We are Francesca & Emma: two young adventure-seekers with quite a unique travel story to tell about Kauai and its gem, Waimea Canyon. After graduating from college, we were both eager to get out and explore the world. This was a passion for both of us for as long as we can remember.
While both of us dreamt of traveling to Australia, COVID had other plans for us which led to how we met on the beautiful island of Kauai and our joint exploration of Waimea Canyon. Francesca in Atlanta, GA and Emma in Berryville, VA – we both had similar plans despite not knowing each other.
Our plans were that Hawaii was a place we could both see ourselves living in and a location that we both wanted to tick off our bucket list of destinations. With that said, we both decided to make the move to Kauai.
Having the desire to live on a budget and experience what it truly means to live on a beautiful Hawaiian island, we both sought out a job that would allow us to live for free in exchange for a couple of hours of work a day.
In addition, we thought that this would allow us to get a feel of the island and make connections while having the comfortability of a place to live as we looked for a more permanent living situation. Through doing our own research and getting recommendations from friends, we stumbled upon the work-trade program called Workaway which allowed us to do just that.
Working for The Na Pali Experience
Through Workaway, we found a job working at The Na Pali Experience. Both having a love for the ocean and its many wonders, going on boat trips and learning new things – we decided to reach out to the owner.
Minutes after messaging the owner, Francesca got a response asking if she could come out immediately. While Emma messaged the owner months in advance and didn’t receive the green light until days before needing to start the job. Despite the last-minute plans, we both managed to jump on a plane to Kauai where our paths crossed for the first time at Lihue Airport.
This work-trade position consisted of cleaning up to four tour boats in the evenings, sleeping on bunk beds in a home depot shed, showering outside under the stars, and being awakened every morning by the neighborhood dogs and what felt like the entire chicken population of the island.
While some might find this situation kind of dreadful, we (being easy to please and looking for an adventure) were both just excited to have a free roof over our head that also included having the opportunity to learn something new. Looking back, it was a fun and memorable experience.
Blown Away by the Beauty of Waimea Canyon
The boatyard we stayed at for our work-trade job was located in Kekaha which is about five minutes from the road to Waimea Canyon and Kokeʻe State Park. Both of us did some research before coming and made a list of all the hikes we wanted to do in Kauai. And a lot of those hikes happened to be in Waimea Canyon. So we couldn’t have been in a more perfect spot.
That being said, we made many trips to the canyon. Every time we drove up, we would always be in constant awe. However, nothing will beat the first time we visited. After ten minutes of driving up the road, we were immediately taken by the views. We just about stopped at every lookout to jump out of the car and take a picture. Guarantee you will do the same!
Best Hikes in Waimea Canyon
The first hike we did and probably one of our personal favorites was to Kalepa Ridge at the Kalalau Lookout. It was hard to locate at first because like many hikes in Hawaii, it’s unofficial and you have to go around a fence to get to the trail. We all know those are always the best ones though!
Once you do locate the trail, you will find that it’s a short but somewhat challenging hike because of the narrowness and cliffs. However, it’s very rewarding. The trail leads to the most magnificent view of the Na Pali Coast. If you are lucky, you will catch a rainbow stretching across the valley, which we have to say is one of the most amazing views we have ever seen.
It was so serene and we believe it truly captures the beauty that the island of Kauai offers. Waimea Canyon and Kokeʻe State Park also offer many great campsites, spots to picnic, sights to see and other trails to hike. We can’t say there is a single spot in the park that doesn’t offer epic views.
In addition to the Kalepa Ridge Trail, we would say that travelers should also check out the Canyon Trail to Waipoo Falls and Red Dirt River. Once you have finished exploring, we suggest heading down to the small town of Waimea and picking up some fresh poke from the market – Ishihara Market. We both think that this is the best place on the island to get it.
If you don’t know what that is, poke is a traditional Hawaiian dish that is made with raw cubed Ahi Tuna and is typically tossed in soy sauce and sesame oil. One of our favorite ways to eat poke is with Hawaiian Kettle Style Potato Chips, Luau BBQ. Afterwards, if you are looking for something sweet and refreshing, head to JoJos Shave Ice which is another must-try.
Staying near Waimea Canyon
If you want to stay close to Waimea Canyon, there are many cute Airbnbs located in Kekaha and Waimea. Both of these towns are close to Waimea Canyon. Because we did the Workaway job, we didn’t have the opportunity to stay at any of them. However, we do know people who did and have only heard great things. Like everything, make sure to check the reviews.
Need to Know Before you Go
1) Make sure you save up a decent travel budget before coming to Kauai. Everything here is pretty pricey – especially food and gas. With that, if you have a Costco membership, bring your card with you. The Costco is located in Lihue which is a bit of a drive from the Kekaha/Waimea area but it has the cheapest gas on the island and it’s a good place to stock up on food.
2) If you plan on hiking, bring good hiking shoes – whether that be boots or Tevas/Chacos. Because of the rain, no matter the season, the hikes can be muddy and slippery. We also recommend bringing a sweatshirt. You would be surprised how chilly it can get up there in the canyon.
The plus side to that, though, is what some people call “the natural air conditioning”. So as soon as you get up there, make sure to roll down the windows and appreciate that cool air before you are back down roasting in the sun on the Kauai beaches. In addition to that, make sure to wear clothes you don’t mind getting ruined – the red dirt here stains clothes.
3) The local rule of thumb here is to leave the island of Kauai better than you found it. That means not only picking up your trash before leaving somewhere but also any other things that might have been left by others.
4) Lastly, don’t underestimate the currents. You might go running into the water at other beaches but Hawaii is known for its strong rips. Be extra cautious while swimming – even if you see a local kid diving in waves like it’s nothing. Locals will always have more experience than visitors.
We hope our personal stories and recommendations provide you (fellow adventurers) with some helpful info and inspiration on experiencing the unbridled beauty and serenity that is Waimea Canyon on Kauai!