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On Walkabout On: Kauai’s Na Pali Coast

Basic Information

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Narrative

Something that should be on everyone’s itinerary when they visit Kauai is to go and take a sunset cruise along Kauai’s famed Na Pali Coast:

The Na Pali Coast is an incredible stretch of shoreline that features cliffs rising up to 4,000 feet from the ocean that have had sections of them deeply eroded over time to form isolated valleys and incredible scenery.  The vast majority of the boat tour operators base their operations at Port Allen which is located in the village of Hanapepe on Kauai’s southwestern coast.  You can read more about Hanapepe at the below link:

The boat tour we went with offered a sunset cruise of the Na Pali Coast that featured dinner and free booze for about $100 a person.  It may seem expensive, but my wife and I would find that it was worth every cent.  The boat we boarded was quite large:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Despite its size, the tour we went on had the boat at its maximum capacity; so in other words it was crowded.  However, we did not mind since we had a good spot on the front of the boat to watch the scenery of Kauai’s West Coast go by:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

From the boat we could see the ruins of the now abandoned sugar mill that was once the economic engine of the communities on Kauai’s West Coast:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

As we continued down the coast we could see a few people had homes built right on the ocean:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

We could next see the small village of Waimea which is the main population center in this section of Kauai:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Here is a closer look at Waimea where another abandoned sugar mill building could be seen backdropped by the dramatic volcanic cliffs that lead to the beautiful Waimea Canyon:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

You can read more about Waimea at the below link:

After passing Waimea the boat next passed by the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF):

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

PMRF is where the US military conducts sensitive missile tests at.  PMRF is also where the very last structures before the Na Pali Coast begins can be seen:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

After passing by PMRF the boat next passed by the last beach on this side of the island at Polihale State Park:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

This isolated stretch of beach can only be accessed by a good four-wheel drive vehicle or by hiking in.  However, it is worth the effort to access the beach for those looking for solitude from the crowds that frequent other beaches on the island.  Visitors may find themselves alone on the beach, but that doesn’t mean they may not be visited by ghosts due to the beach’s link to Hawaiian mythology:

Unofficially, Polihale has been incorrectly translated in many instances as the “House of the Po”, where Po is the Hawaiian afterworld. By this account, spirits are said to travel to the coastal plain adjacent to the beach, and stay in the temple, known as the heiau. From there, they would climb the cliffs to the north, jump off into the sea to get to the mythical Po. The story further indicates that this belief was so strong that all the homes built in the vicinity of Polihale would have had no east facing doors, so that no traveling spirit could become trapped within.

We saw no ghosts from the boat, but after Polihale Beach the boat began to enter the Na Pali Coast.  The words Na Pali are Hawaiian for high cliffs and there was no doubt that these two words described this coastline pretty well:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

As we continued down the coast one of the most impressive cliff formations from the entire coastline came into view.  The highly eroded cliffs of this mountain of volcanic rock had been formed over time into these amazing pinnacles:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Following this spectacular rock formation we could next see the Kalalau Valley:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

My wife and I had actually hiked on the trail on the cliffs above from Koke’e State Park; so it was kind of cool to see the valley from this perspective.  You can read more about our hike at the below link:

The Kalalau Valley is one of the many valleys that compose the now uninhabited Na Pali Coast on Kauai’s north shore.  Though the valleys of the Na Pali Coast are no longer inhabited they once were the cradle of Hawaiian civilization.  This is because the first settlers to Hawaii, likely from the Marquesas Islands settled the Na Pali Coast it is believed around 350 AD and the isolated valleys afforded each tribe protection from the other.  These early settlers were eventually displaced by the Tahitian settlers that arrived in 1000 AD who were much larger and better armed than the small Menehune people.  Today the Menehune are remembered on Kauai as folk stories similar to leprechauns in Ireland.  The communities that were established in these valleys lasted until the early 1900s when the remaining native Hawaiians decided to move to larger communities for an easier life than what was afforded in these isolated valleys.

I can remember reading a Jack London story about some of the last people to call the valley home which were lepers that were hiding from government authorities trying to move them into isolation on the island of Molokai.  One of these lepers was a Hawaiian named Koolau that hid in the Kalalau Valley and led an armed resistance against government troops trying to capture them and move them out of the valley.  Today the valley is only accessed by boat or the famous Kalalau Trail which is a hike I definitely am going to undertake one day.

Here is a picture of the mountain on the far end of the Kalalau Valley:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

From the Kalalau Valley the boat continued further down the Na Pali Coast:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

As we continued up the coast the waves hitting the ship became larger and bounced the boat around quite a bit.  It actually began to get some people on the boat sick to include my wife.  So if you get easily sea sick just keep that in mind if taking one of these boat tours.  The next thing we saw was this beautiful stretch of beach backdropped by the incredible cliffs of the Na Pali Coast:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Behind the beach we could see a waterfall and at the beach there were a few people camped out getting ready for the impending sunset:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Beaches along the Na Pali Coast can only be accessed by either walking the 11-mile long Kalalau Trail or by kayak.  Boats are not allowed to take visitors to these beaches because of over crowding concerns.  Hiking the Kalalau Trail is one of my bucket-list things I would like to do in the near future.  We saw a few more beaches along the coastline that were also backdropped by incredible cliffs:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Some of these cliffs had some holes cut into them that could be used to access beaches and valleys beyond the rock:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

The Kalalau Trail passes by 5 major valleys, but it also passes by many other smaller isolated valleys like the one pictured above:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

As we continued down the coast I continued to be amazed by the incredible cliff formations and the striking green color of the vegetation that clung to its sides:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

The scenery was truly amazing to see:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Much to the relief of my wife who was suffering from sea sickness the boat turned around and headed back towards Port Allen.  After turning around the waves were now hitting the back of the boat and thus not making it rock any more.  A short while later my wife began to feel much better and actually began to enjoy the boat tour.  Here is a view of the Na Pali Coast as we began to head back towards the port:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Here is the view of a large sea cave:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Here is a picture of one of the countless number of waterfalls that flow directly into the ocean along the Na Pali Coast:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Something of interest on the way back that the boat captain pointed out to everyone was this large X on the side of this massive rock wall:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Unsurprisingly this X had significance in Hawaiian mythology, but unfortunately I cannot remember now the story behind this X:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Here is the view from the boat looking back down the Na Pali Coast:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

The closer we got to Polihale Beach the steeper the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast became:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

These steep cliffs also had much fewer valleys than further down the coast and what valleys did exist were basically just narrow gorges:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Something that was an unsuspected surprise was that a few whales started to follow our boat:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

They were very difficult to photograph from a rocking boat as they went in and out of the water, but we could clearly see them:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

They eventually passed by our boat and swam off towards the sunset blowing water from their blowholes:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

By the time the whales were out of view, we were once again sailing passed Polihale Beach:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Then we next passed by PMRF once again:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

As we began to head back to Port Allen I took this final picture from our cruise that really shows how Kauai was once a large shield volcano like those on the Big Island of Hawaii:

Picture from the Na Pali Coast

Conclusion

Since Kauai is the oldest of all the Hawaiian Islands this old shield volcano has been heavily eroded by the famed rains that drench the higher elevations of Kauai.  It is these waters that have carved out the incredible cliffs and valleys of the Na Pali Coast.  For everyone who comes to Kauai I highly recommend taking a boat tour of the Na Pali Coast to appreciate this incredible work of nature.  It is unlike anything else I have ever seen in the world and I have been to a lot of places.  I just hope the next time I am on Kauai I have the time available to experience it by foot as well.

 

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