Where: Northeast coast of the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i
Best Season: July only for Kayaking
Best Sights: Seeing rare wildlife like monk seals, cool mountain pools and lush velvety rainforest floral landscape
Remember to Bring: Life jacket, waterproofs, sturdy boots & camping permit
Where It’s At
Kaua’i, the ‘Garden Isle’ is famous for its deep green rainforests, a huge canyon and it’s navigable river. But the island is also home to one of the most famous treks in the USA: the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast. This narrow 11 mile path snakes along the spectacularly eroded lava cliffs, called Pali, that form the north shore of the island. Formed by small rivers carving into the lava rock the fluted rock is lushly covered with rainforest plants and from a distance looks a soft velvety green.
In Hawaiian, Na Pali simply means ‘the cliffs’ and these are Hawaii’s grandest and most rugged. The sheer cliffs are home to many rare and endangered native Hawai’ian wildlife and the whole coast was the home to native settlements. Hawaii has more endangered plant species than anywhere else in the world, so it’s a great place to learn about tropical flora and fauna. The cliffs drop straight to the sea where small secluded beaches are sheltered, like Hanakapi’ai andKalalau. The trail takes you down to these beaches where swimming is possible but only for the experienced as it can be dangerous. Much of the Na Pali coastline is inaccessible – you have to hike in or even better, go by kayak. There’s only a brief time during the summer months that the water is calm enough to kayak. For the rest of the year, it’s just too dangerous.
– Sunset over the Na Pali coast mountains from Kee Beach.
– Hiking through the Kalalau Valley to swim in a 100 ft waterfall.
– Discovering endangered monk seals on a deserted beach.
Our journey path
The Na Pali coast stretches twenty-two miles along the north side of the island of Kauai the oldest in the Hawaiian chain. To Kayak from Haena Beach to Polihale is only eleven miles, but in a kayak, that’s three days.
Trekker Cristina LaMonica starts her trek at Haena Beach and spends the day paddling to Kalalau, a verdant valley and the first of several campsites along the way. She makes a hike into the rainforest to visit the Big Pool at the bottom of Davis Waterfall. A refreshing dip really cools you down after a few hours of humid hiking! After Kalalau, Cristina heads to Milolii, where there is a remote beach and a primitive campsite. Finally, with aching arms, Cristina paddled to Polihale Beach, aptly named “home of the spirits.”
– The best time to kayak the Na Pali Coast is the month of July. In fact, this is one of the only times because the swells crashing against the rocks at other times of the year make it too dangerous, even for experienced kayakers.
– Don’t forget that you must register with the State Parks system BEFORE you go camping. You must have a camping permit which can be obtained at the State Parks office in Lihue. Permits are issued for free but you should apply at least seven days in advance of your trip.
– You should be a strong swimmer to kayak the Na Pali coast. While the summer months are when the water is calmest, the sea can be rough and you don’t want to get caught UNDER the water. And always wear your lifejacket.
– There are lots of streams and springs along the way, but make sure you boil or treat the water before drinking it. Because this is one of the wettest places on earth, the trails into the valleys can become very slippery and treacherous. A good pair of TABIs, Japanese fishing shoes, are invaluable for gripping some pretty muddy trails.
– Sturdy shoes are a must as the tracks can be muddy and injuries due to slipping are not uncommon.
– Rain gear is essential too as this happens in frequent showers year round.
– It can be a very steep trail but the views are worth it: Na Pali is one of the most spectacular places in the Hawai’ian islands; the further you go along this trail the less crowded it becomes and and the view of Kalalau Beach at the end of your trek is amazing.
– Permits are needed to hike, the same as to camp. Regulations are in place regarding the maximum length of permitted camping time allowed at each spot.
– You should also be in reasonable shape and must bring all water and food in with you as well as out.
– Leaving a rental car unattended at the trail head is not a good idea as break-ins and theft are common.
Did you know?
– The entire chain of Hawaiian islands is volcanic in origin and it’s still growing! Kauai is the oldest in the chain and was the first to develop its lush vegetation and tropical forests. Kauai’s natives were also the first Hawaiian’s to come into contact with Europeans. The infamous Captain Cook landed here in 1778.
– In September 1992, Hurricane Iniki struck Hawaii and Kauai took the brunt of the destruction. Iniki seriously damaged 50% of the buildings on the island. A grassroots movement began to rebuild, but to rebuild in a more eco-friendly way.
– At the start at the Kalalau Trail, you can visit an ancient heiau, or hula school, dedicated to the Laka, the goddess of hula. Hula dancers from all over Hawaii come here to make offerings to Laka and in ancient times, this was considered to be Kauai’s most sacred hula school. Please remember to be respectful of the heiau. It is a place of great importance to all of the Hawaiian people.
The Pilot Productions team worked with Kayak Kauai Outbound,
which has two offices on the island of Kauai.
Kayak Kauai Outbound
P.O. Box 508
Telephone: 1-800 437-3507 or (808) 826 9844
Fax: (808) 822 0577
State Parks Office
3060 Eiwa Street
Lihue, Hawaii 96766
Telephone: (808) 274 3444
Tourism site for adventures, tours & trips of the island.
main image: Overlooking the Kalalau Valley and the eroded, green cliffs of the Na Pali Coast in late-afternoon light. From an overlook along Rt 550 in the Koke’e State Park, Kauai Island, Hawaii by Dcrjsr