the island’s cultural center.

Lying at the mouth of Hule’ia Stream, Nawiliwili is a fishermen’s bay that used to be the island’s main source of livelihood over 300 years ago.

Kauai Port Information

Cruise ships dock at Nawiliwili Harbor, Southeast of the island. Out of all the ships that dock on this island, NCL’s Pride of America is the only one allowed to dock for over 24 hours. The rest can only dock daily within sunrise and sunset.

There are two beaches near the port, Nawiliwili and Niumalu beach park. Head north of the port, to find the popular Kalapaki Beach which is located near the Marriott resort. A vibrant resort area with shops and restaurants.

A block away from Nawiliwili is the Aloha Center, which also features restaurants, art studios, and souvenir stores. This is the go-to place for booking helicopter tours.

The Top Things to Do in Kauai

The best way to explore Kauai is on a road trip. There are car rental places in town. Free shuttles from the port drop you off at the car rental agencies. Or in the shopping district, which features stores such as Walmart, Hilo Hattie’s, Kmart, and others. Let’s take a look at what you can do during a cruise ship port of call.

1. Drive to Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” is one of Kauai’s most popular attractions. Waimea meaning reddish water draws its name from the canyon’s red soil. It is found on Waimea Canyon drive, Southwest of Kauai.

The 10-mile long and 3000 feet deep canyon is covered with green vegetation, brown and red soil, complimented by red dirty waterfalls.  

Stop at the PuuKa Pele and Puu Hinahina lookout points to enjoy spectacular views of deep valley gorges, rough crags, ocean, and mountains. Hike the popular Canyon trail which branches off cliff trail. It will take you roughly 2-3 hours to hike the 3.4-mile roundtrip.

Some of the highlights on this trail include the 800 ft Waipio falls. Another highlight is on the Northern Coast where you will find the Kalalau overlook and Kokee State Park.

2. Visit Kauai Coffee Plantation

Kauai Coffee Plantation is the largest coffee farm in the United States. The plantation has over 4 million coffee trees, planted on 3100 acres making it produce more than half of Hawaiian coffee.

You can take a self or guided tour of the plantation to learn how coffee is grown, harvested, and roasted. Then sample all the flavors of coffee brewed in this farm. With a chance to buy whatever you liked most at the end of the sampling.

Kauai coffee plantation located southwest of Kauai, on the way to Waimea, or Kokee State Park. This plantation is a nice place to stop by, learn about coffee and sample some. The plantation’s gorgeous views alone are worth a visit. The coffee plantation charges a fee of about $60 to tour the plantation.

3. Taste Local food

Kauai has some of the best Hawaiian traditional dishes. Try out Poi a staple food in Kauai, poke, Lomilomi Salmon, Loco moco, or the Kalua pig cooked overnight in an earthen oven. Not forgetting Spam musubi, and Saimin, the most popular comfort food on the island.

You can find these foods in most restaurants on the island. Some popular restaurants near Nawiliwili include Duke’s Kauai, Gaylord at Kilohana, NOM Kauai, Hamura Saimin Stand, and others. With the number of activities available in Kauai, you are bound to get hungry.

4. Check Out the Menehune Fishpond

Menehune Fishpond, also known as Alekoko Fishpond is a freshwater pond that cuts across a portion of Huleia river. It is believed that the fishpond was built in one night by the Menehune people. Menehune are mythical Hawaiian people, believed to be very little in stature and sort of mischievous.

You can view the fishpond from Alekoko Scenic Overlook on Hulemalu road. This fishpond can also be explored with a kayak. Note, however, you can only kayak past the entrance of the fishpond but not into the refuge.

The pond is located near Huleia National Wildlife Refuge, half a mile away from Nawiliwili harbor. You can take a look at the tour here.

5. Float on Wailua River

Wailua River State Park is a lush valley that is best known for Wailua River, Hawaii’s only navigable river. This river is the beginning of many adventures on the island. You can go river tubing, kayaking, motor boating or waterskiing on it. This park is located at Kapaa, the eastern side of Kauai.

Wailua River, Kauai
Wailua River, Kauai

Other than adrenaline-pumping activities, you can hike to two breathtaking waterfalls found along the river. The Wailua and Opaeka’a waterfalls make Wailua state park a very popular attraction on the island.

Another highlight of the river is the geological wonder of the fern grotto cave. Stop at the amphitheater looking cave and take some snaps. In the end, you can enjoy a riverside picnic and buy gifts at their gift shop.

6. Visit Kamokila Village

If you have time to spare or are a history buff. Then a visit to the traditional Kamokila Hawaiian Village will round up the trip to Wailua River nicely.  This 4-acre village is an open-air museum where you can learn about the different traditions, rituals, and lifestyles of the ancient Hawaiians. Find out more details here.

