Having spent years finding the best spots to recommend for your precious vacation time (and steering you away from the worst), we also want to do our best to help you stay out of trouble. Though Hawai‘i seems idyllic, please remember that this isn’t Disneyland—it’s nature. Mother Nature is hard, slippery, sharp and unpredictable. Nature is literally in the process of erasing the islands from the earth, and you don’t want to get in the way of this process. Nothing can take the place of your own observations and good judgment. If you’re doing one of the activities you read about in our book or someplace else and your instinct tells you something is wrong, trust your judgment and go do another activity.
First Things First
- The hazard that by far affects the most people (excluding the accommodations tax) is the sun. At Kaua‘i’s latitude we receive sunlight more directly than anywhere onthe mainland. (The more overhead the sunlight is, the less atmosphere it filters through.) If you want to enjoy your entire vacation, make sure that you wear a strong sunscreen.
- Weather—Remember to check the weather conditions in the morning, before you go out. Keep in mind that things can change quickly and tropical weather is not to be underestimated. To get current weather forecasts, call the NWS weather report at 808-245-6001 or check out the NOAA website.
- Bring and drink lots of water when you are out and about, especially when you’re hiking. Dehydration sneaks up on people. By the time you are thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
- Know your limits. This is a hard one, especially for the guys. (And you know it’s true.) Ocean currents, steep and slippery trails as well as inclement weather are conditions that can humble even the most fit athletes.
The beaches of Kaua‘i, and Hawai‘i in general, are beautiful, warm and, unfortunately, can be dangerous. The waves, currents and popularity of beachgoing have caused Hawai‘i to become the drowning capital of the United States. If you’re going to swim in the ocean, you need to bear several things in mind. We are not trying to be killjoys here, but there are several reasons why Hawai‘i’s beaches can be particularly dangerous. The waves are stronger here in the open ocean than in most other places. We swam and snorkeled the beaches we describe in our books on at least two occasions (usually much more than two). But beaches change. The underwater topography changes throughout the year. Storms can take a very safe beach and rearrange the sand, turning it into a dangerous beach.
- The most serious water hazard is the surf. Most beaches are calmer in the summer. (With south facing beaches calmer in the winter.) But high surf can be found anywhere on the island at any time of the year. For a surf forecast, call the Surf News Network at 808-572-7873, visit their website, or go to our weather and surf page.
- Rip currents can form, cease and form again with no warning. If caught in a rip current, do not try to swim against it back to shore. Swim parallel to the shore until you break away from the current’s hold, then head toward shore if possible. For more info, visit the NOAA page on rip currents.
- Large “rogue waves” can come ashore with no warning. Even calm seas are no guarantee of safety. Many people have been caught unaware by large waves during ostensibly “calm seas.” Never turn your back on the ocean.
- Hyporthermia can happen anywhere, even the tropics. You lose a lot of body heat in the water. Consider a light wetsuit if you’re going to be in the water for more than an hour. Helps you float and prevents sunburn too.
- The following beaches are supposed to have lifeguard stations, though keep in mind that they may only be around 8AM to 4:30PM. They are Ke‘e, Ha‘ena Beach Park, Hanalei, Kealia, Lydgate, Pine Trees, Po‘ipu, Salt Pond, Lucy Wright and Kekaha.
- It can sometimes be difficult to recognize a distressed swimmer, but someone calling for help is sure sign. If you witness this at a beach, call 911 then attempt to get help (lifeguard). Only assist if you have the proper capabilities. Know your limitations. It’s no help to anyone if you also get into trouble attempting a rescue.
- Never swim alone. The buddy system makes for a more fun experience anyway.
- Though a potentially awesome experience, most visitors want to avoid an encounter with sharks. To decrease the chance of this, you should never swim near the mouth of a river nor swim in murky water. Sharks love murky water because they can sneak up on prey.
- Don’t let small children play in the water unsupervised.
- Fins give you far more power and speed and are a good safety device in addition to being more fun. If you’re comfortable in a mask and snorkel, they provide considerable peace of mind in addition to opening up the underwater world.
- The Rescue Tubes on Kaua‘i’s beaches are personal flotation devices to be used to stabilize distressed swimmers before rescue by our lifeguards. They can be found on most island beaches. Check them out and become familiar with them. If you notice a damaged or missing tube, you can contact the Rescue Tube Foundation on their website.
- If you’re going to spend any time at the shoreline or beach, water shoes are the best investment you’ll ever make. These water-friendly wonders accompany us whenever we go to any beach.
