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Kauai, Hawaii USA

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

If you’re looking for a wheelchair accessible tropical adventure without the tourist crush, Hawaii’s smallest island is a magical - and nearly barrier-free - island paradise.


Kiera with two luau performers

Kauai is famous for its stunning and lush natural wonders, from the jungle where they filmed Jurassic Park to the 3,600-foot “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” but it’s also a low-key and accessible place for a person with a physical disability to travel.


I visited Kauai in January 2017 and it was an absolutely stunning escape from the Canadian winter. At one point we were in a restaurant when the evening news came on.

Kauai Marriott Weather Station made from a coconut hanging on a chain

“Our top story tonight, the severe weather across the islands,” said the anchor. We looked outside and it was 21-degrees (70f) and the palm trees were swaying in the breeze.


Severe weather? Ha!


I have cerebral palsy. I can walk a short way with the help of a cane, but use a wheelchair to move longer distances.


I’m also a bit of a travel nut, and sometimes with a disability that’s not easy. I’m 19-years old and I’ve been to Portugal, Florida, Mexico, Quebec City and more and Kauai is the most accessible place.


You can find beaches here with all-terrain wheelchairs, long and paved beachside walking paths and  if sun and sand isn’t your thing most shops and restaurants have barrier-free entry. At many of the beachside patios, you could simply roll up and order a perfectly-grilled fish taco with no problem.


The Beaches


Let’s be real here. Kauai is an island and it’s littered with beaches and blessed with warm sun all year round, so if you’re coming here there’s a good chance you’ll want to pull up a lounger and hit the sand. This isn’t always easy to do when you get around on wheels, but Kauai has you covered.


I was a bit spoiled because we stayed at Kauai Marriot Resort in Lihue. We were on the ground floor and lucky enough to simply roll a few feet to beach outside the resort every morning. With my own bathroom/change room so close, this is the only beach I bothered lounging on, though we took some nice strolls along some of the others.


Kiera lying on the beach at the Marriott Resort

The good news is there are at least three beaches with all-terrain wheelchairs on the island. They include Lydgate Beach Park, Poipu Beach Park and Salt Pond Beach Park. There may be others and visitors are asked to contact the county for more information.



Attractions


When you need a break from the beach there’s still plenty to do on Kauai.

Waimea  Canyon Lookout sign

You absolutely need to visit the Waimea Canyon. It’s weird, wet and beautiful.


The canyon was created from the massive rains on the slopes of Mount Waiʻaleʻale, the central peak of Kauai at 5,148 feet (1,569 m).


In basic terms, the mountain forces wet air blown in from nearby trade winds up rapidly, which ends up dumping a large amount of rain in one spot.


That makes it one of the wettest places on earth with 404 inches or 10,300 mm a year. The rains have carved Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, which is 10 miles ( 16 kilometres) long and 3,000 feet (900 metres) deep.


Bring a poncho or a hat. It can be sunny and gorgeous down by the coast, and pouring buckets up here.

Kiera with mom and stepdad at Waimea Canyon
Kiera and stepdad on ramp at Waimea Canyon
Waterfall at Waimea Canyon

The winding mountain road is in good shape, but it gets wetter, and foggier, the higher you go, so drive carefully. The good news is there are various lookouts along the entire route and most of them are wheelchair accessible. There’s also fruit and smoothie and shaved ice stands at some of them.


Shaved ice is super good, available all over the island, and you need to try it.

On this side you’ll also find the Kawai’ele Waterbird Sanctuary which is a nice stop, but not overly accessible.


There are spectacular waterfalls like the 173-foot Wailua Falls where the old TV show Fantasy Island’s credits were filmed, are on the east side of the island.

Wailua Falls

You can also take a pretty nice roll around Old Koloa town, which is filled with shops, restaurants and shaved ice stores. Be prepared though, if you’re using a wheelchair some of these places can be pretty small, jammed with T-shirts and other merchandise, and are not the best spots for wheelchair users.


I highly recommend the Spouting Horn Park near Poipu. It’s no problem to roll down to this natural underwater sea cave with a hole in it’s roof. When the waves roll in, it create a spectacular show with a jet of water shooting as high as 50 feet .


