Whether or not you’ve ever visited Kaua’i, the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands, you’ve seen the island many times before. Featured in more than seventy movies and television shows, the island has been tromped over by King Kong, Indiana Jones and big blue Na’vi. Volcanic activity lifted the island up from the ocean floor six million years ago, and millennia of rainfall — amounts on par with the highest on Earth — have carved deep valleys, gorgeous waterfalls and ridges that rise thousands of feet into the air like razors set on edge. (The same ridges were immortalized in the opening helicopter ride of Jurassic Park.)
Today, the island is a permanent fixture on tourist destinations, for some surpassing the need to visit its nearest, popular sibling islands: Oahu and Maui. For the adventurous, the 16-mile Na Pali coastline stuns with sheer cliffs that plunge into the ocean alongside enormous arches, including the famed 90-foot natural arch in Honopu Valley (slide #6). Among beaches only accessible by boat (consider a rigid hull inflatable) the Na Pali Coast also prides itself on being home to one of the world’s most dangerous hiking trails.
Inland, Kauai impresses even further with its central spectacle: Waimea Canyon. Five million years have done much for the canyon’s drama. A gaping chasm over 3,000 feet impresses as far as the eye can see. The two-mile Cliff Trail is worth its price of admission (the cost: finding its obscure trailhead at mile marker 9) for a vertigo-inducing hike right to the cliff and waterfall’s edge.