Yes, it is paradise. I have some photos below, but there's no way to capture the lush beauty of the place, especially the north shore. There are tourists, for sure—the GDP must be well over half tourism—but in spite of it Kauai has managed to maintain a rural, local vibe.
You don't usually have to drive far down a side road to encounter a little fruit stand offering a few mangos or avocados, often operating on the honor system. The day we arrived I swerved off the main road to buy a jar of homemade dill pickles from a young guy selling them from the back of his pickup truck, his sign painted on an old surfboard, of course. One or two scruffy, leathered old surfer dudes will inevitably be on the beach with you if there's a hint of a wave to catch. While fixing my latte, the young woman behind the counter at the gift shop/ cafe at Hanalei Colony Resort, where we stayed, told me about getting lost on the unmarked hunters' tracks she has hiked through the other-worldly thick jungle of the Alakai Swamp. A large percentage of the work force seems to be earning just enough in the tourist trade to support the island lifestyle. Could you thrive on a diet of ramen noodles and cheap beer, live in a buggy, rustic cottage, all in order to maximize the hours per week you could spend trekking in that crazy beautiful jungle, or snorkeling those abundant reefs, or riding those choppy breakers to a backdrop of Bali Hai? If you think the answer is obviously no, maybe you haven't been there.
The only mild down side for a nature-lover like me is contemplating the tenuous grip on survival that so many of Kauai's native species have. Several million years isolated by thousands of miles of open ocean have left the flora and fauna that evolved there unique, but vulnerable. The adventurous, industrious Polynesians, with their pigs, rats, and invasive though useful foreign plants, played a big part in the island's biological fall from grace. Western settlers brought more invasives, and even very recently some popular landscaping plants, such as the beautiful octopus tree (Schefflera actinophylla), are devastating Kauai's remaining native forests. Kauai's birds may also be suffering from mosquito-born diseases. Talk about the Fall: even the mosquitoes only came with the humans.
The Pihea Trail is the most direct way to the aforementioned Alakai Swamp. It starts down a ridge overlooking the spectacular Kalalau Valley... when, of course, the clouds part. Somewhere behind that fluffy white stuff. Did I mention 400 inches of rain annually?
A great place to learn about Kauai's native and introduced flora, and the uses to which the native Hawaiians put them, is the Limahuli Garden in Haena. It is spectacular.
Hibiscus is all over the place. Some varieties are endemic to the island. Not this one, I think...
The Pihea and Alakai Trails feature miles of old boardwalks, which keep your feet out of the mud... partly.
For a Californian coming off several years of drought, the amount of moisture on Kauai is... well... obscene? It clots the very air you breathe.