Kauai: Insider's Tips

Nature buffs will be well rewarded if they venture off the beaten path and discover the hidden beauty and diversity of Hawaii's northernmost island paradise, according to Thaddeus Latay, concierge for the Hyatt Regency Kauai.

"Everyone knows about the helicopter tours of Waimea Canyon -- the Grand Canyon of the Pacific -- but in that general area, there's also really good hiking," says Latay. "The Audubon Society gets very knowledgeable volunteers to track our local birdlife, usually in the summer months. This is a really great opportunity for Sierra Club-type people to go along and get to see and enjoy our local birdlife and nature."

Latay says that interested travelers can obtain a schedule of the Audubon hikes from the HVCB's Kauai chapter.

"Also, Kauai Mountain Tours does a four-wheel drive trip that goes not on the standard paths but on Kauai's back roads. People feel as if they're in a wonderful jungle-like environment, but mainly, they get into the thick of things. I always recommend one particular guide, Francis Keao, because he's versed in Hawaiiana to the max."

The Na Pali Coast is admired by visitors for its great beauty, but for Hawaiians, who believe that their ancients reside in the coastline, it has added meaning.

"Once a year -- usually in the summer months -- I go on a four-and-a-half-hour hike to the 300-foot Hanakapiai Falls to commune with the spirits and meditate," says Latay. The falls are near the Na Pali Coast and can be reached by a two-mile trail that starts at the beach.

"The scenery here is very lush, but the hike is difficult and not for beginners, especially the second half," says Latay.

Visitors with more down-to-earth interests, like shopping and dining, can still enjoy their favorite pursuits while discovering Kauai's lesser-known spots, says Latay.

"There's a shop in the Kukui Grove Mall that specializes exclusively in products made on Kauai. Also, the Kong Lung store in Kilauea has a good selection of wood carvings for people who want to buy something nice but don't want to spend $500 or $600."

For vacationers who want to dine where the locals go, Latay recommends Tahiti Nui, a local-style restaurant, with music, on the North Shore; the Aloha Diner in Wailua, an informal spot that serves traditional Hawaiian food and prepares takeout for picnickers, and several good inexpensive seafood eateries, including the Fish Express and the Koloa Fish Market.

"These places are all good and moderately priced," says Latay. "You can have a big lunch for $5."

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