Hawaiian Island – Kauai’s Na Pali Coast

Hawaiian Island – Kauai’s Na Pali Coast

Kauai’s spectacular Na Pali Coast, the rugged coastline on the northwest shore of Hawaii’s oldest inhabited island, is probably the most remarkable and popular feature for visitors to the Garden Isle. The Na Pali Coast extends from Ke’e Beach and runs 16 miles southwest to Polihale State Park. Much of the coast is inaccessible due to its sheer cliffs up to 4,000 feet high, which plunge directly into the Pacific Ocean below.

These pali, or cliffs, provide a rugged grandeur of deep, narrow valleys ending abruptly at the sea. Waterfalls and swift flowing streams continue to cut these narrow valleys while the sea carves cliffs at their mouths. Extensive stone walled terraces can still be found on the valley bottoms where the original Hawaiians once lived and cultivated taro.

There are no roads in or along the Na Pali Coast, but it is accessible by hiking, boating, kayaking or from a helicopter. Hiking and boating are the best ways to experience these majestic cliffs, vibrant blue water, sea caves, waterfalls and other natural wonders. Na Pali Coast State Park, encompassing 6,175 acres and located in the center of the rugged coastline, was established to protect the Kalalau Valley.

Kalau Valley

This valley, surrounded by verdant cliffs more than 2000 feet high, is famous for its tropical beauty. The broad, flat valley floor is about 2 miles long and a half mile wide allowing abundant sun and rain for a profusion of topical plants and animals.

Native Hawaiians occupied the valley from prehistoric times into the 20th century, farming a large complex of terraced taro fields. Today, its designation as a state park prohibits residents, but a few long-term campers establish illegal shelters and remain in conflict with state authorities.

The Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail provides the only land access to this part of the rugged coast. Originally built in the late 1800s, portions of the trail were rebuilt in the 1930s. A similar foot trail linked earlier Hawaiian settlements along the coastline. The trail traverses 5 valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach where it is blocked by sheer, fluted pali.

The 11-mile trail is graded but almost never level as it crosses above towering sea cliffs and through lush valleys. The trail drops to sea level at the beaches of Hanakapi’ai and Kalalau.

Hiking the Na Pali Coast

The most popular hike on Na Pali is to Hanakapi’ai where hikers will find a lush river valley. Hike 8 miles (roundtrip) to a waterfall or 4 miles (roundtrip) to Hanakapi’ai Beach (the beach is only there during summer months – be careful as ocean conditions can be dangerous and there are no lifeguards).

For most backpackers in good condition hiking the 11 miles takes a full day. It’s best to get an early start to avoid overexertion in the midday heat.

Camping in Na Pali Coast State Park

Because the Na Pali Coast is within the Hawaii State Park system, permits are required for hiking and camping. Day-use hiking permits are required when continuing beyond Hanakapi’ai Valley, even if overnight camping is not planned.

Camping permits allow camping in authorized areas along the trail. These areas are located on shaded terraces near streams. The do not have tables or drinking water. Composting toilets are available at Hanakapi’ai, Hanakoa, and Kalalau.

Na Pali Coast Boat & Air Tours

Boat and air tours offer the most dramatic views of this spectacular coastline and it’s 4,000-foot sheer cliffs Dolphins, turtles, flying fish and monk seals are seen year round with Humpback Whale watching from December through April. Sea caves and marine life are added attractions.

Nualolo Kai, a fringing reef that extends 600 feet offshore, is home to more than 50 species of fish where Na Pali tour boats offer wonderful snorkeling excursions.

While the water on this coast can be rough in winter months, boat tour companies also offer romantic sunset cocktail and dinner cruises along the Na Pali coast during the summer months.

Source by Terry Reim

The Napali Coast on Kauai – By Trail, Sea Or Air


If you could do only one thing on Kauai, I would recommend you explore the Napali Coast (or by its proper name, the Na Pali State Park. I’ve lived in Hawaii for over 10 years and have spent months on the Garden Isle, and there’s a reason you see so much of the Napali Coast in Hawaii travel brochures.

Those majestic, sculpted, green, cliffs rise in places 1,000 feet above the sea, and literally hundreds of waterfalls fed by Mt. Waialeale (one of the wettest spots on the planet) pour down the steep cliffs into their valleys. At the foot of the Napali are pristine white sand beach coves, intriguing sea caves and beautiful sea arches. All this fronting Hawaii’s magnificent blue waters…

I’ve seen the Na Pali three different ways: from a four seater airplane (during an island tour), from a Zodiac raft and from the Kalalau Trail. Other popular ways to see the Na Pali include kayak, sailboat, catamaran and helicopter.

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Kolalau Trail

From the trail hundreds of feet above sea level, the views of the ocean, including the reefs at Ke’e are truly astounding. We hiked to the first beach and just before it stopped at a rushing stream to play under a small waterfall. There were little waterfalls along the way and lush forest. Unlike further down the trail, the first two-mile stretch that I routinely hiked was easy and felt safe (I’m afraid of heights). I often saw families hiking here. Depending on where you hike, you may see artifacts of the early Hawaiians here, such as parts of stone walls, terraces, hale (house) platforms, graves, taro patches and heiau (shrines or temples). The Na Pali is a sacred and mystical place.

Napali Airplane and Helicopter Tours

When I took the airplane tour (my first trip to Hawaii), we could see several of the waterfalls that they show in the Hawaii documentaries and Napali videos. The helicopter tours cost about twice as much as the airplane tours but the choppers actually take you back into some of these steep valleys where they hover for close up views.

Our airplane pilot shared lots of interesting stories with us about the geological and cultural history of the Na Pali area before showing us the rest of Kauai island. In ancient times when an ali’i (member of the ruling class) died, a volunteer would rappel down one of the steep cliffs till he found a secret cave where he would hide the bones. He would never return though. The rope would be cut, sending him hundreds of feet to his death, thus ensuring the burial cave would remain forever a secret and the mana (spiritual power) of the ruler’s bones would never be stolen. On a lighter note…

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Napali Boat Tours

We took a Zodiac raft tour. The motorized rafts are very sturdy and rigid (the kind the Navy Seals use), but they do bounce over the waves – a lot. I liked it the raft though because being so close to the water made looking up at those towering cliffs all the more impressive and seeing the whales all the more exciting. A humpback whale the size of a bus breeched so close to our raft we could see the barnacles on its head! However, if bouncing over waves isn’t your thing, you might prefer a sailboat sunset cruise or a catamaran snorkeling tour.


Source by Cindy Blankenship

About Us

Established in 1971, we are a family owned and operated Na Pali Sailing Catamaran Company from Hanalei Bay located only 5 minutes North of Na Pali. Our departures from Kauai's North Shore allow true sailing opportunities along the Na Pali Coast. We offer Hanalei's only sailing tours and take no more than 15-17 passengers per trip.

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