Is the Nā Pali Coast in Kaua’i, Hawai’i on Your Travel Bucket List Yet?
Seriously, if you don’t have the Nā Pali Coast in Kaua‘i, Hawaï‘i on your travel bucket list yet, then you really should add it as soon as possible!
Pictured is the Nā Pali Coast as seen on a hike of the Kalalau Trail (photo courtesy of Kathy VanDevente via Pixabay…I do have my own photos but not on my iPad and not as good as this lol).
The Kalalau Trail is apparently one of the most difficult in the world, but as long as you’re a somewhat active/agile adult, the first 2 miles from Ke‘e Beach, the start of the trail, on the North Shore, are doable. Nevertheless, it’s not for the faint-hearted as some spots are quite precipitous and can be quite treacherous especially after a night of rain. But if you’re willing and able, the Kalalau Trail is a must do on a Kaua’i vacation, especially if you enjoy a good hike and scenic coastal ocean views to die for.
When I was 50, I did the hike to Kalalau Beach and then a further 2 miles inland, through tropical forest, to Hanakapi’ai Falls. I really was not that active and the trail was muddy due to rain the night before, but I am strong and determined, and I really wanted to do the hike. On the way back, we actually saw some trail runners skillfully running the slippery trail, but we went at a fairly average pace (stopping to take photos several times along the way) and used a stick left behind at the beginning of the trail to help us negotiate the uneven trail and steeper sections (I highly recommend at least one walking stick).
The hike to Kalalau Beach is exhilarating beyond measure, just for the Nā Pali coast views along the way. You cannot swim at the beach; it is too dangerous, especially in winter, but it’s strewn with large boulders and rocks (which I love to see) and it’s fun to watch the waves at the shore, and catch your breath before continuing on to the Falls or returning back to Ke’e Beach.
The hike inland to Hanakapi’ai Falls requires navigating a creek several times over boulders or through the water, which we did on the way back and found was actually easier if you don’t mind hiking in wet shoes afterwards (although I found my shoes dried quite quickly in the warmth of the Kaua’i sun).
However, the creek can be prone to flash floods after a night of rain (which we didn’t actually realize at the time), so care should be taken when crossing (i.e. don’t hang around in the water or near the creek for too long and check upstream first) but when you get to Hanakapi’ai Falls, it is well worth the four mile hike and getting your feet wet.
Once there, you get an awe inspiring view of the falls descending a sheer 300 feet (91m) volcanic cliff. You can also take a dip in the natural pool at the bottom (but you might want to leave your shoes on as getting in is pretty rocky and slippery – at least it was where I got in).
A couple of notes to mention, if you do hike the Kalalau Trail.
- Leave early to miss the crowds (we started around 7:45 am). Not only does it give you plenty of time to hike all the way to Hanakapi’ai Falls and back, stop multiple times to take photos along the way and spend time at both the beach and the falls, you won’t encounter anyone already heading back the way you came, nor will you need to wait for slow-pokes or photographers (nor they for you if you’re the slow-poke or stopping to take photos like me) along the trail. Coming back, you’ll need to pass the late-comers, but you’ll find you’re hiking faster, not stopping so often to take photos and looking forward to getting back to Ke’e Beach for a swim/snorkel.
- I probably don’t need to tell you this, but just in case, make sure you take plenty of water so you don’t get dehydrated. Depending how far you intend to hike, you’ll be hiking for upwards of 3 hours (there and back) and it gets pretty darn hot even in winter (which is when we went).
- Take as small a back-pack a possible so you’re not having to carry too much, use a walking stick to help the tricky/steeper parts of the trail (your knees will especially thank you for that), and leave one hand free (i.e. don’t carry your phone or camera in your hand while hiking) so if you do slip, you can steady yourself without dropping valuable equipment.
- Take some toilet paper or tissues and a few wet wipes. No doubt you’ll need a bathroom break at some point, and there is a shack in the forest to do just that. However, it’s very basic (dirty) and didn’t have any facilities when we visited.
- Leave beach towels and snorkelling equipment in the car so you can go for a dip in the ocean at Ke‘e beach to cool down and relax afterwards. The water at the shore is quite calm, protected by a natural barrier, so you can swim or snorkel. We got back at about 2 pm, and I was very hot. I found a swim after our hike was very refreshing but I didn’t think to bring my snorkelling gear so I missed out on a wonderful opportunity.
- Last but not least, check for advisories before heading out to the trail, and if you see signs expressing any dangerous or restricted access spots, heed their warning. Sometimes the trail is closed if it’s too dangerous. Do NOT ignore the sign at the start of the trail. It’s there for a reason.
What if you’re not a hiker but you want to see the Nā Pali Coast?
Of course, if you don’t fancy a 4-mile hike on a hazardous or precipitous trail, or the Kalalau Trail is closed when you want to go, you could always take a scenic boat excursion of the Nā Pali Coast instead. The boats usually stop at one or two of the secluded, more sheltered beaches along the coast, where you can spend some time swimming, snorkelling or just relaxing on the pristine sand.
Or, if you’re a little more adventurous or limited on time and want to see even more of Kaua’i, you can take a helicopter ride which will not only take you past the Nā Pali Coast, but will also take you to all the inaccessible and remote areas of the island, like Waimea Canyon, Jurassic Falls and hidden calderas, many of which can only be seen by air. It is one of the most exhilarating adventures I’ve been on and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. You even get a video of your flight to watch again and again when you get home. I might add, if you have never been on a helicopter ride, the Kaua’i helicopter ride really is a must-do experience to add to your bucket list whether you hike the Kalalau Trail or not.
Another alternative, especially if you’re extremely short on time, and want to see more than one island, is to take a 7-day, 4-island Hawaiian Cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line, which departs Honolulu every Saturday, and navigates the waters around the Hawaiian islands stopping in Maui, the Big Island and Kaua’i, and includes an afternoon cruise of the the Nā Pali Coast before heading back to Honolulu.
Stop Dreaming…Start Planning!
If you have been dreaming about visiting Hawai’i and have now put the Nā Pali Coast in Kaua’i on your travel bucket list, stop dreaming…start planning.
Whether you want to experience as much of Kaua’i as possible or you’d like a taste of each of the main Hawaiian Islands either on an island-hopping adventure or a 7-day 4-island cruise, Kaz Custom Travel can help you plan, create and arrange everything needed for an immersive Hawaiian experience.