7. Spot the Sleeping Giant

Can you spot the sleeping giant? Located on the west side of both Wailua and Kapaa towns, Nounou mountains are famous for the sleeping giant. A shape of a man lying on his back on the mountain’s crest is what gives rise to the name of the site.

There are two hike trails to the top of Nounou mountains, the east, and the west trails. The east is more hiked and easier than the shorter but steeper west trail.

Though a somewhat challenging hike, it’s well worth it for the rewarding 360-degree views at the top. It takes an average of 2.5 hours to hike this mountain and there is plenty of parking.   

8. Observe the Spouting Horn

One of the most photographed sites in Kauai is the Spouting Horn. It is a blowhole that was formed by years of wave action on the coastline’s lava rock shelf.

Water spouts out of a narrow opening above the rugged lava rock coastline. This can spout as high as 50 feet into the air. Producing a hissing and roaring sound in the process.

There is an interesting story behind the sounds made by the blowhole. According to legend, a giant lizard used to protect the area. It was one day tricked by a young boy to enter a narrow tube, where it got stuck. The breathing and hissing of the lizard are what is believed to be the roaring sound of the spouting horn today.

Spouting Horn, Kauai
Spouting Horn, Kauai

The spouting horn is located on Kauai’s southern coast in Koloa district on Lawai road. It has ample parking and is easily accessible from the parking lot. There are vendors in the area too. You can grab a souvenir or two to remember the place by.

You can spot whales on the drive from Poipu during their season from December to April.

9. Shopping in Kauai

Kauai has as diverse a shopping arena as it’s landscape. There are many shopping outlets strewn all over the island. Which means that whichever side of the island you fancy to explore, you will get something to remember the place by.

Shopping centers near Nawiliwili, include Kukui Grove Shopping Center, Kilohan, coconut coast, and others. You can get plenty of souvenirs, clothing and personal effects from these shopping areas. Get an aloha shirt, jewelry, Kauai crafts and ceramics from any of these places. Some shopping malls like Anchor Cove even offer a free trolley for cruisers.

10. Polihale State Park

Visit the northernmost park on Kauai’s west side. Polihale State Park is a must-visit place while in Kauai. This remote beach marks the end of the northern beaches as it’s bordered by the rugged Na Pali Coast to the north.

Polihale is the largest beach on the island, featuring sand dunes of over 100 feet high. This is a great place to enjoy sunrises and sunsets, a good tan or a picnic. The waters of the beach are not safe for swimming, snorkeling or surfing except at the western edge in the Queen’s pond.

Enjoy incredible views of the Na Pali ridges and views of Niihau (the forbidden island) on the horizon.

A 4-wheel-drive is required to visit this beautiful park.  The 5-mile long dirt road, that leads to the park is difficult to drive on when wet, with some areas spotting deep sand.

This hidden park is located off Kaumuali’i highway south of Kauai. Remember to carry water and food, there are no restaurants nearby.

11. Cool off with Shave Ice

Shave Ice is a popular Hawaiian dessert made up of ice in the form of snow with syrup and toppings. This sweet treat was brought to Hawaii by Japanese immigrants who came to work in sugar plantations.  

Some of the best spots to grab this treat include Rip Tides Shave Ice and Snack in Lawai, Wailua Shave Ice in Old Kapaa Town, Fresh Shave in Kalaheo, Waikomo Shave Ice in Poipu, Wishing Well Shave Ice in Hanalei, Ono Shave Ice in Kapaa Town and Shave Ice Paradise in North shore.

These places serve different types of ice like fine shave ice, classic flavors, tropical syrup, organic syrup and some with chunkier consistency. After a long day in the heat, shave ice is a tasty way to cool off.

12. Go to Makauwahi Cave Reserve

Makauwahi Cave Reserve is the largest limestone cave in Hawaii. This site is important to archaeologist, geologists, and paleontologist due to its abundance of fossils.

The cave is entered through a narrow opening where you have to crawl to get into the cave. Inside the cave is a brightly lit circle opening. The circle opening is surrounded by fossil-rich sedimentary rock that is the basis of archeological explorations.

Located in Kalaheo, this 17-acre living museum preserves extinct Hawaiian native plants and animal species.

It’s a great place to learn thousands of years of history, some dating back to before human colonization of the Hawaii islands. The cave is also a nature reserve with plenty of native flora, a turtle habitat, and a sanctuary for many rare species.

Take a guided tour of the caves which run from 10 am to 4 pm daily. There is no cost to enter the museum but they accept donations.

