Loved-To-Death Hanalei Bay Kauai Gets Unneeded Exposure

Hawaii Visitor Exodus Chronicles | From Maui to Kauai (Part 1)

This is for those of you wondering what became of the tourists who love and often return annually to Maui. Following the Lahaina fire, the evacuation of Maui, and especially the negative messaging about returning to Maui, they often chose three islands within 100 miles.

Today, we’ll look at why many of them are on Kauai, the Garden Island. Next up, we’ll visit Oahu and the Big Island, to investigate two more places where Maui tourists are heading.

Recent visitor arrival numbers posted for November 2023 show Maui arrivals are down 30 percent. Meanwhile, the other three islands saw a combined increase of 23 percent. Big Island and Kauai also reported increased visitor spending, which, for example was 32% higher for Kauai over a year ago.

In the meanwhile, Maui searches for where to go next. Whether or not it wants the return of visitors in the numbers it typically receives and how to deal with an increased housing shortage, among other things.

While visitors and spending on Maui are down, it’s fascinating that those seeking the more city-beach experience have Oahu to turn to, while those wanting the more rural, even funky experience of Kauai have that worthwhile alternative.

Visitors want a hassle-free Hawaii vacation and looking to the islands where they believe they’ll most likely find what they seek.

Maui visitors like what they find on Kauai.

With fewer than one-half of the residents of Maui and arguably a much more laid-back attitude, visitors are coming. And it has been very busy on Kauai as a result. It will be a while until we have holidays numbers, but we have never seen popular tourist hangouts as busy as this past few weeks.

Compared to Maui of course, Kauai has fewer golf courses, shopping centers, excellent dining, big resorts, and other tourist amenities. But the island makes up for it with spectacular beaches, a remote and natural environment ideal for exploration, fewer visitors, and what they hope will be fewer crowds.

Gridlock traffic on Kauai.

The Garden Island doesn’t have the infrastructure to support more tourism, so it is not surprising that we often find ourselves in very long traffic jams on our narrow two-lane highways. And that’s assuming there’s no accident or other problem like tree triming that can frequently slow or close the highway entirely, at times with nothing to do but park and get to know your highway neighbors.

Whether it is the parking lot at Poipu Beach or Hanalei Beach Park, the resurgence of visitors can be seen at all the most iconic Kauai destination spots. At Kokee State Park, we witnessed an astonishing number of tourists over the holidays. Parking at the Waipoo Falls trailhead was unlike anything we’ve been before. It’s an easy hike and unquestionably one of the most popular on the island.

Oprah helped drive Maui visitors to Kauai.

While Oprah has been one of Maui’s largest and most outspoken landowners over the past two decades, the “Queen of Maui,” Oprah, came to Kauai last year. She fell in love with what she and her friend Gayle King found and shared it with the world. And the world watched and listened.

It is really something special — the best hiking in the country! — Oprah.

So, with hiking Kauai decreed as one of Oprah’s new passions, is it any wonder that the hiking trails on Kauai are virtually overflowing with visitors? Keep in mind that when Oprah shared her love for Kauai, she did so with 23 million Instagram fans.

The State of Hawaii is the state of health. — Oprah

Hiking more than beaches defines what’s unique about Kauai.

While Kauai boasts gorgeous beaches from Polihale on the west to Hanalei and Kee on the north, it is perhaps the hiking that best defines the differences between Kauai and Maui. The best hiking on Kauai offers unforgettable adventures that are otherwise not available. What you encounter when hiking on the Canyon Trail in Kokee is something that isn’t accessible from a helicopter or any drive-up. And many of Kauai’s trails are of an easier variety, making them accessible to more people.

Canyon Trail to Waipoo Falls Kauai

Perhaps one of the best examples of splendid yet relatively easy access to incredible beauty stands out on this trail. This is the trailhead at which we saw more people last week than ever before. We opted not to hike that trail and instead went in a different direction.

This moderate difficulty trail is a fine example of one that most people in reasonably good shape can conquer. And that will be the feeling you get when you reach the trail’s end, with its stunning view from a rocky plateau in the middle of the canyon’s center. You can continue to hike down to the top of the waterfall. That part gets a bit trickier and more interesting. Following prolific rains last month, the waterfall was beautiful and abundant.

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For those seeking more challenging Kauai hiking experiences.

The Awawapuhi Trail in Kokee State Park offers a challenge for experienced hikers in good shape. You start with a sharp 3-mile non-stop descent to a cliff above the Pacific Ocean on the Napali Coast. The views are so incredible that you’ll frequently see and hear helicopters offering it up to these without time or ability to experience it in this way. Obviously, the return is a very steep incline all the way to the top.

From Kapaa, enjoy the iconic Sleeping Giant Trail. On the island’s east side is a moderate hike that’s a perennial favorite of both residents and visitors. Sleeping Giant Trail (Nounou Mountain Trail) starts as a relatively gentle uphill hike that includes but a few steeper areas. It’s very civilized, with picnic tables at the top and great views of the ocean and Kapaa town.