On the north side of the island is the famous Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park. Home to rain forests and spectacular cliffs and mountains. This is where parts of Jurassic Park were filmed.


I obviously couldn’t hike famous The Kalalau Trail, but you can visit the town near the beginning and get some great views in Hanalei.


We were there in January, the wrong time of year for a boat tour, but there are apparently some boat operators as well as helicopter tours that can accommodate disabled passengers. As always, it’s best to contact the companies directly to see if your particular needs can be accommodated. 

Kiera kayaking in Hanalei

Hanalei is also where we did our kayak tour, and depending on your ability, this is another great way to see the nature of Kauai.


I had to walk down the ramp to the dock, which I can do with a little help, but the kayaks themselves had sturdy backs, which is a must for me. We spent a few hours going up and down the Hanalei river, seeing palm trees, birds and a ton of turtles.


Don’t forget the get yourself out to a luau.

There’s countless shows all over the island. We went to Lu’au Kalamaku near Lihue which was an amazing dinner theatre featuring stories about Kauai’s history, traditional hula dancing, and even fire dancing. They even cooked an entire pig, traditional style, by burying it in the ground with hot coals. The food was excellent.


There’s lot of people at buffet-style meal, so the quarters are a little tight and getting the food could be a challenge, so it might be best to bring somebody who can help.


It’s totally worth the effort though, and at the end of the show you can get your pictures taken with the performers.

Luau fire dancers
Luau dancers

Kiera with luau dancers

Getting Around


First of all, there are chickens. Everywhere.

They’re in the parks, they’re on the roads, they’re on the sidewalks and they’re under picnic tables.They’re completely harmless, and usually get out of the way, but they’re noisy, and one will almost certainly wake you up at some point during your stay.


Kauai has one main road that is kind of shaped like a horseshoe around the island. It is not possible to drive around the whole island as the rugged Nāpali Coast and the canyon make road building impossible on part of the north coast.


Greenery around a road in Kauai

We rented a normal minivan to get around, as I’m pretty good at getting in and out of vehicles, so don’t have personal experience with specially-adapted vehicles.


I’ve done a bit of research, and it looks like most of the car rental agencies can provide hand controls with notice. This company also has lift equipped vehicles. The bus system is all lift-equipped, but the service times aren’t great, so it’s best to rent a vehicle if possible.


As I mentioned, we stayed at the Kauai Marriott Resort. It’s near Lihue, which has everything you need from a Wal-Mart to fast food, tours and more.


We booked an accessible room with a large bathroom and a garden view. It was easy to get in and out, to attend the various craft workshops and activities, and to get to the restaurant.


Most importantly the beach was just outside!It’s not paved or anything, and there’s no sand chairs availble, but luckily I can walk a bit with help so it wasn’t too tough getting to the loungers.


Overall, I loved Kauai. From a disability perspective, it’s mostly flat, with good curb cuts, paved pathways near or on a ton of beaches and plenty of ramps and accessible infrastructure. It has stunning weather, amazing natural beauty, and while it’s has plenty of tourists (it’s Hawaii afterall), it’s probably the least touristed in the state.


Overall, it’s like one big small town with all the comforts and services you need with an incredible variety of attractions, nature and things to do. It was worth the 26-hour flight.


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5 comentários


Tiffany Webb
Tiffany Webb
16 de mar. de 2020

Wow, Kauai sounds beautiful! Congratulations on an amazingly well-written review. Take great pride in the knowledge you are providing valuable information to others.

Curtir

Great review, very interesting. I want to go. I can't wait to read your next review.


Susan Lucaa

Curtir

I enjoyed the story telling and photos. Especially nostalgic as I visited Kauai long ago, but you made it feel like a recent memory!

Curtir

Michael Lucas
Michael Lucas
15 de mar. de 2020

Great job K, I almost felt like I was there. :)

Curtir

Hazel Lucas
Hazel Lucas
15 de mar. de 2020

Well done Kiera, Michelle and Devin. Great information, great pictures, and it truly makes me want to visit Kauai. Take me next time you go Kiera...Love Nanny xo

Curtir
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