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Maha'ulepu Beach & Makauwahi Cave | Kauai, Hawaii: Full-Day Itinerary by a Local Mom (kid friendly!)

Updated: Jan 5


The Maha'ulepu coastline is breathtaking, but the beaches and what lies just beyond the shores are the real gems. Getting there is a bit of an adventure—but nothing you can't handle. Prepare for epic views, rough terrain, an ancient open roof cave, tortoises, and secluded beaches, with delicious local food!


WHAT YOU'LL NEED

• winter: beach towel

• all seasons: bug spray, SPF, water, backpack, packed lunch*

*LUNCH you can opt to pick up lunch at the breakfast spot (but it has a very limited menu) or try one of the following:

upscale health food cafe/grocery store/restaurant with great grab-and-go options

local juice bar with healthy grab-and-go salad options. local tip: bring in your empty kauai juice co glass jars/bottles to receive a discount on your purchase.


WHAT TO WEAR

• bathing-suit*, hiking shoes, t-shirt & shorts

*the best time to attempt swimming is in the winter months.


 


ITINERARY


STEP 1: BREAKFAST

Location: Little Fish Coffee @littlefishcoffee

Distance: Your first stop is in Poipu across from the Marriot Waiohai Beach Club entrance.

Why you need to visit: This is a locally owned and operated coffee shop with a great selection of organic fair-trade coffee, açaí bowls, smoothies, and bagel sandwiches. My go-to order is the Hippie Bagel with mustard on an everything bagel and a Chai Latte with oat milk. My kids love the Banana Colada Smoothie. This is a casual order-at the counter and eat at the picnic tables kinda place. Local tips: skip the CRAZY long line and order online—you will need to wait for an email confirmation and then a second letting you know it is ready for pick-up. Put any modifications in the notes (want oat milk? select almond, but then write oat milk). Also, don't feed the chickens. They are aggressive and will take a bagel right out of your hands—ask my 3-year-old!

How to get there: GOOGLE MAP



STEP 2: PARK THE CAR

Location: CJM Stables

Distance: 10-15mins from Little Fish Coffee

What to expect: the road is for the more adventurous or if you have 4WD, but with that being said I do not have 4WD and always make it. Drive past the Grand Hyatt and Ainako St. / Poipu Bay Golf Course. From here it will turn into a dirt road. Make a right where you see signs for CJM Stables. There will be a fork in the road about 30 seconds in—turn left. Drive as far down the "road" as your car and/or your comfort level will allow and park on the right side of the road.

(prior to COVID the closed gate directly to the left of the CJM Stables sign was open and took you to a parking lot right next to the cave—no one is sure when/if they will ever open it again).

How to get there: GOOGLE MAP | CJM Stables



STEP 3: HIKE TO THE CAVE

Location: Makauwahi Cave Reserve

Hours: 10am - 2pm daily, with extended hours until 4pm on weekends. Be sure to check out the cave reserve website to confirm.

Distance: From parking area to cave is 15 mins / 0.5 miles

What to expect: The Makauwahi Cave is the largest limestone cave in Hawaii that took over 400,000 years to form. On the way to the cave, you will see native Hawaiian plants and a spectacular overhead view of the Makauwahi Sinkhole. After parking, change into your hiking gear and pack your lunch, snacks, water, and beach items—don't forget your reef-friendly SPF. There is a self-guided trail with clearly marked signs directing you to the cave, but what I outline below in option 2 and recommend is the trail that they use for horses—it is easier, quicker, and has opportunities to walk down to a secluded section of the beach.

A note about Maha'ulepu: there are a ton of meandering false paths—pay attention to the landmarks mentioned below.


HIKE Option 1 – Self-guided Trail

1: Walk down the road until you see a sign pointing left to the Makauwahi Cave. Follow the path up and down to the rim of the cave where you will see a sign with pictures about the cave. It is a spectacular view!

2: From here walk right, down the path that hugs the cave rim. There is a little path to the left that keeps hugging the rim but stay on the main path. You know you're on track if you see a wooden marker #13.

