It’s hardly the Garden Island as it’s often referred to. It’s the wild isle, with all the mountains, waterfalls, rainforests, craggy promontories and feral grasslands (only three percent of the island’s 552 square miles is developed). But Kaua'i likes to show its tame side—now getting that much more refined with the reopening of the St. Regis Princeville, the advent of its own boastworthy JeanGeorges and some of the best golf courses in the Pacific.
“We have a lot of new products. We have not slowed down. A lot of people are visiting; Disney is about to start shooting a new “Pirates” film this summer; we are getting new airlift to the island. It’s a very exciting time for Kaua'i,” says Sue Kanoho, executive director for the Kaua’i Visitors Bureau.
The island had an overall 9 percent drop in visitation numbers last year, something Kanoho is not shedding tears over, given the precipitous drops in tourism worldwide and the deeper falls suffered by other destinations. Rather, the island is gearing up for better times ahead—with a roster of new products, tours, activities and hotel stays generating a buzz and becoming new reasons to visit Hawaii’s northernmost and oldest island. The following is a sampling of what’s new and noteworthy in this garden paradise.
The St. Regis Princeville opened in October after a $60 million top-to-bottom redo that moved the decor from Asian motifs to more regional and muted Hawaiian themes, renovated the pool and created a signature spa. The new-do also lets Chef Vongerichten and his team handle the menu for JeanGeorges, whose stunning venue overlooks Hanalei Bay. The 10,000-square-foot Halelea Spa focuses on treatments inspired by native Hawaiian healing rituals. The property offers 252 guest rooms, five restaurants; 12 meeting and conference rooms; two golf courses and multiple pools.
Several ongoing packages can be booked at the St. Regis. Among them is a spa package that starts at $410 for a garden room and includes two 60-minute spa treatments per night per room from a select menu. Agents should call 866-716-8140 and mention promotion code XRS.
Ko’a Kea Hotel and Resort, formerly the Po’ipu Beach Resort, is now open with remodeled rooms. There is a host of new amenities, including Wi-Fi throughout, a complimentary departure lounge, twice-daily maid service, business and dry cleaning services, and a resort spa and fitness center. It also opened Red Salt as one of the island’s new signature dining spots. The menu is the work of Executive Chef Ronnie Sanchez who hails from Spain’s elBulli—a Michelin three-star restaurant. Rooms are available for rates starting at $299. Po’ipu Beach is on the southern tip of the island, an easy and convenient 15 minute-drive from Lihue Airport. Agents should call 808-828-8888 for more information.
Film buffs, Johnny Depp fans, and “Pirates” aficionados will want to venture to Kaua’i this summer to watch Disney in action as they film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The island has served the film industry well in its role as the backdrop for such classics as South Pacific, Blue Hawaii, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Thorn Birds, Jurassic Park and Tropic Thunder.
Those captivated by film sets and dinosaurs will want to experience “Jurassic Falls,” Kaua’i’s newest and exclusive heli thrill at the 400-foot Manawaiopuna Falls made famous by Steven Spielberg. Island Helicopters has turned this set location into the theme for a 90-minute ride that takes guests to the base of the falls during an overall tour of the island. T-rex and Jeff Goldblum sightings are not guaranteed. Introductory rates are $324 per person. Call 808-245-8588 or visit the company website for details.
Many consider Kaua’I the ziplining capital of the country with at least four zip trek tours to offer and a brand new one now available through Outfitters Kaua’i. The Zip Trek Nui Loa is a 1,800-foot zip course above the forest canopy. Tandem lines soar past the Ha’upu Mountains and over towering trees for around 100 seconds over a quarter mile. The overall adventure includes trekking on suspension bridges and aerial walkways, along ancient footpaths and a recently discovered jungle tunnel. The Outfitters also has a WaterZip over a mountain stream and natural swimming pool into which zipliners can drop from their line and plunge. Introductory prices are $148 for adults and $128 for children 7-14 years old. Call 808-742-9667 or visit company website for more information.
The “King Kong” is yet another new zipline attraction and it can be found at Princeville RanchAdventures , a company offering kayaking and hiking tours on 2,500 acres of private land on the North Shore of Kaua’i. The 1,200-foot King Kong zipline gives a fly-by vantage of Hihimanu Mountain as one of nine zipline courses, which is available to guests 12 years old and over at $125 for one. For more information, call 888-955-7669, or visit the website.
Hawaiian Airlines carried some 8.3 million passengers to the island in 2009 and is at presently in the process of adding more routes from Asia and Europe (currently Hawaiian serves Sydney, Manila, Pago Pago, and Papeete on its international routes). Meanwhile, the airline, which just turned 80 last year, is adding new Airbus A330-200 aircraft to the fleet. The first two aircraft will be pressed into service on the Los Angeles-Honolulu route in June. In addition, Hawaiian will start flying two daily nonstops to Maui—one from Oakland and the other from San Diego—as well as another daily flight between Los Angeles and Honolulu, beginning June 17. Agents should call 800-367-5320 for details.
WestJet Airlines has been operating twice-weekly flights to Kaua’i’s Lihue Airport (LIH) from Vancouver and is expected to continue that service through spring before it is evaluated for continuation. WestJet also has a dozen flights weekly from Vancouver to Honolulu. Agents should call 888-WESTJET-937-8538 for updates.
Both the Sheraton Kaua’i at Po’ipu Beach and the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas on the scenic North Shore are running 50/50 Packages this winter. That means guests receive a 50 percent room discount and a $50 daily resort credit. In addition, guests get the fifth night free and also a bonus two-for-one coupon for a surfing lesson. For details, agents should call 800-937-8461, or visit www.starwoodhotels.com.
For more tourist information on the island, contact the Kaua’i Visitors Bureau (808-245-3971, www.kauaidiscovery.com).