13. Visit Kauai Beaches

Kauai has some of the best beaches in Hawaii and they are all unique in their own way. Some of the closest beaches to the cruise port include Kalapaki, Niumalu, and Hanamaulu beach parks.

Kalapaki Beach
Kalapaki Beach

Kalapaki is actually one of the most popular beaches on the island and one of the safest to swim in. It is protected from the ocean by a break wall. You can swim, snorkel, and surf on this beach.

However, if you are looking for nicer secluded beaches, you should move away from the port further north or south. Some great beaches on this ends of the island include Poipu, Tunnel, and Ke’e Beach.

14. Explore Kauai Museum

Kauai, Hawaii’s oldest island is rich in history. Kauai museum showcases the island’s natural history in the Wilcox building and a two-story lava rock structure.

The museum features exhibitions, artifacts, interactive displays, and old photographs. The best way to experience this gem is through a guided tour. However, a DIY tour is also allowed and the exhibits showcase detailed descriptions, making it easy to learn.

You can also watch a film, learn about the geological formation of Hawaii Island, Captain Cooks period, and the Hawaiian Monarchy.

The gift shop at the museum has interesting souvenirs and books. For an entry fee of only $15, a visit to this museum is highly recommended.

15. Visit the Kauai Plantation Heritage Railway

Sugarcane farming is an important history in Kauai. Back in the day, it’s was the island’s number one economic activity. There are still hundreds of acres of sugarcane plantations on the island today.

To preserve the rich history and heritage of these plantations, the Kauai Plantation Heritage Railway was built.  This railway cuts through the main sugar plantations of the island.

Set in an old-fashioned-mahogany-made train, the heritage tour of the plantations is one of the most interesting things to do on the island.

There are two heritage railways in the island These are Grove Farm Sugar Plantation Museum and Kauai Plantation Railway Kilohana.  Both located on Kaumualii Highway, Lihue.

These heritage tours feature narrated history by the train’s conductor, riding through acres of plantations and orchards. With brief stops to enjoy the views, feed pigs, sheep, and goats.

At the Grove Farm, you get to tour the old Wilcox home of the wealthy family that owned the plantation. A lot of interesting history to learn here. The home and surrounding buildings are maintained in their original state.

16. Kokee State Park

Kokee State Park is a 4,345-acre plateau, roughly 4200 ft above sea level. The stunning park is located northwest of Kauai, just beyond Waimea Canyon is known for its hiking trails and flourishing vegetation. With over 45 miles of hiking trails cutting and winding through the park’s forests, a visit to Kokee makes for a great day in port.

Hike up to Waimea Canyon view and Kalalau lookout point. Enjoy the incredible views and take advantage of the photo ops. Other popular trails include Awaawapuhi trail and Nualolo trail. These trails take you 3000 feet above sea level for gorgeous views of the adjacent valleys and cliffs.

Kokee State Park
Kokee State Park

Other than hiking, you can enjoy one of the many park festivities such as the Queen Emma festival held every October. Or weave things out of banana vines collected from the banana poka plants.

Kokee also has a natural history museum that provides more information about the park. This is the best place to get an overview of the landscape. Park facilities such as restrooms and picnic areas are available. Kokee has a $5 to $ 40 parking fee.

17.Cycle at The Kapaa Bike Path

Kapaa Bike Path is also known as” Ke Ala Hele Mekalae” which means a path that goes by the coast is one of Kauai’s most popular attractions.

The 7-8-mile long path starts at Lihi Park in Kapaa and ends at Ahihi point. This paved path winds along the coast and makes for a beautiful walk or ride. Mostly used by bikers, the path is also available for walkers, joggers, roller bladders, strollers, and skaters.

Rent a bike and go bike riding along this famous Kauai bike path. Along the path are restaurants like the Kapaa Food Truck Court. Enjoy the food, the gentle breezes, and the scenic views on the horizon. You can also spot whales breaching here during winter and late fall.

18. Kayaking Adventures

Kauai has the only navigable rivers in Hawaii, making kayaking on this island a delight. One of the most popular kayak adventures takes place on Wailua River.

However, there are many other kayak adventures and the one on Hule’ia river is exceptional. It gives you a chance to see waterfalls and fern-covered valleys.

Enjoy a 2-mile downwind paddle on the Hule’ia river. At the river’s shallow water, you will be required to tie your Kayaks. And take a short hike through the lush fern-covered jungle trail to a waterfall and pool.

You can cool off in the swimming hole beneath the waterfall or enjoy the rope swing. In the end, enjoy a picnic lunch at the waterfall. Then head back in a relaxed atmosphere as a motorized canoe takes you back.

