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.
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