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Thursday, April 25, 2013

     Deep inside every hiker's soul is a special place; a place which sometimes doesn't get filled even with the most exciting adventures. Which had been there before he was born and stays within him to enshrine only the most sacred journeys. The Kalalau Trail along the incredible Na Pali coastline on Kauai was one of those journeys that stayed preserved in our hearts as irreplaceable and sacred places which will make us return many times.

The Kalalau Beach

     The world-famous Kalalau trail, the challenging 22 miles track (3-4 days) along the Na Pali cliffs and one of the most scenic and remote coastal trails on the planet, provides the only land access to the legendary Kalalau Beach and is an absolute "must-do"  for anyone coming to Hawaii to enjoy its hiking. The Kalalau Trail begins at Ke`e Beach and provides the only land access to the rugged Na Pali coastline up to Kalalau Valley where it is blocked by sheer cliffs rising from the ocean and no further access inland or along the coast path is possible. It is a challenging track situated on the narrow edge of high cliffs and traversing 5 valleys before it descends back to the sea level at Kalalau Beach. The trail is very rough and muddy and exposed to the hot sun and dry weather of the western coast of Kauai. Water is only available from a few streams and has to be filtered. By attempting to hike right into this very heart of the breathtaking beauty of the Na Pali coast, you'll be also following the original route used by the ancient Hawaiians who lived in Kalalau Valley or to transport foods grown in the remote valleys. If you don't have time you can also decide to walk only as fas as Hanakapiai Beach (2 miles), from where you can hike up the valley for additional 2 miles through the bamboo forest to the large pool underneath the Hanakapiai Falls. The second part of the track leading up the river trail for another 2 miles can be rocky and muddy, but definitely worth the effort (Hanakapiai trail).


     The Kalalau trailhead is located at Kee Beach in Haena State Park at the end of Kuhio Highway. A 2-mile hike one-way (4 hours round-trip) takes you to Hanakapiai Beach with an option to hike to Hanakapiai waterfalls 2 miles further up into the valley. The trail beyond Hanakapiai becomes very rough and strenuous as it starts traversing along the coastal valleys, and is recommended for experienced hikers only. Continuing past Hanakapiai originally required a hiking permit, however as of January 2012 day-use permits have been discontinued and day hiking is allowed all the way to Hanakoa Valley (6 miles). To proceed beyond Hanakoa Valley you have to purchase an overnight camping permit even if you intend to return the same day.


     You have to purchase an overnight hiking permit for any camping, kayak landings (allowed in summer only), and hikes if proceeding beyond Hanakoa Valley. Camping permits can be obtained online at www.hawaiistateparks.org or at any State Parks office. Camping is only allowed in the designated camping areas at Hanakoa Valley (the first or the last night on the trail) and Kalalau Valley. There is a maximum stay of 5 nights within the park. The entrance into the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park is free, however camping permits are $15 per person per night for Hawaii residents and $20 per person per night for non-residents. Camping is very simple with no facilities besides a few composting facilities and a hut in Hanakoa Valley. There is no cell phone reception and you will have to hike all the way out in case of any emergency. Water is available only from streams and waterfalls and has to be treated, filtered or boiled. Contracting leptospirosis by drinking untreated water or swimming in streams with open cuts or wounds is unfortunately a real danger. Sun protection and mosquito repellent are essential. Open fires are not allowed and you have to carry the fuel stove for cooking. Lightweight sleeping bag should be sufficient. You have to carry all the rubbish out with you.


     Summer months (May to September) are generally hot and humid with occasional rain. During winter months frequent showers or even storms with flash floods are possible. The sea conditions at both Hanakapiai and Kalalau Beach are generally not suitable for swimming or bodysurfing. The rip currents and high surfs during the winter has led to numerous drownings.

Track Notes

Kee Beach to Hanakapiai Beach (2 miles, 1-2 hours)

     The first section of the Kalalu trail is an easy 2 hour hike climbing steadily up from the Kee Beach and descending gradually to the Hanakapiai stream crossing. It is a popular day trip and the trail can get busy with day hikers. We set off quite late, a little after 2pm, so most of the people were already returning back to the car park and we were left with uninterrupted views of the spectacular Napali coastline disappearing in the distance.

     After an easy hour and a half hike we descended back to the seas level at the stream crossing at Hanakapiai beach which we waded easily. An unmaintained 3km track leads up the stream towards the base of the Hanakapiai falls  deep in the valley. We started to walk up, but soon realized we probably won't have enough time to reach the falls as it was already 4pm and we had to get into the Hanakoa valley during daylight. The track is quite steep, muddy and rocky, but definitely worth it if you have time.

Hanakapiai Beach to Hanakoa Valley (4 miles, 3-4 hours)

     The next section of the track started as a strenuous climb out of Hanakapi'ai valley. We had about 3 hours of light left and still about 4 challenging miles to conquer that day. We still had to traverse a few high cliffs and descend back to hanging valleys before reaching Hanakoa Valley for the first night. It was just after 4pm, but the sun was still incredibly strong and made our ascents quite exhausting. The views of the Napali coast that were opening in front of us however made our effort absolutely worth it. The sun was approaching the horizon very quickly and we started to worry that we wouldn't make it to the Hanakoa campsite in time. The last few miles the path was positioned high on the cliffs and too narrow for trying to traverse it in the dark. We made it to the Hanakoa Stream crossing just in time when a huge wild pig crossed our path. It didn't notice us, but we had to wait until it's gone and crossed the stream in complete darkness. There is no shoreline access at Hanakoa campsite and only limited facilities consisting of a shelter and a composting toilet. For those who manage to arrive early, there is a poorly marked and very eroded 700m trail up the east fork of the stream to spectacular Hanakoa falls.

Hanakoa Valley to Kalalau Beach (5 miles, 5 hours)

     Next morning we left the Hanakoa valley quite early since we knew that the last section separating us from the Kalalau beach is the most challenging one being positioned on a narrow footpath high on the cliffs and very exposed to the excruciating midday sun. Suddenly the miles of dramatic drop-offs to the ocean opened in front of us and we soon realized that it will be one of the most memorable tracks we've ever experienced. 

     The section between 7th and 9th mile are especially hard and require being in a presence with every step. Realizing the scenery surrounding us, that wasn't a particularly difficult challenge. 

     Finaly the trail opened up into the Kalalau valley, spectacular play of red and green rising up the fluted cliffs, and we started our descent to the Kalalau beach.

     The trail crosses Kalalau Stream near the valley mouth before reaching the Kalalau Beach and a small waterfall. We picked a shaded campsite beneath the trees at the back of the beach just underneath the cliffs. There is a magnificent sea cave at the end of the beach where the high cliff blocks the path and the rest of the coastline beyond it becomes inaccessible. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring this amazing place at the every end of the world.


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