When most people think of a trip to Hawaii images of beautiful beaches and crashing
waves come to mind. That was what I expected when I visited the island of Kauai for
the first time a few years ago. I had already spent several days in Maui snorkeling
and expected Kauai would be more of the same.
My second morning on the island, I drove north from my hotel in Wailua. When the
road ended at Kee beach I got out to take a look around and discovered that there
was a hiking trail called the Kalalau Trail that began there. I was not prepared
for a hike but had a bottle of water with me, so I decided to at least walk a short
distance up the trail. At the time I did not realize, that I had begun the greatest
hike of my life.
I headed up the steep incline along a winding path. The lush tropical vegetation
hung over the red-dirt trail in numerous places. As I rounded the corner where the
trail protruded out over the ocean, I stopped in my tracks with my senses
overwhelmed. First, directly in front of me was the beautiful and untouched Na Pali
Coast. The jutting, chiseled form of the lush green is to this day one of the most
beautiful natural settings I have ever seen. The mountainous coastline appeared to
go on forever and a gray mist floated above it. Then, I peered out over the ocean
below. The pearl blue water was so clear that even from the mountain, I could see
the outlines of the coral reefs. When I turned around, I was also able to see the
beach from which I had started glistening in the sun.
There were several more twists and turns with similar views before the trail steeply
descended on to a beautiful white sand beach, I now know is called Hanakapiai. A
stream flowed out across the beach dividing it into sections. I sat and rested in
the shade of some of the trees along the stream. The day had started heating up, so
I drank most of my remaining water. I knew I should turn around and head back
because of my lack of preparedness, but after talking with some folks, I realized
that about two miles away was a waterfall that fed into the stream. I decided this
was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I wasn't going to miss, so I located the
trail on the far side of the stream and headed toward the falls.
Even in the hot mid-day, the trail that ran along the stream was covered over by
trees and heavy vegetation that kept it cool. As I neared the falls, crisscrossing
the stream, I caught a few previews and heard the roaring grow louder like it was
cheering me on. The falls poured down into a deep emerald colored pool. The area
was covered in shade and looked like paradise. I finished off my little remaining
water and took photographs before heading back.
The hike from the fall back to the beach was not too difficult. However, as soon as
I left the beach headed up the steep incline that had been relatively easy as a
descent, the pain in my calves started to take hold. It was the hottest part of the
day, and without any water I knew I was in for a tough afternoon. The hike back was
physical torture, and I was more fatigued than I think I have ever been. However, I
kept turning around and taking in the view of the Na Pali coast. I smiled knowing
that it was worth the pain.
When I finally arrived back at my car, I was drained. A nearby park not far from
the start of the trail had a vendor selling drinks. I bought several and tried to
hydrate. Reading material after the hike, I discovered that my hike was about eight
miles round trip. The Kalalau Trail actually extends into the Na Pali coast another
nine miles, but permits are required. The extended hike is for experienced hikers
who come prepared with their supplies. I hope to one-day make that trip; because as
I discovered, Kauai is more than beautiful beaches, it is a place where spontaneous
hikes can provide the thrill of a lifetime.