Kalalau Trail Kauai

Ultimate Kauai hiking is found here.

The Kalalau Trail starts at Kee Beach on Kauai’s north shore. You can enjoy it even if only for a short distance since it is laden with spectacular views from the start. The trail continues to Hanakapiai Falls and to Kalalau Beach. While no trail hiking permit is needed for the first two miles, parking permits for Kee Beach, with 30-day advance reservations, are required. We’d say this hike is beyond moderate, especially given how muddy and slippery it can frequently be.

Mahaulepu Trail Kauai

Even Poipu Beach features world-class hiking.

For those visitors staying in the busy Poipu Beach area, there’s great hiking too. The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail is largely oceanfront and features beautiful vistas, rocky outcroppings, and a fascinating cave as well. It begins at Shipwreck Beach and is easy enough that most people can hike some to all of it.

Are you choosing Kauai instead of Maui this year?

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56 thoughts on “Hawaii Visitor Exodus Chronicles | From Maui to Kauai (Part 1)”

  1. I always go to Maui and just spent a wonderful 16 days there November into December. I stay down at Kihei and it is as beautiful as ever. As sad that it is that Lahaina burned there it is just a very small part of the island. I will be back next year.

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  2. We used to love Kauai. And then a few years ago, we noticed more and more pushback from the locals. The beaches were “their’s” and some of the roads had roadblocks Manned by locals, who advised us, we better go back. It seems that the old time Aloha Spirit is now for locals only. We’re happy to spend our money elsewhere

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  3. We have gone to Kauai for the past 17 winters & love it. I highly recommend a boat trip up the NaPali Coast, but not all boats are the same. The best for a smooth ride is with Liko Kauai which leaves from Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor. And the crew & food is terrific, too!

  4. Oprah, on hearing that neighbor Jeff Bezos had pledged $100M to help the people of Maui after the Lahaina Disaster, quickly stated, she was “going to give a substantial amount” as well, this after giving away Pillows at the Kahului Costco that morning. She quickly left for her Santa Barbara-Montecito area home and hasn’t been seen or heard from since on the Island of Maui!

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  5. Last year we went to Kaui and then Maui. We decided to do Oahu, which we haven’t been to in tears, and then on to Maui. The prices for hotel rooms are 3 times what they were when we went last year. This may be the last time for Maui. But, we wanted to give back to the community and will respect their wishes.

  6. My family is going to Kauai. Last year we went to Maui. That’s because we want to get to know more of Hawaii. We first visited the Big Island in 2017. For my 20th anniversary next year we will probably go to Oahu if we can afford it.

    Each subsequent trip over the last several years has been significantly more expensive than the last even though our standard of accommodations and such has not elevated.

  7. Be careful what you wish for! The covid lockdown of 2020 should ring loudly in your ears. That lasted only a few months and the free money ran out. If that condition prevailed for a long extended period, life would change dramatically. And I don’t think for the better. No one on the islands are prepared for the kind of existence that would ensue.

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    1. The natives have lived there for thousands of years. You think if you stop visiting that the islands would crumble? It’s the exact opposite. If less people visit, things will normalize and they wouldn’t have to keep spending on infrastructure and other tourist centric amenities.

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      1. I have a relative named King on the Big Island, I wonder how many “Kings” there are?
        I agree with your statement about the “natives being there for thousands of years”, & I think they not only did just fine before the explosion of tourism, but thrived.
        Granted, they thrived on a simple, but structured existence.
        Take away the only true economy (tourism) in HI & there is not much left, no cars, no AC, no cell phones, no medicine, because these things come with the the influx of tourism dollars.
        Maybe that’s the solution?
        Probably a balance is the answer?

  8. PatG – I agree with you. I’m on two Facebook groups that vacation in the Ka’anapali Beach area of Maui, and to a person, they are commenting about how welcomed they have been in visits since the fire. These visitors are also volunteering, handing out grocery store gift cards to resort staff, and tipping more generously than usual.

    I also wanted to comment about hiking anywhere in Hawaii — we stopped trusting the designations of easy, moderate, difficult, a long time ago. We found them inaccurate and unhelpful when we were younger, and definitely not now in our early 70s!

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  9. West Maui is soon to have the worst traffic in its history once debris removal begins very soon. 133 semi truck loads per day shuttling debris to the temporary dump sit. Adding visitor traffic will only magnify this issue. Let Lahaina Heal!

  10. I do miss Kauai. I don’t miss the roads being crowded. Since I left a few years ago, I’ve only returned once and after 30+ years there, I found it strangely unfriendly. With everyone trying to make B+B of any large closet, I found myself staying at the hostel in Kapa’a. Ok, not bad, I can’t complain. Still a beautiful island but sad somehow. Greed kills aloha.

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