Kauai is the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts looking for a beyond-the-beach Hawaiian escape

I inhaled deeply as I stood in solitude, staring at the horizon from the highest point of a cliff. From out of nowhere, a man who looked to be 80 years old shuffled past me and—without acknowledging my presence—stepped towards the edge of the cliff.

With one exhale, he lifted his left foot, and stepped out, plunging beyond the rock face and down into the roaring ocean waves below.

I gasped as I dashed to the edge and peered over the cliff. In an instant, a grey head popped up, bobbing on the surface of the turquoise sea below like a small buoy. Face beaming, the man gracefully glided through the water, diving down as each crashing wave approached. He embodied all that is the island of Kauai. A being brimming with history, age only accenting natural beauty. He had passion in his eyes, and the promise of aloha glowing from his heart.

Locals will tell you that Kauai isn’t about the beauty of its beaches; it’s the essence of the island, the emotional connection that exudes from the lush land, the passionate people, and the culture that connects past to present.

From the coast to the clouds, go beyond the beaches and discover the beauty that lies within the “garden isle” of Hawaii.

Here’s how to explore the must-see sights of Kauai, by land, sea and air...

1. By land, discover horticultural gems

Fig treeBianca BujanStart your visit with a discovery of why this Hawaiian island has been dubbed the "Garden Isle". Sprawling along the island’s coast—between Poipu and Ele Ele on the southern tip of Kauai—is the National Tropical Botanical Garden, a public education and plant conservation site that is home to some nearly-extinct species of plants.

Noted as one of the “Top 50 Places of a Lifetime” by National Geographic Traveler, the Allerton Garden is the perfect choice for an immersive tour. Gaze at the towering roots of the famous Moreton Bay fig trees (seen in such Hollywood hits as Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean), admire ancient statues and navigate through a grove of swaying golden bamboo during a fascinating guided tour.

2. By sea, navigate the Nāpali coast

Holo HoloBianca BujanWhen visiting tropical destinations, coastal catamaran snorkelling tours seem to have become almost mandatory, but the charter tour along the Nāpali coast—hosted by Holo Holo Charters—is so much more than your average excursion.

Sail past waterfalls, lush valleys, 3,500-foot-tall cliffs, gaping sea caves and private beaches, plus keep an eye out for a retired war veteran, who can be seen wandering the white sand beaches, living in complete solitude and off-the-grid.

Enjoy an undersea adventure as you snorkel below the sea’s surface and discover sea turtles, coral and tropical fish, and then dine on a gourmet, deli-style buffet lunch as you sail back to shore, “talking story” with a crew comprised of friendly locals and seasoned seamen.

3. By air, marvel at natural wonders

HelicopterSafari HelicoptersWhile a helicopter tour may seem like an unaffordable luxury to some, the 60-minute Deluxe Waterfall Safari—hosted by Safari Helicopters—is well worth the investment. With more than 80 percent of the island of Kauai inaccessible by foot, car or boat, and wild and uninhabited, a tour by air is a must. The raw beauty of the untouched landscape will bring tears to your eyes as your captain talks about the region's history and shares scenery that otherwise cannot be seen.

Jet over the jaw-dropping, jagged cliffs that line the Nāpali Coast, soar over the 3,567-foot deep Waimea Canyon (known as “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific”), get misted over Mt. Waialeale (the wettest spot on earth) and then count waterfalls as you soar over acres upon acres of untouched landscape.

4. Stay in laid-back luxury

HyattBianca BujanPerched on the southern tip of Poipu, the Grand Hyatt Kauai is a luxurious garden oasis and the perfect place to rest your head, unwind with a massage at the spa or lie by the pool for some downtime. Sitting on 50 waterfront acres of lush land, and offering 10 different dining options to satisfy any palate, this world-class resort will tempt you to stay and play all day. On-site amenities such as a lava rock-lined lazy river, a salt water lagoon with a white sand shore and a 150-foot waterslide will keep you busy for the duration of your visit. Despite the dreamy draw, be sure to venture out too, as there’s so much to see.

5. Eat delectable fare at a historic home

Gaylord'sFacebook/Gaylord's Kilohana KauaiA visit to Kauai would not be complete without a meal at Gaylord’s, where you can nosh on farm-fresh seafood dishes and traditional Hawaiian selections while seated in the picturesque courtyard of a Tudor-style home on a historic sugar plantation. Not just a dining destination, Gaylord’s at Kilohana offers lots to see and do. After your meal, take a tour of the 105-acre property on the Kauai Plantation Railway, enjoy live music and a specialty cocktail in the Mahiko Lounge or browse The Shops at Kilohana and pick up a souvenir to remember the magical island.