Hiking to Paradise
From glistening waterfalls to once-in-a-lifetime ocean views, wonders await visitors to Hawaii’s Na Pali Coast.
When describing Hawaii’s Na Pali Coast, Noreene Fischer uses words like “breathtaking” and “stunning,” and she’s not the only one. Countless travelers have seen in the coast’s waves and waterfalls, cliffs and forests a beauty unparalleled anywhere else in the world.
The Na Pali Coast is located on the northern edge of Kauai in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Fischer, a resident of New Jersey, has visited six times since 1980—and is eager to return. She lovingly describes the area’s picturesque vistas and bohemian culture, delicious food and clement weather, as well as the vivid natural colors visitors to the island can drink in on a daily basis.
“On overcast days, you see deep, rich greens and browns and on sunny days, the colors are lighter and brighter,” Fischer says. “If you’re on top of one of the mountains, it’s the most beautiful and poetic scene. You can stand there for hours, just taking pictures.”
To experience the wonders of the Na Pali Coast up close, visitors would be well advised to bring a good pair of hiking boots, sunscreen, plenty of drinking water and a sense of adventure. After taking the Kuhio Highway northwest to the end of the road at Ke’e Beach, hikers enter the Kalalau Trail and follow it for just over three kilometers to Hanakapiai Beach, a popular tourist destination punctuated by cliffs and an inland waterfall. Along the way, walkers can expect to take in lookouts that soar over 300 meters above the ocean.
Intrepid explorers may continue on the increasingly rugged trail, which stretches nearly 18 kilometers from start to finish. As they progress, walkers will see raw cliffs on one side of the often narrow path, while on the other side, beaches, lava arches, coves and sea caves stretch out below. For those visiting in winter and early spring, whales can sometimes be seen beyond the coast.
After taking explorers through numerous climbs, descents and panoramic lookouts, the trail ends at the stark cliffs and crystal waters of Kalalau Beach. Even for experienced and agile hikers, the trip can take an entire day, and camping permits are required for those who want to spend the night here.
Hikers on the Kalalau Trail must proceed with caution, and check weather and trail conditions before venturing out. Strong currents and flash floods can be deadly, as can unstable cliffs and falling rocks. In addition, the remoteness of the trail makes it difficult for emergency services to come to the rescue in case of a fall or other injury. Signaling a passing helicopter or boat may be the only way to call for help, as there is no cellphone signal reception here.
Despite such risks, thousands of visitors safely navigate the Kalalau Trail every year—and return with memories to last a lifetime.
For those unable to take the hike, or those who simply prefer not to, the magic of the Na Pali Coast can be tapped in other ways. A car ride to the top of Waimea Canyon, also known as “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” leads visitors to several lookout points which provide breathtaking views of the coast. Numerous boating, kayaking, fishing and helicopter tours are also available to those who want to see the coast from the air, or the water itself.
For visitors looking to lodge close by the trail, the Lonely Planet travel advice website recommends Hanalei Colony Resort’s rental condominiums, located a short drive away from Ke’e Beach, though nearby accommodations ranging from luxury hotels to bed-and-breakfasts present broad options for international travelers. For dining, visitors can feast on locally-sourced fish, such as the delicious but expensive sickle pomfret, as well as local fruit and vegetables. Restaurants such as the Hanalei Dolphin can make for memorable nights out, though if you’re staying somewhere equipped with a kitchen, Fischer recommends visiting farmers’ and fish markets and putting your own meals together. “Everything is wonderful and fresh,” she says.
In addition to hiking gear and normal travel necessities, Fischer advises bringing some waterproof gear as it rains very often. “The rain isn’t a problem though,” she says. “It’s usually light and you welcome it because when you get rain, you also get rainbows.”
“The rainbows are gorgeous,” she adds, “with such vivid colors, like an oil painting or Crayola Crayons.”
Regardless of whether you want to hit the Kalalau Trail running or just sit back and enjoy the views, the Na Pali Coast has much to offer. “It’s a magical, laid-back place,” says Fischer. “Some people love to explore and others just like to relax—my husband loves to write when we visit, for example. Whatever you do when you’re there, it’s just wonderful.”
Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.