The Beaches of Kauai – Swim, Snorkel, Surf, or Simply Sunbathe

Lifeguard station and one of the picnic ramadas at Salt Pond Beach


Kauai, HI

As I write this, my wife Lynn and I have returned to Fargo for the Christmas holiday. Compared to the last couple of days, it’s a balmy 2 degrees F (-16 C). Snow flurries are drifting slowly by the window, settling on the large evergreen tree in the yard. The scene outside our window is worthy of a Currier and Ives lithograph. Even so, there could be no better time than for me to reminisce about tropical breezes, golden sand beaches and shimmering blue waters. This week’s gallery of photographs features some of the beaches on the island of Kauai.

While visiting the island, we stayed with friends in the town of Kalaheo, located near the south end of the island, a 25 minute drive from the commercial airport at Lihue. Before I get too wrapped up in waxing profoundly on the beach lifestyle, every year a small number of tourists find their Hawaiian vacations end tragically due to their inability to handle the dangerous surf conditions that often occur along the island beaches. A wise tourist will be selective, by choosing to do other things when conditions at the beach are challenging, and by selecting public beaches where lifeguards are provided.

Salt Pond Beach Park

Probably the closest beach to our friend’s place at Kalaheo is Salt Pond Beach Park at Hanapepe. The beach is equipped with a lifeguard station, and features a sheltered area where small children can swim and play safely, protected from the bigger surf. If snorkeling is your thing, you will enjoy the views of the plentiful undersea life.

A protected cove and shallow pools provide for a safe family outing at Poipu Beach Park

A short drive east of Kalaheo will reward you with another popular swimming and snorkeling beach at Poipu Beach Park. There are two areas of beach, separated at low tide by a long sandbar that leads to an outcropping of volcanic rock. Lifeguards and a shallow pool for the small children ensure a safe and fun swim can be had by all.

My friend and I even spent one morning in the company of an old fisherman who graciously loaned us fishing gear, and we found ourselves casting from the rocks. Our fisherman host was kind enough to supplant our catch with his own so that we could bring home enough fish of several different varieties so that everyone in the household could sample our seafood lunch. We did not overeat, as the portions weren’t very large, but they were quite good eating.

A monk seal suns himself on the sandbar at Poipu Beach. Photo courtesy of Walt Vollmers.

My opinion of the quality of Poipu Beach is reinforced by regular visits of Monk Seals that regularly sun themselves on the sandbar or along the beach. Volunteers provide “crowd control” so that the Monk Seals are not disturbed by curious human paparazzi.

Looking south at Kealia Beach

Continuing east and then north along the highway that, save the west side, rings the island close to the shore, there are many fine beaches to visit. If you’re looking for a more challenging beach where you can surf or boogie board, Kealia Beach, near the town of Kapaa, has lifeguards on duty.

Looking north at Kealia Beach

Be mindful of the warning flags, however. Riptides and high surf are common occurrences at Kealia. The beach is very long, and the lifeguard station could be quite a distance from where you might get into trouble.

Ne’e Beach is a popular spot on days when the surf is high, but on the day of our visit, the calm sea meant relatively few visitors

If you travel the highway all the way north and then west to the end of the road at the rocky Napali coast, you will arrive at Ke’e Beach. The surf here at the northwest end of the island can be very large and there are areas near the rocks and reefs that are reputedly excellent for snorkeling. The beach has a lifeguard station, and is very popular. The parking areas are quite small, so be prepared to walk some distance from your car to get to the beach if you are lucky enough to find a place to park.

A couple strolls along the beach enjoying the view of the Napali Coast from Ke’e Beach

On the walk to the beach, you can check out the mouths of some very deep and dark caves. Adding to the parking issue, the area is also popular with hikers as a very challenging hike on the 11-mile Kalalau Trail begins only a short distance from the beach. The climb is difficult, but those hikers with the stamina to complete the hike are rewarded with beautiful views of waterfalls, the Napali Coast, and the beaches far below.

Kekeha Beach was undisturbed during the early morning hours of our flight

Switching gears, going back to the southwest of Kalaheo, my photo gallery concludes with aerial views of two beaches. These photos were taken by the automatic camera that provided me with a photo journal of my flight in a weight-shift controlled ultra-light aircraft. Kekaha Beach Park is located in a section of the 15-mile long sand beach. The southwest shore of Kauai is a favorite of surfers and this beach is best left to experts and professionals, especially in high surf conditions.

At the north end of the military base lies the Barking Sands Beach

The Pacific Missile Range Facility is located at the southwest “corner” of Kauai. West, along the military base’s runway, and south along the shore, you will find the Barking Sands Beach. Access to the area, however, is limited to those in the military and their “invited guests”. Those with a military ID and their guests and families can even rent cottages on the base. If you like your privacy, have the appropriate credentials, and you don’t mind a long drive to the “hustle and bustle” of the other tourist areas on Kauai; you might find the accommodations to your liking. Obviously, our aircraft was required to obtain permission from the military air traffic controller prior to being invited into the special use airspace. The facility is, after all, a missile range. We would have been an easy target for the arsenal housed at the base.

The gallery of beaches featured here is by no means exhaustive. It is quite arbitrary and features only beaches that Lynn and I visited. You may find that I missed your favorite beach. If so, leave a comment, I’ll be sure to put it on my list for the next time we visit Kauai.

John Steiner

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2 thoughts on “The Beaches of Kauai – Swim, Snorkel, Surf, or Simply Sunbathe

  1. Pingback: But I Digress – Happy New Year!! | Journeys with Johnbo

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