19. Explore National Tropical Botanical Garden

You cannot visit one of Hawaii’s lushest islands and not explore its flora. Kauai has a National Tropical Botanical Garden. A not for profit organization that collects, studies and preserves native and exotic plant species in Kauai and Florida.

What this organization has done, is to create beautiful botanical gardens in the south shore of the island. The McBryde and Allerton gardens located next to each other in the Lawa’i valley are simply breathtaking.

McBryde Garden is more of a conservation research area. It has the world’s largest collection of Hawaiian native plants. You can take a self-guided tour to explore Hawaiian native plants. Take a biodiversity trail that explains the evolution of plants from 450 years ago.

Allerton Garden, on the other hand, is a landscape architecture masterpiece that is named as one of the’ 50 places to see in a lifetime’ by the National Geographic Traveler. Take a guided tour of the beautiful gardens. Explore its exquisite architecture and interesting water features. All the while, exploring bright, scented flowers in the garden. You are guaranteed to come out with some pretty instagram worthy photos.

20. Take Helicopters Tour

Kauai’s dramatic landscape is best seen on a helicopter tour. In fact, this is a must-do while in Kauai, because it’s the only way someone with limited time on the port can see all the island’s highlights in a short time.

Another reason to take this tour is that it takes you to places that are otherwise inaccessible by foot or car. A helicopter tour takes you around the island. To the mountains, Waimea Canyon, the scenic Na Pali coast, along the coastlines through the valleys and above dormant volcanoes like Mount Waialeale.

The best time to take a Kauai helicopter tour is in the morning when the weather is calm or during the day for the best lighting. It’s recommended to choose a doorless experience as opposed to a closed aircraft, for the best views and photos. Most of the tours last 60-90 minutes long and the charges vary from $190 to $350.

21. Go Ziplining

Fly over valleys, descend down mountainsides or glide over tropical forests, it’s your pick. A ziplining adventure in Kauai will offer these and much more.

Kauai aptly named the Garden Isle is not short of beautiful landscapes and amazing ecosystems. A zipline adventure is a great way of checking out the island’s highlights from a bird’s eye view. Experience a rush of adrenaline as you zoom past mountains, waterfalls, and over forest canopies.

There are several ziplining adventure companies in Kauai and they all have something for everyone. Of course, they take safety very seriously and in some of these companies you can even combine ziplining with kayaking.

22. Cruise Through the Tree Tunnel

On your way to Kauai’s south shore, to Koloa and Poipu, you’ll get a chance to drive through one of the most scenic highways on the island. The tree tunnel is the eucalyptus lined Maliuhi road, otherwise known as the gateway to the south.

Tree Tunnel, Kauai
Tree Tunnel, Kauai

The eucalyptus trees that line the road on each side, touch at the top creating an archway. A mesmerizing tunnel that looks like a drive from the movies.

The Tree Tunnel is also known as Highway 520. It’s 3-mile long and accessed off highway 50 from Lihue. The eucalyptus trees were planted in 1911 by a pineapple baron. They are 500 in number and have survived hurricanes before.

23. Kauai Waterfall Off-Road Adventure

Kauai is a land of waterfalls. As such, there are many adventures tailor-made to explore these beautiful nature surprises and one of the most recommended is the Kauai Waterfall Off-Road Adventure.

The Kauai Waterfall Off-Road Adventure is a 23-mile off-roading adventure that takes about 4 hours to complete. The ATV tour begins near old Koloa sugar mill and goes through lush tropical forest and the historic half-mile long cane haul tunnel. The tour has a brief stop at famous movie sites, great for photography.

This ATV tour also doubles up as a history tour. It goes to the mountains where you can see World War 2 bunkers and learn about their history.

At the end of the adventure, you can cool off at the Kahili waterfall. Then enjoy a picnic lunch. Remember to carry your swimsuit, towel, and water-friendly shoes. The tour will provide the other needed equipment.

24. Go on a Tubing Adventure

Go on the Kauai tube flumes adventure. The Tube Flumes on the island are 5 tunnels that once irrigated acres of the sugar plantation. Located deep in the green heart of the island is the site of this adventure.

You will take a four-wheel drive tour through Kauai inland up to Lihue plantation.

When you arrive at the launch site you will be briefed about safety and issued with the safety equipment. Then start your tubing adventure. Relax and enjoy as you float down several open channels and tunnels that used to irrigate the plantations.

Wonder at the engineering prowess of ancient Hawaiians, who created these flumes in 1870. Hand digging the canals you see on site.

At the end of your adventure, you will have a tasty picnic lunch and an opportunity to swim in the natural pool that is nearby. This once in a lifetime adventure costs around $116. More details can be found right here.

