To fully experience Hawaii, it’s worth a visit the spectacular NaPali Coast. Untamed and uninhabited on Kauai’s northwestern shore, there are only four ways to experience it – on foot, in a helicopter, in a boat, or by kayaking. Of the four, my husband and I opted to boat the coast and then hike.
But what is the NaPali coast? A 22-mile stretch of beaches, rugged coastline, 4000-foot high cliffs, valleys, sea caves, and waterfalls span the distance between Ke’e Beach to the north and Polihale State Park to the west. The NaPali Coast State Park encompasses the majority of it, which includes the 11-mile Kalalau Trail, the only land access to the entire coastline.
For the boating portion, we booked passage with the excellent NaPali Catamaran, www.napalicatamaran.com, which runs out of Hanalei Bay on the north shore of Kauai. Right away we knew this would be a great adventure when we met Captain Sam and first mate, Miguel. Full of stories about life in Hawaii, they kept everything light and enjoyable, while also making us feel safe aboard the boat. When we hit the rough surf of the open ocean, we felt confident in their capable hands.
Waterfalls and sea caves along the coast captivated us for the entire trip. Captain Sam maneuvered the boat to many up-close vantage points, including a cave with a waterfall at the opening. Folks in the front of the boat got drenched, and once inside the cave, we shivered in the creepy darkness. We couldn’t see the back of the cave and the only background noise we heard was the lapping of the waves against the side of the rock walls.
Another sea cave contained a waterfall in the back with a skylight opening up to the heavens above. “Wow!” That’s all we could say to that majestic sight. Not every cave was large enough for the boat, but Captain Sam still managed to get us close enough to look inside many of them. One large sea arch over the beach could accommodate a helicopter flying through it, which is exactly what happened when a James Bond movie was filmed there.
In addition to the caves, cliffs rose high from the water into the interior of the island. At the spectacular Kalalau Valley, the “pali” reached a staggering height of 4,000 feet. We’d seen this same valley the day before, but from the top of the Kalalau lookout in Kokee State Park. Unfortunately, the rugged terrain makes hiking from the shoreline to the lookout impossible, and past attempts at road construction between the two points failed.
As we cruised the shoreline, we saw hikers on the Kalalau Trail. This 11-mile trail runs parallel to the coast from Ke’e Beach to the Kalalau Valley. From our boat, hikers seemed to cling to cliffs. Captain Sam told us they always watch for troubled hikers and have rescued people in the past. Since our plans included hiking the first two miles of the trail on the next day, we listened intently to learn from the locals. The Kalalau Trail is one of the ultimate hiking experiences in Hawaii.
The outbound portion of our boat ride ended at Nualolo State Park, which includes a coral reef just off the beach. We splashed around in the water with our snorkeling gear. As soon as I put my face in the water, a green sea turtle floated past, calm as ever. I could’ve touched it, but since that’s illegal in Hawaii, I just enjoyed the view. The coral in this area of Hawaii isn’t colorful like in other regions, but I found the world below the surface fascinating. Colorful fish swam everywhere, and when I reached out to touch them, they rushed away from my hand. Several fish brushed my leg — always a strange sensation!
Holly McElwee is a Piqua teacher and Troy resident by day, writer by night and traveler at heart. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.