Kauai, dubbed the Garden Isle, gets the most annual rainfall of all the Hawaiian Islands and features lush jungles and lots of vegetation, which has made it the perfect setting for several installments in the "Jurassic Park" film franchise.
Kauai boasts more than 50 miles of white-sand beach and features natural wonders such as the 3,567-foot-deep Waimea Canyon and the imposing, 3,000-foot sea cliffs of the Napali Coast.
Yet, while there is plenty to do on the island, including ziplining, helicopter tours, hiking and horseback riding, it lags behind Oahu, Hawaii Island and Maui in visitation.
Kauai also has the only navigable rivers in Hawaii and offers some of the best kayaking in the state, including on the open ocean along the Napali Coast, and winding down the Wailua and Hanalei rivers.
With a slate of new air routes, travel from the U.S. mainland to Kauai is getting smoother. Delta recently announced it would be adding a direct route between Lihue Airport and Seattle in December. Last year, Island Air began running six daily roundtrip flights between Honolulu and Lihue. Also in 2016, Hawaiian Airlines launched a nonstop route between Los Angeles and Kauai that operates three times per week. The airport is getting $18 million in renovations, including improvements to the hold room, passenger check-in area and ticket lobby during the next two years.
Spring is a good time to visit the island, as many of the wildflowers are in bloom, and the average rainfall is less than in the winter.
May 1 is Lei Day across Hawaii, and people celebrate the traditional flower strands brought to the Islands from Polynesia. On Kauai, the Lei Day Festival at the Kauai Museum was started 37 years ago by Imralee and Walter Pomroy, and their son carries on the tradition today. The event includes lei-making contests and instruction, food vendors, live entertainment, a silent auction and lei sales. Adding to the festivities, May Day by the Bay at Waioli Beach Park offers live music and entertainment, hula performances, crafts vendors, Hawaiian food and a silent auction.
For travelers planning a visit to Kauai soon, there are a handful of notable property upgrades to take note of, starting with recently unveiled changes at the Aqua Kauai Beach Resort. Also, those who never leave their golf clubs at home will be interested in the upgrades to Kauai's top-flight courses.
• Aqua Kauai Beach Resort: The resort just completed a property refresh that included modifications and upgrades to guestrooms and public spaces. Naupaka Restaurant was redone, with a new menu and earlier opening hours. There is a new deluxe room category, with new granite-top bathroom counters, fixtures, hardwood furniture and in-room technology.
The hotel kept with a Hawaiian plantation feel, and the spaces are adorned in natural colors such as sand, green and blue. The hotel lounge and meetings spaces were also redone.
"Our improved product means we can be a one-stop venue for groups, with great rooms, full food and beverage and conference facilities, great resort facilities and partnerships with companies that can provide car rental, activities and team-building opportunities," said Grant James, Aqua Kauai Beach Resort general manager.
The resort offers a sunrise ceremony, hula performance and lei-making classes, and James said more cultural programming is on tap, along with improvements to the pool area.
• Kauai Shores: Another Aqua-operated hotel on the island, retro-inspired Kauai Shores spent $250,000 on expanding its existing pool, upgrading the pool deck and furniture and installing a hot tub. To make relaxing just a bit easier, the property also installed a '"cocktail hotline" that enables guests to ring the bar from their lounge chairs. The hotel relaunched in 2015 after a renovation of the lobby and other additions.
• Koloa Landing Resort: This resort in the Poipu area is finishing up a $100 million expansion that will greatly enhance its amenities for large groups and meetings. There is a 12,000-square-foot meetings facility, a grand ballroom with room for 1,000 guests and two outdoor lawns that can each accommodate 800 people. The changes aren't all business, though, with the resort adding a 350,000-gallon saltwater lagoon pool featuring cabanas, a swim-through grotto, waterfalls and a poolside bar and grill. The renovations also include 208 new deluxe studios and one-bedroom villas.
• Coco Palms Resort: The Coco Palms Resort was in decline when Hurricane Iniki swept through in 1992 and sounded its death knell. Now the property, opened in 1953 with 20 rooms and sitting on land that was once home to Kauai's last monarch, is scheduled for renovation and reopening.
The property, which was featured in the 1961 film "Blue Hawaii" starring Elvis Presley, will join the roster of properties under the Unbound Collection by Hyatt banner. The renovation project is estimated to cost $135 million and is scheduled to conclude in 2018. The plans for the resort call for a 363-room hotel with three restaurants, banquet facilities and other amenities on the 46-acre plot.
• Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas: This 18.5-acre resort sitting above Anini Beach on Kauai's north shore finished a revamping of its 364 villas, lobby and pool in 2015 and is offering inventive new activities.
The Aina to Aina experience starts with a morning tour of Kauai Kunana Dairy, where guests stroll the tropical orchards and meet a family of goats. In the evening, the group reconvenes for a private chef's dinner featuring ingredients from the dairy and around the island.
For those who need a little more action and brain exercise on their vacation, the Westin Princeville has also introduced a live-action puzzle experience. Participants race against the clock to solve a series of puzzles and reveal the answer to a larger riddle. The game, called the Cure for Island Fever, asks participants to search a mock doctor's lab for various clues.
Hokuala Kauai Resort recently renovated its Ocean Course and improved its practice facility.
• Ocean Course at Hokuala: The resort recently completed a renovation of the course's front nine and expanded the practice facility. It is also in the midst of building a new clubhouse featuring an enhanced pro shop, a lagoonside restaurant and bar and a tennis garden. New grass was planted, sand from the traps was swapped out and some of the holes were redesigned to improve play, according to Hokuala golf club manager Fran Roach.
"We had Jack Nicklaus approve all the changes to the course so we knew it would be up to his standard," Roach said. "We also completely redesigned the practice facility."
• Poipu Bay Golf Course: Situated on the sunny south shore of the island, this course offers a few programs to make fitting golf into your vacation plans a breeze.
The course adjacent to the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa just announced an Ocean Eleven program that highlights some of the course's most eye-catching holes. Golfers can tee off between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. and play holes 8 to 18. The truncated round costs $115, and the fee includes green and cart fees, use of a GPS device and bottled water.
With the Practice & Play program, golfers receive all-day practice facility access with the chance to play the first three holes. Playing the course, along Poipu Bay and flanked by mountains, is also a great way to spot Hawaiian ruins, monk seals, geese, sea turtles and humpback whales.
• Princeville Makai: The third championship course on Kauai sits on bluffs over Hanalei Bay. The course at the St. Regis Princeville Resort was named one of the top 100 public golf courses by Golf Digest in 2016.
Golfers who keep careful track of their handicap can hit the picturesque full course featuring five oceanfront holes, while divot-makers looking for a less challenging experience can book a tee time on the nine-hole Woods Course. Visitors intent on improving their game can get discounts for signing up for three-, five- and six-day packages.
The resort makes full use of the course, offering morning yoga at the seventh hole and sunset group golf-cart tours that whisk guests, cocktail in hand, from scenic vista to scenic vista.