- All beaches can be dangerous given the right conditions. If you go with statistics, then even beaches with lifeguards have issues. But there is one location we feel the need to mention by name on Kaua‘i and that’s Queens Bath on the north shore. This small protected pool can be a beautiful place to swim in the calm summer months, but during the winter it’s not a safe place to go. It’s gotten so bad that some of the water safety personnel have made it their mission to have it closed down. We don’t want that to happen, but if people keep getting into trouble there, that’s exactly what the outcome will be. So we will say what we say in the book. Stay away from here during the winter months (generally October till April). Even if the waters are calm, a rogue wave can come in and take you out. In this case it’s better safe then sorry. Now be careful out there.
Of all the Hawaiian Islands, none offers more trails or better hiking than Kaua‘i. You could spend an entire month on Kaua‘i, hiking every day and not see half the trails that the island has to offer. And those are just the officially maintained trails. Adventure can be found all around Kaua‘i, but as with the ocean, personal responsibility is integral and preparedness can mean the difference between the trip of a lifetime and a trip to the emergency room.
- One of the most obvious safety tips is to know where you are. If you become lost or stuck but can make an emergency call, you want to be able to say where you are. Even though emergency calls from cell phones are supposed to transmit locational info, know the name of the area, road and/or trail you will be on before heading out. Also, stay on marked trails whenever possible. If you download our smartphone app, the geo-aware map will insure you always know where you are, even outside of cell phone range.
- If you plan to do a lot of hiking, contact the following agencies for information packets on their trails: Hawai‘i DLNR Division of State Parks at 808-274-3444. County of Kaua‘i Parks & Recreation at 808-241-4463. Also the trails division of DLNR, called Na Ala Hele has a complete list of maintained trials and closures.
- Let someone know where you are going, what direction you will be traveling and when you are planning on returning. This could be someone in your party who stays behind or even the hotel concierge.
- Go prepared. Sturdy footwear—not flip-flops—is important, especially in rough terrain. Plenty of water, snacks and rain gear. A small first aid will keep you ahead of the game.
- If you do become lost and you call for help, stay where you are. It only makes it harder to find someone who has wandered out of the known search area.
- Jumping off of waterfalls, rocks or cliffs can be dangerous. If you simply can’t stop yourself, be smart and check out what’s below the water’s surface before taking the plunge. Even then, we’ve seen people get pretty banged up, so try to resist the temptation.
- Respect private property signs. Even if you come across one on seemingly public land, we must advise you to turn around.
- Flash Floods, though relatively rare, are the most common way for hikers to get into trouble. Though they can occur at anytime, the wetter, winter months increase the chances of one occurring. Remember that it doesn’t have to be raining where you are for a flash flood to occur. On Kaua‘i, the north shore (windward) gets the most rain, but any river or drainage is capable of a flash flood. Current alerts can be found at the National Weather Service website.
Keeping Valuables Safe
Though Hawai‘i can be idyllic in many ways, we are not without our problems. Crimes do happen here, too, mainly petty theft. There are some things you can do that can prevent you from having to spend your time on the phone canceling your credit cards.
- Car break-ins can be a problem anywhere. Don’t leave anything of value in your car. (Well, maybe the seats can stay.) It takes only seconds to break a window, pop open a trunk, and grab everything in sight. Thieves are good at this and some specialize on waiting for people to go on a hike or jump on a boat, knowing they now have plenty of time after you leave. Plan on what you’ll need for the day and make sure you can carry it with you wherever you go (bringing a backpack is a great idea). If you do need to leave stuff behind, the trunk is your best bet. But put your items in there before you get to the trail or the dock. Seeing someone put something in the trunk just invites the crow bar to come out. The best rule to follow is: if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
- Limit valuables you take with you for the day. Take just a single card and small amount of cash with you and leave the rest in the safe. If something happens and your wallet or purse gets lost or stolen then one quick call and it’s canceled. Then you’ll still have some backup at the hotel you can use until the new Amex arrives. Make sure you have a secure place to store items. Room safes at hotels are common and many condos also have them. We list these in our resort reviews on this website.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Purse-snatchers and are not completely unknown in Hawai‘i, for the most part are on O‘ahu, and frequent the busy crowded places. Use the same common sense you would at home and you’ll be fine.
- Theft is not the only way to lose your valuables on vacation. So you’re on your honeymoon and that shinning ring just begs to be worn. Not a problem unless you’re going to the beach or on a hike. Water and mud can act as a lubricant and also cause fingers to shrink. Plus, newlyweds might have rings that haven’t been sized properly. We cannot tell you how many times we’ve seen people come out from a day of snorkeling or swimming and find that amazing symbol of their love is now at the bottom of the sea. It happens so often there are people that specialize finding lost jewelry. (Some charge, some don’t.) Leave the ring in the safe at the hotel if possible. If you are unlucky enough to need the services of someone to help find your sunken or buried treasure, try Kauai Metal Detecting at 808-651-2157.