Kalalau Trail, Napali Coast

Kauai, Hawaii

July 10, 2001

Dave Svilar

Most associate a trip to Hawaii with warm beaches and expensive resorts.  However the islands offer a host of other natural attractions including the volcanoes on the Big Island, Haleakala on Maui, and the Napali Coast on Kauai.  For their anniversary my parents decided to take a trip to the islands.  Luckily for my sister and I our parents lost their romantic flair long ago, resulting in us being the beneficiaries of several free trips to Hawaii.  This time we ended up on Kauai and I was anxious to check out the beautiful Napali Coast.

My sister and I on a hike above the Napali Coast.  The Kalalau Trail runs along the coast seen in the background.

I figured to take a few days to explore the 12 mile Kalalau Trail and the valleys along the way.  Little did I know that I needed a permit to camp along the trail.  Not knowing how strict they were checking permits along the trail I opted to make it a day trip.  My dad also wanted to go, but let the rangers talk him out of it.  He wouldn't have had any problem hiking 24 miles, but the rangers made the trail sound like it was highly treacherous.  I told my dad that rangers always try and make everything sound scarier than it is, but he opted to stay behind.

My parents don't know what sleeping in is, so I had no problem rousing them at 4:00 a.m. to make the drive from Poipu to the other end of the island.  I slept in the backseat until the road ended and my parents dumped me out of the car.  It was just light enough to see the well beaten trail, so no headlamp was needed as I headed out for paradise.  All I carried was a water filter, canteens, food (yes, my mom packed it), and a camera.  All I wore was some shorts a t-shirt and my new Chaco sandals.  The plan was to hike fast out to the Kalalau Valley and beach that marks the end of the trail giving myself plenty of time to get back. 

Looking back at the sunrise near the first beach - Hanakapiai.

Within a few minutes of leaving the trailhead I knew I was in for something special.  A couple of hundred feet directly below the trail waves crashed into the cliffs and directly above me green cliffs jutted straight up into the sky.  It was too early for anyone else in their right mind to be out, so it was just me and the goats.  Every few minutes I'd come up on a small pack of little brown mountain goats that would clumsily scurry off into the bushes.  As the sun came up and illuminated the cliffs and colored the ocean blue I had a hard time containing my excitement.  I wished my dad was along so I could listen to him tell me how neat this was every few minutes.

The trail continued to follow along the edge of the cliffs well above the water.  Somewhere around seven miles in I ran into my first human.  He too was alone and was excited about his trip into the valley.  "Hey man, there's hippies in there thum hills.  And all they want is food.  Give them food and they'll give you all the weed you can handle.  I finally ran out of food and my wife expected me home three days ago.  Got to go."

This shear cliffs are what you hike beneath for nearly the entire 11 mile trail.  The cliffs extend over 2,000 vertical feet in places and legend has it that ancient valley dwellers set up long rope ladders to access the top of the cliffs.


One of the many viewpoints along the trail.

I kept up a fast pace along the mostly flat trail that followed the contour of the cliffs.  The trail was exposed in some places, but nothing as bad as the rangers had described.  Finally I crested a small rise and before me lay the great spectacle of the Kalalau Valley.  The lush valley extended deep into the hillside with steep, fluted cliffs rising spectacularly above.  I dropped down into the valley and crossed a few streams reaching the end of the trail at the beach only 3.5 hours after leaving the trailhead.

The trail through the red dirt that is so characteristic of Kauai.


Part of the valley with the final beach in the lower right of the picture. 

I took off my sandals and slowly hiked up the beach allowing the waves to lap up over my feet.  I wanted to take a swim, but being no expert in undertows (or swimming for that matter) I heeded the warnings to stay out of the water.  I opted to take in the beauty and peacefulness of the beach instead.  Towards the end of the beach was a set of caves and beyond that was a pile of boulders that had crashed down from high on the cliffs.  I spent a few minutes bouldering on the rocks and then turned around to start the journey back.

The singular beauty of this area wasn't the only thing that I found interesting.  As I meandered back down the beach I saw two naked girls frolicking in the shallows of the water.  My pace quickened and as I neared they scampered back across the beach towards a waterfall with a pool at the base.  Just when I thought I had discovered Eden, two males appeared from the bushes and hopped into the pool with them.  Disappointed I headed back down the beach to get lunch.  The beach was clothing optional and nearly everyone I encountered exercised their option.  There was already a sufficient number of ugly naked people on the beach, so I left my drawers on.

Dave eats lunch and contemplates going nude.

With time on my hands I made slow progress back stopping at every viewpoint and stream.  One meadow was so inviting that I layed down for a nap.  Upon awaking I found myself surrounded by over 15 nene - Hawaii's state bird.  As the sun began to drop in the sky the Pacific turned a brilliant shade of blue-turquoise.  If the trip to Hawaii hadn't soothed me enough the sight of endless blue ocean, gentle breeze blowing through tropical trees, and the endless sound of waves crashing against the sea cliffs below were enough to make me completely release the tensions that had accumulated in my window-less lab back at home.  I tried to capture the beauty and feeling of freedom in my head so I could take it to work and use it when pent up frustrations were about to boil over.

Passing Hanakapiai Beach on the way back to the car.  I knew I wouldn't see a shade of blue like that in my window-less lab.

As I reached the trailhead my parents pulled up in their rental car.  I told my dad what he had missed and he was sorry he had listened to the rangers.  I suggested we do the hike together someday - preferably on my parents next anniversary.

-written May 2002

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