Everyone who visits Hawaiʻi comes with the intention of experiencing the beautiful Pacific Ocean, and most do so by visiting the best beaches around the islands. Indeed, sunbathing in the sand and enjoying a refreshing dip in the ocean is the centerpiece of many Hawaiian vacations.
Of course, we encourage our readers to take it a take farther. The ocean offers more potential than a simple swim, and in the case of Kauaʻi, there are several, unforgettable experiences that you can only have by getting out on the water.
Below, we break down the top water activities on Kauaʻi, including Nāpali Coast boat trips, kayaking adventures, sunset sails, off shore snorkel spots, and, of course, surf breaks of all ability levels.
Related Guides: Looking for a comprehensive and honest overview of water activities on the other Hawaiian islands? We got you! Check out the following guides:
Kauaʻi doesn’t have the quantity of snorkel spots that you’ll find on the Big Island, Oʻahu, and Maui, but it makes up for it with a number of high-quality, unique experiences, specifically along the Nāpali Coast.
In addition to protected areas for beginners and families, and spots for advanced snorkelers with underwater lava tubes, Kauaʻi has a number of snorkel boat tours that explore the vast, undeveloped Nāpali Coast, as well as trips to Lehua Crater, a crescent shaped, small island off the coast of Niʻihau.
Read more: Check out our guide to snorkeling on Kauaʻi, where you can find a complete list of local snorkeling spots (including a map), snorkeling tips, and a list/recommendations for snorkel boat tours.
Kauaʻi offers a range of surf breaks for all abilities on several beautiful Kauaʻi beaches. While winter conditions can be rough and for the experienced only, summer brings calmer conditions and safe, fun waves around the island.
For first-time surfers and beginners, it’s hard to beat Hanalei Bay in the summer. The town is home to several surf schools, the waves are mellow, and the landscape, with its majestic, jagged mountain background, provides idyllic Hawaiian vibes. (Winter, however, brings more dangerous conditions suitable only for advanced surfers). Beginners will also enjoy the relaxed environment at Kalapaki Beach.
Other popular breaks around the island include Kehaka Beach, Kealia Beach, and Kahili Beach. Always check ocean conditions and examine your ability level before paddling out to a surf break. If in doubt, don’t go out.
As with all the Hawaiian Islands, Kauaʻi’s underwater world has much to offer.
While the island’s strong currents limit the number of coral reefs, the island boasts a large amount of underwater sea formations that are fun to explore, including swim-through caverns, volcanic ridges, and lava tubes, home to sea life such as the Hawaiian green sea turtle, whitetip reef sharks, and myriad tropical fish.
Kauaʻi’s proximity to the island of Niʻihau also opens up some unique opportunities. Niʻihau, while not open to outsiders, has some of the healthiest reefs in Hawaiʻi and is reachable from Kauaʻi on a day trip. Niʻihau is perhaps the best place in Hawaiʻi to dive alongside the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, which uses the island as a breeding ground and place of refuge.
Diving is best during the summer months; in winter, conditions around the island get rough and many boat trips cannot be run. Check out the dives offered from Dive Kauaʻi, Seasport Divers, and Fathom Five Divers.
More than 10,000 humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaiʻi each winter to give birth. While most of the activity happens in the ‘Au‘au Channel off the west coast of Maui, there can be sightings off any island during those months, and Kauaʻi is no exception.
From the shore, you’ll be able to spot them from Poʻipū Beach, Kīlauea Lighthouse, Kealia Beach, Kapaʻa, and along the Nāpali Coast (just to name a few!). But we strongly recommend getting out on a whale watching boat tour, as it provides the best chance to see one, and also doubles as a scenic tour. Both Holoholo Charters and Blue Dolphin Charters offer an educational component to their cruises as well.
Read more: Want to know more about whale migration to Hawai‘i? Get more info and insight in our whale watching guide.
Sailing (tours) to the Nāpali Coast and Niʻihau
Sailing and scenic tours, though difficult during winter due to rough conditions, is one of Kauaʻi’s strongest offerings thanks to the beautiful, remote, undeveloped Nāpali Coast.
Stretching for 17 miles, the Nāpali Coast coast offers one of the most stunning landscapes in all of Hawaiʻi, with tall jagged peaks, high cliffs, exotic beaches, sea coves, and deep, beautiful blue water. In our minds, exploring this natural gem is a must-do for anyone visiting the island.
Boat tours also make their way out towards the island of Niʻihau, which is known as the forbidden island and off-limits to visitors.
Tours leave from Hanalei Bay harbor on the north shore or from Port Allen on the south shore. The following are all reputable companies with a variety of tours:
Kayaking is a very popular activity everywhere in Hawaiʻi because of its accessibility and affordability. They are reasonable to rent (price varies, but less than $100 per day) and don’t require a lot of experience to operate. It’s a great way to explore a mix of scenic beauty, shallow reefs, calm water, and playful waves. On Kauaʻi, it’s also a way to explore miles and miles of undeveloped coastline.
Kayaking in the Wailua River State Park
The most popular kayaking destination on Kauaʻi is Wailua River State Park. It’s the largest navigable river in Hawaiʻi, and it’s the most family-friendly place for a kayak tour. Many companies offer tours within the State Park, some a mix of kayaking and hiking. Companies include Kayak Kauaʻi, Aliʻi Kayaks, and Wailua River Kayaking. As most companies offer a similar experience on the river, we recommend price shopping the different rental prices and tours.
Kayaking in the Hanalei river
There’s another family-friendly kayak option up north as well. Kayak Hanalei runs tours and rents kayaks for use on the Hanalei River, an easy downstream paddle that passes through the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge and ends in Hanalei Bay.
Kayaking the Nāpali Coast (advanced)
More advanced adventurers should consider exploring the Nāpali Coast by kayak. You won’t cover as much ground as you will in a motor boat, but it is one of the most beautiful coastlines you can kayak in Hawaiʻi. You can explore the first few miles in a day trip, or paddle out to Kalalau Beach and spend the night. To get outfitted for such a journey, give Napali Kayak a call. They rent kayaks and also offer private tours, including overnight camping adventures.
… or from (almost) any other Kauaʻi beach
Of course, if you’re just looking cruise around offshore of a local beach, that’s an option as well. You can rent kayaks in most of the beach towns, including Hanalei, Kapaʻa, and Poʻipū, and you can launch off just about any beach.
Fishing is a very popular activity on each and every island, as many species of fish cruise the offshore channels. On Kauaʻi, it’s possible to catch tuna, wahoo, marlin, mahi mahi, shark, snapper, mackerel, and many other species.
No permit is required to fish from the shore, so if you feel confident and can bring your own gear, there is endless coastline to discover. Those with less experience or an eye on a bigger prize can go on a deep-sea fishing charter. Many companies offer both private and shared charter options for full or half day excursions.
We encourage you to shop around for the best deal, as you’ll fine close to a dozen companies all offering offshore trips. Take note of boat sizes and be sure to inquire about the type of fish they specialize in, if any.
To charter a boat, check out Ohana Fishing Charters, Hunt Fish Kauaʻi, or Nemesis Sport Fishing, among others. Serious anglers who want to fish aggressively and don’t mind braving rough conditions to reach the best spots should try Hawaiian Style Fishing.
Read more: Before booking a tour, we recommend reading our guide to fishing charters to learn more about fishing in Hawaiʻi. Most significantly, you’ll want to be aware of the policies about keeping your own fish (believe it or not, most boats keep the fish for themselves, even if you catch it).