25. Ninini Point Lighthouse

A quick stop from the cruise port is the Ninini Point light House which was built in 1906.

The white tall structure is hard to miss as it stands tall at the end of a cliff north of Nawiliwili. This is a tranquil place to just relax, enjoy the views, and take in the ocean’s breeze. Though, the lighthouse’s inside is off-limits, it’s grounds offer a 180-degree view of the surroundings.

Ninini Point Lighthouse
Ninini Point Lighthouse

Ninini point is a lovely place to have a picnic. Lay on the warm lava rocks and watch planes, and boats come and go. You can spot whales from this point during winter or late fall. While you are there, take a short walk on the shoreline and check out the outstanding views of the Bays.  

26. Horseback Tour        

Take a horseback tour to explore Kauai. This type of tour will take you through sugarcane plantations, waterfalls, streams, across foothills, past secluded beaches, and bays. Or towards the coast, along bluffs, and botanical gardens.

Some of these tours will include stopovers to have picnics, swim, take photos, and soak in the views. There are a variety of horseback tours on the island. You can choose any horseback tour ranging from short to lengthy tours. Or from gentle to strenuous depending on your needs. This guided tour will take about 2 to 5 hours.

27. Kauai Movie Tour

The beautiful landscapes of Hawaii have long been Hollywood’s go-to place for shooting high profile adventure movies. Luckily, you can explore these sites on a movie tour while in Kauai.

Visit movies sites of Hollywood films and TV shows such as “Jurassic Park”, The Lost World, Six days and seven nights, Pirates of the Caribbean, Fantasy Island, Lilo and Stich, and many others.

There are several movie tour companies. Offering a range of experiences but the most common is watching movie scenes at the exact location they were filmed at. Other than this, the guides give interesting information about the movies and the actors along the way.

27. Take a Photography Tour

Explore Kauai through a camera with a tour which is perfect for photographers. In this tour, you will be taken to picturesque spots and the less seen and photographed areas of Kauai. You will be guided into the best angle and technique to maximize the quality of your photos.

In these tours, you take photos while on a drive, hike, walk, private or even honeymoon tour. You can buy or rent a camera and photography tools that will enhance your photographs.

You can also buy photos from the camera shop. All photo tours are guided by experienced personnel Kauai photographers. Carry with you, your Kauai memories.

29. Explore Na Pali Coast

If you can only do one thing in Kauai, then visiting the Na Pali coast is a must. This 17-mile long coast features sharp rugged mountain ridges, valleys, cascading waterfalls, sea caves, and beautiful tropical beaches. The most inviting thing is perhaps the colors of this mountainous coast. The deep green, with specs of brown against the turquoise blue of the ocean, is in itself an attraction enough.

Na Pali Coast
Na Pali Coast

Na Pali Coast is one of the most difficult coasts to access. You can explore the coast by boat, hiking through treacherous trails or by air. Boat tours can take up to 6 hours. But its all worth it, for the incredible views and features of this majestic coast. Visiting the Na Pali coast is a must-do. Bring your camera, trust us – you will thank us later.

30. Visit Hanalei Valley

Discover where most of Kauai’s famous taro plant comes from on a visit to the Hanalei Valley, on the island’s north shore. The valley is located in Princeville area off of Highway 56.

Look for the Hanalei Valley Lookout, a pull off the road. This is one of the most photographed sites in all of Kauai. And you will get to see why, when you visit.

The views of the valley below covered with taro pads flanked by lush mountains in the background are worth the trip there.

Best Time to Travel to Nawiliwili, Kauai

The best time to visit Kauai is simply anytime. The weather on the island remains relatively stable all throughout the year.

The winter season runs from November to Mid-April. This is usually the high peak season and also the wettest. But that’s what keeps this island lush, so it’s a good thing.

Peak season runs from June to August, it’s good for activities but also crowdy. Low season runs from April to June and September to mid-December. This is considered the best time to visit the island in terms of good weather. It’s also cheaper and less crowded. The island experiences highs of 80 during summer and lows of 60 during winter.

Also Read: Honolulu Cruise Port – Terminals and Guide


There you have it, 30 things to do in Kauai, Hawaii During a Cruise. As mentioned, Kauai is a beautiful green island, probably the most popular of the Hawaii islands. There is plenty to do and this list is not nearly exhaustive. Just take your time, plan well, and book your adventures in advance.

Happy cruising!!

Haiyan Ma
Haiyan Ma
I absolutely love cruising with my favorite ports of call being in the Caribbean. As a former crew member for Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival Cruise Line I can continue my passion by sharing my experiences with readers. Find out more about us here.


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