The helicopter hurtles straight towards a mountainside covered in lush green, the soundtrack to Mission Impossible thundering through the passengers' headphones.

At the last minute, the helicopter lifts to glide over the top of the mountain, revealing a panoramic and breathtaking view - the first of many.

The helicopter ride is a perfect introduction to the island of Kauai, one of the six main islands which make up Hawaii.

Just a 40-minute flight from Honolulu and known as the Garden Isle, the island is one of the wettest places on Earth, it reportedly rains 350 days a year.

But Kauai is an island of contradictions with incredibly varied terrain.

Island Helicopters is the only service which lands at a waterfall in Hawaii and offers glimpses of country which is mostly inaccessible by land.

Also known as Jurassic Park falls, because it featured in the film of the same name, the 110m-high Manawaiopuna waterfall is on privately owned land. After your pilot drags you away from the awesome sight and sound of water crashing down the waterfall, you are quick to learn there are waterfalls everywhere on Kauai - falling into the ocean, dropping down mountainsides, pushing their way through almost any crevice.

Then, in contrast to the many deep shades of green, the chopper heads west where the land is a deep, brown-red at the Waimea Canyon where the dense bush more resembles the Australian Outback.

When the rain and mist is right, the pilot will also fly you into the grey face of the extinct Mt Waialeale volcano, which is dotted with spots of regrowth. Then it's off to the Na Pali Coast, a seemingly endless wall of steep, sheer cliffs dropping into an ocean of crystal blue water.

Kauai, the oldest of Hawaii's islands, saw more than one million visitors last year but just over 1500 were Australian.

Yet picture-perfect Kauai has plenty to offer.

For those seeking relaxation, there is the opportunity to amble uninterrupted along a secluded bay with the chance of spotting an endangered monk seal. Otherwise, claim a spot on a pool lounge and indulge in a mai tai while overlooking one of the island's many pristine beaches.

The island's tourism operators have harnessed the land's natural beauty to embrace the adventure market.

In the east, the Wailua River is a scenic spot for kayaking and hiking.

The journey up the river with guide Josh from Kauai Kayaking is easygoing and pretty. The kayaks are soon ditched for a hike along well-worn paths through dense tropical greenery.

Afterwards, there is time for lunch and a dip in the pool below the Ulewehi or Secret Falls.

If kayaking and hiking sound like hard work, you can choose to glide above the valleys enjoying mountain views on a zip-lining tour with Princeville Ranch Adventures.

It's an exhilarating trip of nine zip lines which is made to feel entirely safe.

Again, the effort is rewarded with lunch and a dip in a hidden pool on the ranch before participants take on the "King Kong" zip line which launches from an 8m-high tower and has you sailing 366m above the ground.

A drive up the winding road to one of the lookouts at the Waimea is a leisurely way to spend an afternoon.

Roberts Hawaii offers movie tours of the island, one of the most filmed sets outside of Hollywood. The tour visits the abandoned Coco Palms Hotel, the backdrop of Elvis Presley's 1961 movie, Blue Hawaii.

Doomed by financial woes and Hurricane Iniki which devastated Kauai in 1992, the once grand resort stands derelict.

The movie tour also visits Hanalei Bay, the set of Academy Award-winning The Descendants, stopping for lunch in the charming townsite at the personality-loaded Tahiti Nui restaurant where George Clooney dines in the blockbuster.

Accommodation on Kauai is not cheap but it is luxurious.

Poipu is a resort haven, but planners have set a four-storey high cap on development in Kauai - translated by locals to the more romantic "as high as the tallest mature coconut tree."

The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa has more than 600 rooms and offers a range of accommodation with enormous pool areas, including a salt lagoon, clearly geared towards families. But tourists seeking child-free time are not forgotten, with a secluded adults-only, mobile phone-free swimming area.

The immaculate and stylish Koa Kea boutique resort, also in Poipu, is a haven for honeymooners and those seeking a more personal hotel.

The food on Kauai - a big part of any holiday in my books - is as varied as the island's terrain.

On a trip out to the Waimea Canyon, visitors can stop at roadside "shacks" such as Island Tacos, Shrimp Station or Jo Jo's Shave Ice for a cheap but filling meal.

In Poipu, fresh food is on the menu at Living Foods, which is an ideal spot to enjoy a meal on the restaurant's wide, frangipani-shaded veranda.

Share plates of tapas, local fish and sliders are the go at the new Rum Fire restaurant at the redeveloped Sheraton Kauai Resort, while local fish - such as the creole-crumbed opah - tantalise at the Grand Hyatt's Tidepool.

A delicious fusion of local and European cuisine, combined with an excellent wine list, make a meal at Koa Kea Resort's Red Salt a must.

But the perfect backdrop for my final night on the beautiful isle of Kauai was provided at a local favourite, the Beach House Restaurant.

Diners leave tables laden with local fare to take a snap of the stunning sunset, the sun creating beautiful shades of pink and orange as it drops below the palm trees and blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Sheltering inside from Perth's winter-grey skies and persistent rain, the balmy evening just weeks ago during Kauai's beautiful, mild summer is a distant yet fond memory.

·Amanda Banks was a guest of Hawaii Tourism Oceania and Qantas.


  • fact file *

·Qantas has three flights a week from Sydney to Honolulu. Return fares start from $1479 from Sydney to Honolulu and $1529 to Kauai. qantas.com

·Hawaiian Airlines from Perth to Kauai, via Sydney and Honolulu starts from $1884, including taxes. hawaiianair.com

·Island Helicopters Kauai has 80-minute tours landing at Manawaiopuna Falls, daily between 8am and 4.30pm from $US318 ($314). islandhelicopters.com

·Kayak Kauai offers tours up the Wailua River with hiking to Uluwehi Falls (Secret Falls) including lunch at 7.45am and 12.15pm from $US85 for adults and $US60 for children kayakkauai.com

·Princeville Ranch Adventures' four-hour "Zip N' Dip" tours are from $US145. princevilleranch.com

·Roberts Hawaii's five-hour narrated tours to Kauai's movie locations are from $US89.50 per adult and $US45 per child. robertshawaii.com

·Rooms at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa on Poipu Beach are from $US396 plus tax. grandhyattkauai.com

·Rooms at Koa Kea Hotel

and Resort on Poipu Beach are from $US445 plus tax. koakea.com

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