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Kauai is the northwestern most of Hawaii's major islands. Nicknamed the Garden Island, it is covered with lush greenery and tropical plants, watered regularly by abundant rainfall. As the oldest of the islands, it has been changed the most by the forces of erosion, and this has resulted in natural wonders such as Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast. As a consequence of its age, Kauai also has more miles of sandy coastline than the other Hawaiian islands.
In many ways, Kauai is different from the rest of the islands. It's almost as if you've stepped into a separate kingdom, and for many years Kauai was just that in relation to Hawaii. Kamehameha I was able to conquer all the islands by force, except Kauai. Two separate campaigns to take the island ended in failure. In the end, it took diplomacy, a royal kidnapping, and an arranged marriage to bring Kauai into the kingdom of Hawaii.
Kauai is also known as the place where the sugar cane industry in Hawaii was born. Sugar was once the industrial mainstay of the Kauai economy but in recent years has taken a back seat to tourism. In October of 2009, Gay & Robinson harvested the last sugar crop in Kauai, ending 117 years of the sugar business in Kauai.
In short, compared to Oahu, Maui or the Big Island, Kauai is smaller, less populated, more rural, and more laid back. That's why it's the favorite destination for many visitors to Hawaii, and for many Hawaii residents as well. Visitors come to explore the island's beaches and natural wonders, but the multitude of resorts on white sand beaches provide ample opportunity to just sit and do nothing if you're so inclined.
Because tourist development reached Kauai considerably later than the other islands, the island has a larger proportion of timeshares, condominiums, and bed and breakfasts. Also, a strict cap on building heights (hotels can be no more than 40 feet high) prevent the development of the mega-resorts and towering skyscrapers found on the other islands. The local rule is that nothing can be built taller than a coconut tree.
One look at a map will show you an important difference between Kauai and the more populous islands of Hawaii: Due to the massive Waimea Canyon and Na Pali Coast, no roads circle the island. Once you've made the drive along the south shore to Waimea and seen the canyon, the only options are to go West on dirt roads to Polihale Beach or turn around and go back the way you came. Same story for Princeville and Na Pali on the north shore. However, the island is compact enough that both ends of the road can be seen in the same day. But the Garden Island cannot be enjoyed or appreciated if you are pressed for time.
Kauai offers a very unique experience also—from the western coast of the island on one of its piers, in the far distance travelers can see the island of Niihau, which is the forbidden island—forbidden, that is, to all but relatives of the island's owners, U.S. Navy personnel, government officials and invited guests. It is often forgotten about because of its privacy so seeing its outline in the far distance is an amazing and majestic experience!
Also know that Kauai is a place where many famous people go to get away. Since it is much less drastic of a plane ride from L.A. in California than it is from the East Coast, this island which is the most secluded, private and relaxing provides getaway homes to many stars, although the normal traveler won't see these celebrities out on the beach, probably because their beach-front properties provide their own private beaches. To get a glimpse of one of these stars, check a nook in the wall bistro. Celebrities like Beau Bridges can be found relaxing with his wife in the island's countryside restaurants.
Also visitors should beware of the fact that along many of Kauai's streets and especially their main highway that there are wild roosters and chickens everywhere! It is almost like the equivalent of seeing squirrels in more eastern parts of the United States, that is how common it is to see wild birds! Also, and quite surprisingly, stray cats are also everywhere in Kauai.