Kaua’i & The Na Pali Coast

Kauai’s Na Pali Coast is touted as a Shangri-La with teeth and that pretty much describes it. After about ten months of planning for a four island Hawaiian adventure, we landed on Kaua’i knowing full well what we were in for, our trek would be arduous but worth it. We strategized our four night backpacking trek of the famed Na Pali Coast carefully but did make an initial, out of the gate, mistake when we traveled from Lana’i very early in the morning, met our driver when our plane landed about noon, and then headed straight for the trailhead with only a short stop off for a couple of grocery items. I would suggest that a schedule of a day lull in advance of hitting the trail would be wiser.

The beginning – Teri, Scott, and a bag of Cheez-Its

Our start time was around two pm and we were headed for Camp Six, a designated site six miles in. The beginning of the hike is a bit crowded with day hikers but we enjoyed connecting and chatting with folks headed to the two mile mark and the beach that is the end spot for the vast majority of the people checking out the Na Pali Coast. *Permits are required to multi-day trek as well as camp and you will need to make them way in advance.  Fresh water is plentiful but must be purified.

Scott purifying
Scott on water duty
Warning signs
This is the greeting at the start of the permit area

We took a very short break after crossing the river and then continued, noting immediately that the crowd of day-trippers visiting Hanakapiai Beach fell away and we now had the trail to ourselves. The hike mentions a six hundred foot elevation gain but what should be filed away is the fact that you actually are in up/down mode the entire way. We ascended only to descend and then ascend again and this was repeated throughout. At first it was a bit challenging but I soon grew to appreciate the constant change in terrain as we’d head through jungle/forest type landscapes and then climb out and along the side of a mountain that offered unbelievable views of the ocean.

Trail green
Section of the trail as it heads back into the lush greenery

Arrival at Camp Six was not a barrel of laughs as we’d encountered some rain and much mud on final mile as well as darkness so an earlier start definitely would’ve been better. We did end up setting camp right near the covered picnic shelter and finished our day marveling at the fact that the oddest of meals, tuna fish and crackers along with a glass of coconut rum, was about the best thing we’d ever tasted. Our muscles were screaming but our hearts were as full as our bellies. My coffee the next morning was also sublime and only made better by a gorgeous rainbow; I didn’t let the fact that the rainbow was perfectly centered over the pit toilet diminish my appreciation.

Pit toilet
Somewhere over the rainbow

After packing out, we headed for the famed “Crawlers Ledge” and upon arrival, sized up any challenge and then very carefully traversed the rock and scree. There was a bit of rain which made for a slippery surface so we were extra careful. The drops to the ocean would be nerve-wracking for anyone afraid of heights but they are doable depending on the individual’s desire and ability to manage any fear as we saw when a five foot gal came around a corner on hands and knees, clinging to the side of the cliff like a little lizard. She very matter of factly announced that she was doing okay and that it was conquerable as long as you remain focused. Her boyfriend, whom we’d already passed, was cheering her on and she made it with little fanfare.

Scott trail 5
This is the area right before Crawlers Ledge

The hiking on day two was very pleasant despite dealing with a bit of rain and wind. The views just kept getting better and the excitement at reaching the end of the line and the notorious campground motivated us along.

Trail view 3

Teri Kalalau

Scott trail

We arrived about two in the afternoon and after a quick look around decided we preferred a private campsite in the trees over a more open beach site. We set camp and then headed out to explore and locate the waterfall for a refill of our supply.

Trail view in
This is the view as you arrive at the camping area
Camp site

We soon discovered that the eclectic, melting pot of people camping this area is what makes it unique and a fun experience. There were vacationing yuppies, full time hippies (this is not legal but also not really enforced), mountain men, former successful career folks who’d dropped out, and also day-trippers. Our first intro to the area came when we rounded a corner near the campground only to have a woman hiking jauntily toward us, sans shirt. Nudity quickly became as much a part of the landscape as REI tents though not as plentiful. Oddly we saw no naked men, just naked women and that was only about a handful (no pun). Out of a respect for the low key energy, we only took one photo of another hiker and it was because she enthusiastically agreed to to share her brilliant sun shade design, courtesy of a leaf.

Fellow hiker

The beach and campsite were large and provided room to either spread out or hang closer to what felt almost like a village. In this respect it was nice to have multiple options. The only drawback to the area would be the many tour helicopters zig-zagging overhead during the day. At times there was an Apocalypse Now feel to the experience that we could have done without but, that said, the helicopters do not land to drop and/or pick people up, they are restricted to flying over. While we were there the only way in and out was on foot, we saw no boats land though we’d been told they had in the past landed to drop or pick people up.

