Although known as the Garden Island, Kauai is something of a wild isle, with mountains, waterfalls, rainforests, craggy promontories and feral grasslands (only 3 percent of the island’s 552 square miles is developed).
That rugged natural beauty makes for a striking contrast with its tame side—now getting that much more refined with the reopening of the St. Regis Princeville, the arrival of its own Jean-Georges restaurant and some of the best golf courses in the Pacific.
“We have a lot of new products,” says Sue Kanoho, executive director for the Kauai Visitors Bureau. “We have not slowed down. A lot of people are visiting, Disney is shooting a new ‘Pirates’ film this summer and we are getting new airlift to the island. It’s a very exciting time for Kauai.”
The island had an overall 9 percent decline in visitor numbers last year, something Kanoho is not shedding tears over, given the far more precipitous drops in tourism worldwide. Kauai is gearing up for better times ahead—with a roster of new products, tours, activities and hotel deals generating buzz and offering new reasons to visit. Here is a sampling of what’s new and noteworthy in this garden paradise.
The St. Regis Princeville Resort opened in October 2009 after a $60 million top-to-bottom redo that changed the decor from Asian motifs to more regional and muted Hawaiian themes, renovated the pool and created a signature spa. The makeover also included the opening of Kauai Grill, guided by the famed culinary master Jean-Georges Vongerichten. In addition to a first-rate meal, diners are treated to sweeping views of Hanalei Bay.
The hotel’s 10,000-square-foot Halelea Spa focuses on treatments inspired by native Hawaiian healing rituals. The property consists of 252 guest rooms and five restaurants, 12 meeting and conference rooms, two golf courses and multiple pools.
For more information about the St. Regis Princeville, agents can contact Account Director Victoria Page (310-388-7502, [email protected]).
Koa Kea Hotel and Resort, formerly the Poipu Beach Resort, has also been remodeled. Poipu Beach is on the southern tip of the island, an easy and convenient 15-minute drive from Lihue Airport. 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. Rooms are available for rates starting at $299. Agents can call 808-828-8888 for more information.
The hotel 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.
Meanwhile, the Grand Hyatt Kauai has been undergoing renovations, which we hear are a little ahead of schedule. The first building, which has been closed since April, will reopen in August with refreshed rooms. The hotel will then close the Shipwreck wing building through December. New rooms will be available as of August 10 with all guests in new rooms in 2011. During the first three months of 2011, the hotel will have the final building closed to finish the last 70 rooms.
The Kauai Marriott Resort on Kalapaki Beach unveiled its $50 million makeover on July 15. In addition to 356 refurbished guest rooms and suites and the expanded porte cochere, the hotel also has a newly renovated restaurant with expanded alfresco seating, a new sushi bar and new pool features. The hotel’s pool is the largest single-level swimming pool in the state, and its brand-new kids’ pool has a great waterslide.
What’s Happening in Kauai
Those captivated by film sets and dinosaurs will want to experience “Jurassic Falls,” Kauai’s exclusive heli-thrill at the 400-foot Manawaiopuna Falls made famous by Steven Spielberg. Island Helicopters (808-245-8588) 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. Introductory rates are $324 per person. Call for details.
Many adventure travelers consider Kauai the ziplining capital of the U.S., with a number of tours to offer and a new one now available through Outfitters Kauai (808-742-9667). 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 adventure includes trekking on suspension bridges and aerial walkways, along ancient footpaths and a recently discovered jungle tunnel. Outfitters Kauai also has a WaterZip over a mountain stream and natural swimming pool into which zipliners can drop from their line and plunge.
Hawaiian Airlines carried some 8.3 million passengers to the island in 2009 and is adding more routes from Asia and Europe this year. In addition, Hawaiian started 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 on June 17.
WestJet Airlines’ seasonal twice-weekly service to Kauai’s Lihue Airport from Vancouver will resume December 15 and run through April. WestJet also has a dozen flights weekly from Vancouver to Honolulu.
For more information on attractions in Kauai, agents should contact the Kauai Visitors Bureau (808-245-3971).
Hanalei Bay can be seen from the new Jean-Georges at the renovated St. Regis Princeville