3: The path will curve down and into a little tree tunnel. After passing through the trees the path comes to a fork. Turn LEFT so that the stream is on your right.

4: Walk past the bridge on your right and continue down the path for another minute. The path then opens up to reveal the very small triangular-shaped opening of the cave. You've made it!


HIKE Option 2 – Horse Trail

1: Walk down the road until it meets the ocean and turn left. Proceed into the tree-lined "tunnel" and walk for a few minutes.

BONUS: there is a little path to the right of the tree tunnel entrance that takes you down to a little secluded beach.

2: You will see a sign that says FOOT TRAIL and HORSE TRAIL—make a slight left back onto the official foot trail and walk up to the rim of the cave where there is a sign with pictures about the cave. It is a spectacular view!

3: Follow steps 2-4 from Option 1/Self-guided Trail


ENTERING THE CAVE

The entrance is small at only 3 feet and requires you to crawl in. Watch your head! There should be a volunteer at the main cave opening (just inside and across the lawn) who has some interesting facts and stories about the cave. Walk around and check out this ancient site, but trust me do not take any "souvenirs" home with you. Travelers have anonymously sent back rocks they have taken from the cave due to the bad luck they brought.


STEP 4: CHECK OUT SOME TURTLES 🐢

Location: Tortoise Sanctuary

Distance: short walk from the Cave entrance

What to expect: after exploring the cave, head back the way you came and make a left to walk over the bridge (generously built by Pirates of the Caribbean 4). Just to the left, you will see a gated-off area with a stair entrance right over the gate. Here you will find 20 tortoises in the various sections. My kids love to collect and feed the tortoises breadfruit, but not sure if that is allowed 🤫



STEP 5: HIKE

Location: Maha'ulepu Beach

Difficulty: kids and/or beginner

Distance: 20-30 minute walk on the beach

What to expect: Maha'ulepu Beach is made up of three beaches: Gillin's, Kawailoa Bay, and Ha'ula. The beaches are not easily accessible and therefore you won't see too many people. Although it is a favorite resting place for Monk Seals! You have the option to hike all the way to Ha'ula—which I highly recommend, but only if you do not have any littles with you.

From the tortoise area/parking lot, walk towards the ocean and make a left. The stream running onto the beach changes direction with rainfall so you may need to walk through some brush to get around. Due to the high levels of bacteria found in the stream from Grove Farm, it is not recommended to walk in the stream or swim at Gillin's Beach (NO MOO POO IN MAHA'ULEPU is the local slogan in protest). This is a beautiful stretch of coastline with lots to explore. Keep going until you curve around the bend and the magnificent Kawailoa Bay Beach reveals itself.

BONUS HIKE: if you're feeling adventurous and want to continue past Kawailoa Bay and onto Ha'ula Beach you will be rewarded with amazing views and most likely a secluded beach. PSAs: lithified sand dunes along the cliff are brittle; the landowner is no longer granting access along the cliff trail so technically in Hawaiian style, you are trespassing.


STEP 6: BEACH PICNIC & SWIM

Location: Kawailoa Bay Beach

What to expect: there is a little beach cove on the far right side (looking towards land) that is just magical. Set up right on the beach and enjoy your homemade or grab-and-go lunch. The beach is not protected by a reef, can be rough with strong currents, and does not have a lifeguard on duty. If you are traveling during the summer months it's best to enjoy dipping in your toes. During the winter months, the swell heads North, and this beach is more swimmable. Always sit and observe the ocean for at least 20 mins before entering—especially when the nearest help is miles away.


STEP 5: HIKE BACK TO CAR

Location: Maha'ulepu Beach

Distance: 35-45 mins

What to expect: after enjoying lunch and cooling down in the water, head back down the beach, past the cave, and back to your car. LOCAL TIP: if you aren't feeling like walking back on the beach, you can take the dirt road right behind Kawailoa Bay. It meanders and forks a lot, but if you stay parallel to the ocean it will pop you right out by the tortoise enclosures.



STEP 6: Pick-up Dinner

Location: Poipu / Koloa

Distance: 15 mins from parking area

Why you need to visit: keep the adventures going and pick up some Thai or sushi to-go from the food trucks in downtown Koloa and take it to Poipu Beach to enjoy the sunset.

