Hawaii is a land of abundant sunshine. However, you still must carry an umbrella and a rain jacket when visiting Kauai because it rains throughout the year here.
Kauai’s rainy season is from December to March. January is the rainiest month with an average of 5.2″ (13 cm) of rain, and June is the driest month when the average rainfall is an inch (2.54 cm). The island gets more than 450″ (1143 cm) of rain annually and is one of the wettest places on Earth.
In this article, I will describe the rainfall patterns in Kauai and explain why rainfall varies across the island. I will also list six activities you can indulge in when it rains. Let’s get started!
Rainfall Patterns in Kauai
Kauai is the northernmost of all Hawaiian islands. The position of Kauai exposes it to the storm systems that arise in the North Pacific Ocean. The island gets a lot of its rains from these weather systems.
Kauai receives rain throughout the year. It rains more during winter than in summer.
The average monthly rainfall in Kauai not only varies across months but also across regions. The northern and eastern sides of the island are cloudier and wetter, while the southern and western sides are sunnier and drier.
This regional variation in rainfall is due to a peculiar topographical feature of the island—Mount Waialeale, the summit of which is the highest point of Kauai. The mountain is almost in the center of the island.
Here’s how this mountain interacts with the northeasterly trade winds that blow in from the Pacific Ocean to trigger extreme regional variation in rainfall:
- Mount Waialeale acts as a barrier and obstructs the movement of the northeasterly trade winds.
- The winds are forced to rise up the steep mountainous slopes of Waialeale.
- These moisture-laden winds cool as they rise.
- Rapid condensation causes the winds to dump their contents as rain on the northern windward slopes of the island.
- This creates a rainshadow or lee area on the southern and western sides.
- The lee side remains dry as the trade winds get depleted of their moisture content on the windward side of Mount Waialeale.
The following table lists the average yearly rainfall in the windward and leeward flanks of Waialeale and demonstrates the extreme regional variation:
|Location||Average Annual Rainfall (in inches)|
|Summit of Mount Waialeale||430 (1092 cm)|
|Hanalei on the Northern Shore on the Windward Side||78 (198 cm)|
|Anahola, Kapaa, and Kealia on the Eastern Side on the Windward Side||40 – 60 (102 – 152 cm)|
|Poipu on the Southern Shore or the Leeward Side||30 – 40 (76 – 101 cm)|
|Western Kauai on the Leeward Side||30 (76 cm)|
|Far Western and Southwestern Coastal Strip on the Leeward Side||<20 (<50 cm)|
Kauai may be one of the rainiest places on Earth, but rainfall here usually does not last for days and hours. The region sees intense but brief showers, and the skies clear up before the rain can upset your travel plans.
However, some areas of the island, particularly those on the windward flank of Waialeale, are prone to flooding and mudslides due to heavy rainfall.
A few extraordinary rainfall events have recently triggered flash floods in Kauai.
In April 2018, thunderstorms caused significant flooding, predominantly in the Northern Shore region. Mudslides led to the Kuhio Highway and the Hanalei Bridge being closed.
In March 2021, Kauai was placed under a flash flood advisory as rains and thunderstorms hit the region. Flash floods in Wailua triggered land erosion.
Although these are rare events, I strongly urge you to keep up with the weather news and heed warnings when you visit Kauai.
6 Things To Do When It Is Raining in Kauai
With so much precipitation, you will likely experience quite a few rainy days during your vacation in Kauai. Don’t let the rains mar your stay.
You may not enjoy getting soaked on the beach when it is raining, but there are plenty of activities you can do without getting wet. Read on as I describe some popular ways to experience Kauai when it rains here.
1. Hop Shores
Usually, it doesn’t rain on all sides of the island simultaneously.
So, if it rains on the northern part of the island, drive out to the southern or western side, where it is likely to be dry. If you want to be out on the beach, head to Poipu Beach near Waimea or Salt Pond Beach Park near Hanapepe on the southern side of Kauai.
Kauai is tiny, and hopping from one corner of the island to another does not take much time.
2. Go Sightseeing
Visit Kauai Museum to learn about the glorious past and the colorful traditions of Kauai and be inspired by the stories of perseverance, valor, and victory of its indigenous tribes.
You can visit the Kilohana plantation, a garden paradise spanning over 100 acres. It is one of the oldest plantations in Hawaii.
Other sightseeing destinations that you can check out while you wait for the rains to subside include the following:
- Prince Kuhio Park on Lawai Road on the South Shore
- National Tropical Botanical Garden at the end of Lawai Road on the South Shore
- Koloa, a plantation town dating back to the 19th century
- Hanapepe, a place that preserves Hawaii’s plantation past
Here’s a word of caution. The hiking trails in Kauai turn muddy and slippery when it rains. Stay away from these places when it is pouring.
3. Get a Lomi Lomi Massage
Soothe your mind, heal your body, and tantalize your senses when it rains in Kauai. Get a Lomi Lomi massage.
Lomi Lomi massage is a uniquely Hawaiian tradition. Introduced to the island by the early Polynesians, this healing massage is also known as loving hands massage.
Practitioners tap, rub, and knead your body in gentle but firm flowing strokes using an assortment of heady nut oils. A Lomi Lomi massage is a journey for the senses!
To find a great massage location, check out my guide on the best spas in Kauai.
4. Go Coffee Tasting
The Kauai Coffee Company in Kalaheo is the largest coffee grower in the United States. They provide free self-guided walks through their orchards and house a gift shop on their premises where you can shop for unique coffee-themed objects.
A highlight of visiting this coffee haven is the chance to sample the different flavors of genuine Hawaiian coffee. This is a must-visit place for all those who relish their cup of joe.
5. Go Whale Watching
The whales are active during the winter season when it also rains. However, you can still watch a magnificent humpback breaching the waves in a spectacular foamy display or a mother whale gliding over the waves with her calf from the shelter of a whale-watching tour boat.
If your boat tour is called off because there is a forecast for thunderstorms and choppy ocean conditions, head to the many whale-watching points dotted all over the islands.
6. Go Shopping
Who doesn’t love shopping for souvenirs? When it rains in Kauai, head to the shops to pick up slices of Kauai you can take back home.
The following are some famous shopping destinations in Kauai where you can shop for mementos and memorabilia of your visit:
- Yellowfish Trading Company in Hanalei on the North Shore.
- Coconut Marketplace along the Coconut Coast in Kapaa.
- The Shops at Kukuiula in the heart of Poipu on the South Shore.
Recap: Kauai Rainy Season
It rains more during winter than in summer in Kauai. But, winter is alluring in Kauai, especially to someone who has to endure bitter cold and frigid temperatures back home.
Do not let the rains dampen your travel plans. Kauai typically gets brief spells of rain, and that too, on one side of the island.
You can always drive to the sunnier side of the island to escape the rains. There are also numerous activities for you to enjoy unbothered by the rains.