Friday, August 23, 2013

Backpacking the Na Pali Coast

At the northern end of the island of Kauai lies the world renowned Na Pali coast. Once you see it in person, you understand the mystique. With its dramatic mountains rising out of a turquoise blue ocean, it typifies the scenic beauty of Hawaii. Were it easy to access, it certainly would have been overrun by visitors and development by now, but its rugged beauty is exactly what prevents this from happening. Most of the area can be accessed only on foot or by small watercraft. Moreover, hiking more than two miles in requires a permit, which further reduces the crowds. Despite all of this, you are not likely to be lonely here. Encountering other visitors is a fairly frequent occurrence.

na pali coast

The trek to Kalalau Beach is a classic. It is accessed via the Kalalau Trail, an 11 mile route that is carved into the steep Na Pali mountains. To get there, you take the main road until it ends at Ke'e Beach. Where the road ends is where the trail begins. There is really no chance of getting lost because there is nowhere else to go. One should be in strong physical condition since the hike consists of a lot of climbing and descending.

na pali coast

For the most part, the trail is in good condition and rather easy to walk on. There is one section, however, that is rather less inviting. Indeed, many people have been so intimidated by this stretch of trail that they have turned back, which is not such a bad thing. They still would have seen some incredible scenery. For those who push on, this section can be rather unnerving. Here the trail is very narrow, consists of loose dirt, and traverses a steep, rocky incline. There is little room for error. A fall could send you tumbling hundreds of feet down to the rocky shore below. We took it slow, and relied on trekking poles and walking sticks for balance. At one point, our quiet concentration was earth-shatteringly broken by a horrendous noise. Initially, I thought a rockslide was about to crash down upon us. Then I quickly realized what it was. One of the many helicopter tours that had been buzzing around the area had suddenly risen up above a ridge and flew right over us at very low altitude. A more obnoxious maneuver, I cannot imagine. As we found ourselves back on more stable ground, we noticed some feral goats running about. They almost seemed to mock us as they bounded up and down the rocky cliffs with ease. No question, they were better suited to the terrain than we were.

na pali coast

Ten miles in, we were finally overlooking Kalalau Beach. Even after an amazing hike, it was a very welcome sight. The beach is gorgeous, with a long, wide stretch of sand backed by green pinnacles. We found a campsite among the trees at the base of the cliffs and set up camp. It was nice to have a bit of shelter from the trees, but we could not see the beach or the ocean from our site. At the western end of the beach was a small waterfall that provided a convenient water source. Some people were drinking the water untreated, but since I saw more feral goats running around above the falls, I thought it best to use a filter.

kalalau beach

kalalau beach

We spent the next two days at Kalalau Beach, enjoying the rest and relaxation after the tough hike in. Despite its remote location, there were still quite a few people around. Other backpackers would come and go, and at one point a small boat motored up to the beach a dropped some people off. We later watched some very experienced sea kayakers heading out after their visit. Getting out past the breakers was not easy, but they managed to pull it off. There was also an "unofficial" camp of people who were staying there indefinitely, as there apparently have been for a long time. They mostly kept to themselves and didn't seem interested in interacting with anyone outside of their clique.

kalalau beach

Despite the inviting appearance of the water, we did not venture in too deep. The surf along this part of the island is notoriously dangerous, and help is miles and hours away, so we didn't take any chances. The message was reinforced by a few "stickman in peril" signs. (That third guy appears to be in a heap of trouble.) Despite their comedic depictions, the danger there is very real. There was another sign further back on the trail that keeps a running tally of fatalities at that location, and it revealed a surprisingly high number.

kalalau beach

After our amazing, two day sojourn, we departed Kalalau Beach and began the 11 mile hike back. With lighter packs and a familiarity with the trail, it seemed easier than going in. Once we were back in civilization, we hitched a ride back to town and settled into our prearranged accommodations. The best thing of all: Even though we had left behind the beautiful Na Pali coast, we were still on the wonderful island of Kauai, itself a virtual paradise.

kalalau sunset

1 comment:

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