KauaiFilter: Where can I find the best Kalua pig on Kauai, and what kind of car will I need to get there?
December 7, 2011 2:53 PM   Subscribe

Mrs. Hylas and I are headed to Kauai on 12/19 for our honeymoon. We'll stay 8 days on the north side of the island in a rental found through VRBO. After reviewing previous recommendations, we'll certainly go to Hamura Saimin. Neither of us have had a proper vacation in years, so we want to have only a few plans and leave the rest of our time open for spontaneous adventure. The only thing I really, really want to do while I'm there is make sure that we find a good source for Kalua pig (luau optional). Where should we go? We plan to rent a car in Princeville, but a few people have now told me I should get a Jeep. Do we need one? Why? Finally, Mrs. Hylas is convinced we're going to want to cook all of our meals in our rental and avoid eating out as much as possible. She would like to bring a cooler full of frozen stuff to save money. I'm not so sure. What say you?
posted by Hylas to Travel & Transportation around Kaua‘i, HI (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a reason you can't buy food when you arrive instead of taking it with you?
posted by bq at 3:02 PM on December 7, 2011

I didn't try to bring food with me when I went to the big island last summer, but many islands have rather restrictive food-import policies (e.g. New Zealand). You should check what those are before you decide.
posted by nat at 3:05 PM on December 7, 2011

I live on Maui, but I have been to Kauai many times. You do not need a Jeep unless you plan on going off road, which I do not recommend. I have driven all over Kauai in subcompacts.

You should not bring a cooler of food. Kauai has grocery stores. It is like a moderate-sized city. There are a lot of tourists and military personnel on the island. There are a lot of places to shop and eat cheaply.

The cost of food is high, but comparable to many cities. If you shop carefully, you can eat cheaply.

As for kalua pig, I can't help.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 3:13 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maui bride, Kauai honeymooner here.

Jeep - not really. Kauai is small and the roads are passable. A fair amount of the island is remote and accessible via helicopter, boat or a long hike on the Nā Pali coast. You do run into some stretches of dirt getting to remote beaches, but there was nothing unpassable. Are you planning to go off-road?

Groceries and restaurants are expensive on Kauai, but so is shipping a cooler full of food. This is especially true if you're picking up a smaller connecting flight on one of the other islands. Essentially food (and everything) is expensive because you're paying the freight to get it to the island. You can pay that by shipping a cooler or by going to the market on island. Food import policies are also something to consider - we couldn't take an orange on a flight between the islands.

As a concession to your new wife, maybe you can agree to do breakfasts in the rental. Buy some picnic stuff for when you drive around the island. That only leaves dinner in restaurants.
posted by 26.2 at 3:14 PM on December 7, 2011

I have friends in Kauai if you want a contact to help you around and answer your questions. Mail me if you like their contact info.
posted by Yellow at 3:16 PM on December 7, 2011

Yes, groceries are generally expensive in Hawaii, but you can buy incredible fresh fish (think sashimi grade) just at the regular grocery stores for relatively little money. Get yourself a bag of rice, nori, soy sauce, wasabi, and you're all set.

Find a farmer's market for ridiculously awesome passion fruit and other local stuff. The "plate lunches" are not exactly haute cuisine, but they can be had for pretty cheap, and are kind of a trip of their own.

Just watch out for the Spam--them Hawaiians like to sneak it into everything (like sushi rolls).
posted by partylarry at 3:25 PM on December 7, 2011

There's a Walmart in Lihue, and the best malasadas are sold out front. You can buy great fish in most groceries (Big Save is one), and depending on the time of year, there's stands by the road.
Don't bring a cooler.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:58 PM on December 7, 2011

We did most of our shopping at Costco in Lihue on our trip, although it was for a bigger group.
posted by doctord at 4:18 PM on December 7, 2011

Eat puka dogs. That is all.
posted by Wordwoman at 4:36 PM on December 7, 2011

We stayed at a B&B - breakfast there, made light grocery store lunches, ate out most nights.

You do not need a Jeep. Really.

Things we liked: snorkeling (especially at the Queen's Bath), Kapaia Stichery (custom Hawaiian shirts, nicely made, 10 years later, mine is in great shape), the Guava farm, waking around. Bring sandals or flip flops and don't wear socks - they're end up stained with red dirt.
posted by plinth at 5:00 PM on December 7, 2011

+1 to Costco. We almost never eat out in Hawaii-stock up on groceries at coscto, which is the only Place around with prices comparable to mainland.
posted by purenitrous at 5:52 PM on December 7, 2011

My friend and I were upsold a jeep rental when we were there. When we realised that, despite all the fast talk, it was not actually cheaper, we felt behooved to take full advantage of the 4-wheel drive and proceeded to drive down every narrow dirt track we could find. Apparently Sunday is hunting-season-for-a-day for wild boar; met a couple of hunters who told us to get the f*** out of there. Had a blast and would do it again but no, you don't need a jeep for regular roads.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:05 PM on December 7, 2011

My son who lived there for three years recommends the jeep if you want to get to some of the beaches where the parking is off-road and can be muddy. You can get around in a regular car, but my other son and I wished we had 4 wheel drive when we were there.