Big Monster Sushi Truck, great sushi with fresh fish and delicious roll options. My favorites are: Aloha Roll, Volcano Roll, & Samurai Roll GOOGLE MAPS | @bigmonstersushifoodtruck

Craving Thai, really good Thai with good portions. My favorites are: Crispy Spring Rolls, Stir Fried Eggplant, & Yellow Curry GOOGLE MAPS | @cravingthai_koloa

Chalupa's, great Mexican, but not always open during posted hours. If they are open, I enjoy the Spicy Shrimp Plate. GOOGLE MAPS | @chalupaskauai


Feeling like you need to be taken care of a little bit after a long day, but still want to keep it casual? Try one of my favorite local restaurants listed at the end of this article.



STEP 7: Eat Dinner & Watch the Sunset

Location: Poipu

Distance: 10 mins from food trucks

Why you need to visit: my go-to move is to pull off onto the side of the road, take a few beach chairs & drinks, and post up at one of the many amazing spots along the coast. I have a few that I might share with you if you DM me ;) but here are a few of my top locations:

Brennecke's Beach: on the rocks to the left of the beach (looking at the ocean)

Poipu Beach Lawn: right on the lawn's edge between Poipu's Baby Beach and Brennecke's Beach **kid-friendly option for safety and they have a playground right next to the beach**

The Wall: on the cement wall that runs alongside Hoonani Rd. between Koloa Landing and the Sheraton.


 


Maha-ulepu_Beach-Itinerary
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LOCAL TIPS

  • recently the property owners have shut off most access to these beaches so locals bend over backwards to keep the beach accessible. Please pack out what you pack in.

  • always sit and observe the ocean for at least 20 mins before entering—especially when there isn't a lifeguard present.

  • take care of the ʻaina (land) and stay on the trails, pack out what you pack in, and use reef-safe sunscreen 🐠 🧴 🐟—see some of my favorites below👇


LOCAL CASUAL RESTAURANT RECS:

For Casual Dining

The Tasting Room, located in DT Koloa, but you feel like you're in LA. Live music, an amazing wine list, delicious food, and cool outdoor seating. I love the Cheese Board, French Onion Soup, Fresh Burrata, Smoked Beet Salad, and their House Salad. You can also do a flight of wines! GOOGLE MAPS | @thetastingroomkauai

Pacos Tacos Cantina, very unassuming spot on a golf course with ocean views in the distance. It has a pretty open-air feel. They have live music—it's hit or miss, but nice vibe. I usually get the Shrimp Tacos and a Spicy Skinny Marg. HH 2-5pm daily. GOOGLE MAPS | @pacos_tacos_hawaii

The Cabana Bar & Grill, live music and outdoor bar. This is a local pool & fitness club (Poipu Beach Athletic Club) that also caters to tourists whose hotel doesn't offer a pool. Really good poolside-style food and drinks. I either get the Soba Noodles (+shrimp and avocado) or the Summer Rolls. HH 4-6pm daily. GOOGLE MAPS | @thecabanakauai

Brennecke's Beach Boiler, this is an iconic restaurant located right across the street from Poipu Beach. The second-floor location allows for epic views of the ocean. That is really the only reason to go—unfortunately, their food is not good. Wish they just served fried fish items and called it a day. Still a great place to get cocktails and an app. I would recommend: Crispy Poke Tacos or Coconut Shrimp. HH 3-5pm daily. GOOGLE MAPS | @brenneckes

Keoki's Paradise, perfect if you're wanting an old Hawaiian feel—live Hawaiian music, tropical drinks in fun cups, lush garden surroundings (man-made), and hula pie! GOOGLE MAPS | @keokisparadise

Koloa Pizza Kitchen + Bar, great for kids or a date night! Modern decor, great menu, and optional outdoor seating. I always get the garlicky white devil pizza! GOOGLE MAPS | @koloapizzakitchen



PRODUCT SHOTS TAKEN ALONG MAHA'ULEPU BEACH


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