Kauai on the Cheap?

The words “Kauai” and “cheap” are like two magnets. If you don’t line them up right, they repel each other, but if you pay attention to their polarities, they are very attractive.

Adding to the attraction is the Garden Island itself, a lush and magical Hawaiian paradise with spectacular geography that has inspired hundreds of film crews (think Jurassic Park) and thousands of books and magazine articles praising its beauty. Hiking guides list the Kalalau Trail along the rugged Napali Coast as one of the world’s premier hiking and backpacking trails.

Naturally, flying there is a big expense, about $680 round-trip from Eugene, but if you don’t have the bank account, get creative. Hit up family and friends for free air miles or timeshare points or run an ad on Craigslist looking to buy miles or points at a discount from somebody who needs cash. You can also hitch a ride on a sailboat as a deckhand, but that’s a whole other adventure.

Once there, renting a car is the most convenient way to get around, but you can also rent a bicycle or car-share with other tourists you meet. A bus runs, though not very often, on Kauai’s only highway, and hitchhiking is surprisingly easy and safe. People will pick you up even if you are scruffy and stinky, though it helps to look cheerful.

Where to stay? The big resorts are over-priced, but $70 rooms are available at the old Kauai Sands Hotel, or check Craigslist or traveler websites for rooms or couches. Kauai has county campgrounds that tend to sell out, and some campers appear to be long-term travelers with beat-up sea kayaks and funky tents. Being homeless is not tolerated well on this island. Bad for business. Hawaii has been known to buy homeless people plane tickets back to the mainland.

You may see people with backpacks at the Lihue Airport, and they are likely headed for the Kalalau/Napali Trail. Hikers load up with produce, eggs and dried fruits and nuts at the amazing Farmers Market in Kapaa. Permits are required to hike beyond the first six miles of the trail. Some hard-core hikers do disappear into the wilderness and try to live off the edible jungle, teeming sea-life and feral chickens, but it can be very dangerous. Back in our Sept. 24, 2009, issue (wkly.ws/1l2), journalist Michael Copperman told the tale of Eugene champion wrestler Kenny Cox, who died trying to live on the land deep in the Kalalau Valley. Drinking from creeks was reportedly his undoing.

Paradise is calling, but getting there on a tight budget requires research and exploring your options. Even if you end up spending too much, memories of stunning Kauai will help get you through many dreary Northwest winters.