I think you would have trouble bringing food in, but Lihue has Walmart, Costco, and there are some cheaper places where locals eat, as well as wonderful fresh fruit from farm stands. We stayed in Princeville. It is a beautiful island, and the snorkeling was great, amazing fish and a giant turtle swam right under me. The big surprise for me when visiting were the feral chickens that everywhere, even on the beach!

My son who lived there seconds Hamura as a good place to eat.
posted by mermayd at 6:28 PM on December 7, 2011

Go to Costco for the frozen food (in Lihu'e, about 10 min from the airport). You don't need a jeep. Get an economy car, you'll be fine. You'll probably get better fares renting your vehicle from the places in Lihu'e rather than Princeville.
posted by arnicae at 6:53 PM on December 7, 2011

I would agree that you don't really need a Jeep, but it's nice.

We really enjoyed the kalua pork at the Lodge at Kokee State Park. The lodge doesn't look like much, but we enjoyed the food. The bean soup and corn bread are also delicious. You will probably be visiting Waimea, so you can go there then.
posted by TrarNoir at 6:58 PM on December 7, 2011

We took our compact rental to several beaches where parking is off road. The only reason not to get a compact rental IMO is if you're planning to take a steep road into the mountains (there is a more gradual road) and that only because it is annoying how loooong it takes the car to labor up the hill.

Also, our compact rental? We had it for 2 days and the rental company called (!) and offered us a complimentary upgrade to a convertible for the rest of our time on the island. Apparently they have a lot of inventory in December...
posted by arnicae at 7:02 PM on December 7, 2011

Don't bring your own food. The farmer's markets and fish markets are very reasonable and amazing quality.

Go to Tunnels Beach for snorkeling.

If you don't know what to do, pretend you're staying at the St. Regis and call their concierge desk.
posted by sixacross at 7:38 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hamura's is great, and the museum (which I recommend) is nearby. It's been a couple of years since I was last on Kauai, but the Kilauea Fish Market was good last time, and still seems well-reviewed. I've only ever bought groceries in Priceville Princeville, not dined, but there are a number of places to eat in Hanalei — the nicest is Postcards. If you want more atmosphere than haute cuisine, I'd find out what nights local-style groups are playing at Tahiti Nui across the way... it's divey, and no one should expect particularly good Italian food to come out of a tiki bar, but it's positively redolent with atmosphere. If Honey Girl has a gig scheduled, I'd suggest you try to make it that night.

Don't bring a cooler full of food with you. Do shop at the local groceries and cook at least some of your own meals—if that's a thing that Mrs. Hylas thinks is a good idea, I'm guessing you're the type who enjoy cooking. Your rental property should have a grill. It may have fruit trees that you can pick breakfast mangos off of, too. Hopefully it will have a cooler you can pack drinks and lunches in for excursions around the island, but if not, cheap soft-sided ones can be had at almost any convenience store, and you will be glad of it. Buy tubs of poke in all its many varieties from the grocery and eat it at every opportunity. I fancy the smoked tako, myself. Perhaps you're an ahi and kukui nut man.

I can't speak to luaus from first hand experience, but Smith's was recommended by locals when we asked. It was also sold out when we inquired about last minute availability, so if that's a thing you want to do, I suggest booking ahead. It'd certainly be an expensive way of getting that kalua pig you're wanting, but there are additional benefits. I'm sure I've had pig in a number of places on Kauai, but I honestly remember none of them. Make of that what you will.

Snorkel at Ke'e Beach, at the very end of the highway. Hopefully your rental will have masks and fins for you to use. When the tide's out and the water's not coming in over the reef, it's perfect. Particularly if, like me, you are not a person who snorkels. The mountain that stood-in for Bali Hai in South Pacific sort of looms over it all, which makes a hell of an impression if the movie figured much in your formative years.

I don't think you need a Jeep. Do keep in mind, if you've not been to Hawai'i before, that it takes a lot longer to get from A to B than you might think. Arterial roads are mostly coastal—why build a highway over a mountain when you can circumnavigate it on the flats?—and the speed limit and traffic northeast out of Lihue can keep you to 30mph for a good long time.

Happy honeymoon!
posted by mumkin at 8:20 PM on December 7, 2011

there is s0me offroading that can be done on the far southwestern edge of the island. most rental car contracts require you to stay on road.

go yo pukadog.

see the napoli coast somehow.

you are on vacation. my wife pulls the same stuff about eating at the condo/room. what a time killer. sure eat breakfast there but you dont want to have to keep coming back to the room.

kauai is incredible have fun. oh and go to the beaches for crying out loud. go hiking.

get a covertible if the budget can stand it.
posted by kenaldo at 9:26 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

You don't need a Jeep or a cooler. You do need to stop at Pono Market for ahi poke on your way through Kapaa. It was the best poke I had in Hawaii, and I tried every highly-rated poke joint I could find, including the upscale (Roy's).

It depends, are you guys into food? If you don't really care about food aside from the kalua pork, don't bother eating out much and make meals in your VRBO. If you love food, it's worth traveling around and trying some of the restaurants there like Roy's, even though it's expensive. Look on Yelp, I reviewed every place I ate on Kauai there. Getting casual food like poke from fish markets is cheap and tasty too. I am also amongst the folks who made use of their Costco membership in Hawaii.

My favorite things in Kauai were a boat ride along the Na Pali coast and snorkeling at Lydgate State Park and Poipu Beach Park. Best assortment of tropical fish I've seen anywhere before or since.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:36 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you like sushi, a big portion of poke + seaweed salad from just about any little deli in any town will run you something like $5-6 at lunch. It is like heaven. I'm not exaggerating. Pono Market is indeed amazing.

If your Kauai experience is like mine was, you will want to cook meals, especially dinner, just because the restaurants are very expensive and not very good. We had mild sticker shock at grocery prices, even coming from NYC, but it's not cost prohibitive. And there isn't exactly a ton of nightlife or anything, so I found that the best use of the late evenings was sitting outside with a glass of wine and a nice meal and just enjoying the fact that it was balmy in January.

No reason at all you need a Jeep. Not sure what people are thinking with that suggestion. I assume you're flying into Lihue; is there any reason you're renting a car in Princeville instead? Seems easier just to get it at the airport.

Do drive Waimea Canyon.

Agreed that it will take you a longer time to get around than you think. It's a small island, but not only is the main road circuitous, but traffic can be awful. There is basically one route that takes you everywhere on the island. Be efficient about your trips; if you're gonna do a few things in the south part of the island, try to get up early and do them all in the same day, maybe two. You won't want to spend a big chunk of your honeymoon sitting in traffic.

The whole place is just unbelievably gorgeous. Hanalei Bay is especially so, and it sounds like you'll be right there if you're near Princeville, so go. A lot.

Have fun! I'm not normally a big "tropical island paradise" kind of guy but I would move to Kauai in a heartbeat. There's something really, really special about it.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 5:13 AM on December 8, 2011

Mrs. Furnaceheart and myself honeymooned there as well; We tried to eat at local joints for breakfast and lunch, and that allowed us to really live it up in the evenings.

Do not underestimate the plate lunch. Ubiquitous, cheap, and sooooo tasty. Lau lau is amazing, and again, you can get it at just about everywhere. It's so good. I miss plate lunch to this day.

Also, look for Saimin for breakfast. Sounds a bit strange, but it's the Hawaiian take on ramen or pho. Your basic Saimin can be really cheap, and really good.

Last but certainly not least, go to a farmers market (or three). They've got some awesome food at farmers markets there. Fresh Coconuts and baby bananas make a really good lunch, if you throw some starch in there.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:09 AM on December 8, 2011

Something to think about with respect to the Jeep: It seems like you are thinking about it becuase of road conditions, but don't discount the feel of the open air. We went to Maui last year and opted for the convertible and it was one of the best decisions we made on the whole trip. We drove the pants out of that thing (all the way around the island), and having the top down/open air/full view was priceless compared to a regular car. We didn't have any theft problems leaving the car roadside for hours at some pretty remote locations.
posted by Big_B at 11:36 AM on December 8, 2011

Best answer: Hi! I live on Kauai. You do not need a jeep. The roads are very well-maintained. There are some fun off-roading spots if you have 4WD, but if you are only here for a week, I think there are more fun things to do with your time. Convertible is up to you. It rains here a lot, but not for very long.

Good kalua pig at the market in Hanalei- can't remember the name offhand, but the menus are posted outside the restaurants. I live on the east side, kind of between Kapa'a and Lihue, so I could recommend more restaurants over on this side. We don't eat out much, though. We do a lot of BBQ on the beach with our friends. Best kalua pig I've had so far was from the imu that I built! Oh, and eat some avocados while you're here. They are amazing and buttery. We actually forage quite a bit of our food here. The Garden Island is abundant.

Rental cars are more prone to theft than local cars. It just depends on where you hang out. Theft is about the only thing to worry about, though. This is a very safe place over all. Hitchhiking is a legitimate form of transportation!

If you have any questions, feel free to memail me. First ever Kauai meet-up? I love this island and hope that you enjoy it as much as I do!
posted by kamikazegopher at 5:05 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

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