Beach view
This is the BEACH
Na Pali sand
Sand A+

Our two nights in the campsite had us encounter a number of campers and really enjoy most every connection. Early on we realized that our camp spot, located at the start of the entire area, was conducive to meeting new people and by just sitting in our chairs, sipping rum lemonade, we became the unofficial temporary welcoming committee, greeting everyone arriving. From a mother/son duo out of Georgia to a group of meticulously clean guys who’d fastidiously gathered wood for their morning campfires, we saw campers of all stripes. We were also lucky enough to swap stories with some of the permanent residents, our two favorites being a mushroom tripping man named Larry who resembled a wood sprite out of Lord Of The Rings and a robust, bearded hulk of a specimen who went by “Viking” and looked every bit the part. Viking was a former, eight year IT employee of Bank of America who’d burnt out and opted out and his intelligence and wry view on life proved entertaining as well as enlightening. Our only slightly draining encounter was with a guy named Guy, clad in a sarong that opened here and there to reveal a wee bit too much wee. Guy was proof that narcissism isn’t exclusive to the beautiful/moneyed set as he was short on chic and long on hippie-speak about his former lives, claiming to have known me in the one in which he was a Dutch painter. Supposedly I’d been his muse and his rhetoric was so exhausting all I could think was he must’ve painted me sleeping. Guy’s validity was forever shattered post-trip when my daughter, an art aficionado who works for L.A. County Museum Of Art, did a double take at Guy’s artist in Holland story and said it was wildly off the timeline mark, pure fiction.

Much of the enjoyment we immersed ourselves in was strictly found in moments of supreme beauty so if you head to the Na Pali Coast be sure to take some day hikes, explore the beach caves, and just bask in the light.

Teri day hike
Take the day hike to the end of the valley
Beach cave
Don’t miss the gorgeous beach cave
Na Pali light
This view is from the beach cave

Camping the Na Pali Coast turned out to be a phenomenal experience but Scott and I were reassured that our initial feeling that one visit to Hawaii would be fulfilling and we’d be ready to move on to other places on our list was reinforced. While the terrain was stunning, the helicopters were an insult that we’d never encountered trekking the Sierra of California. Both Scott and I covet a departure from too much tourism and chaos when we head out, an unwinding and unplug and we did find this but more so once the sun was setting.

Scott’s capture of the Na Pali sunset

We finished our Na Pali trek by camping at Camp Six again on our fourth night and met a group of trekkers headed in and had a great time hearing of their past excursions. Rain once again appeared and we passed some of the afternoon napping and I enjoyed sitting in my camp chair in the tent reading.

View while hiking out of the valley on our way to Camp 6
View back
A section of the trail while hiking out

Our final day dawned with sunshine and favorable weather so the hike out was a pleasure.

We made it!
We did it!

After a hosing off of the mud at the trailhead showers, we headed for our four day kick-back at the Beach House Hostel in Kapaa. We paid $75 a night for a private room, oceanside and were pleased with all but one night. For anyone who has never stayed at a hostel, see our article here. Hostels are not hotels so for those looking for that vibe, consider paying $190 a night and up for accommodations next door. Our room was a converted patio and we shared it with a tiny lizard that appeared the first night and politely ate the four moths circling the light. Now this is exactly the experience that I love and hostels offer. There is no calling room service, you just step into the hallway and greet your fellow travelers as they pass by toward their dorms or rooms. The bath is shared and was clean while we were there and the hot water was spot on. This hostel is open air, including the kitchen and we had the feeling that we were staying in a large house.

Hostel pano
Hostel is on the right and painted blue

I am not a traveler who eschews luxury to save money, I eschew luxury because generally it isn’t what I’m looking for. I like the forced connectedness of backpacking and hosteling, the feel that everyone is part of a community so really the only drawback to our stay was one evening when the restaurant/club next door had loud DJ music from 5-11 and I do mean LOUD. Our room shook from the bass and we gritted our teeth the entire time. Unfortunately we thought it ended at 10 or we’d have probably gotten the heck out of the hostel while it was happening. It was a learning experience in that the next time around, when booking a hostel, I’ll ask a few questions. While hostels in the past were primarily for college students, the landscape has changed and a number of the ones I’ve frequented host families as well as older travelers so this experience was one I’d not encountered before.

Canal in Kapaa

We rounded out our Hawaiian adventure with days spent exploring Waimea Canyon, snorkeling, checking out the town of Kapaa, and sipping wine on the hostel’s amazing third floor deck overlooking the ocean while eating take-out from one of the many food trucks situated conveniently right next door. I also enjoyed an amazing coffee truck directly across the street from the hostel that opened every morning at 6am. Check out Small Town Coffee if you hanker for great coffee and really good service.

Waimea Canyon
Sunrise Hostel
Sunrise view from the hostel on our final morning

Our return home was a smooth affair and had us both looking over our photos and feeling that we’d definitely gotten what we came for.

Kauai beach
Snorkeling beach

From trekking a volcano to camping the two tiny islands of Molokai and Lanai while being gifted with Hawaiian culture and aloha to diving in to the famed Na Pali Coast – our desire to visit a less tourist impacted Hawaii was accomplished. We’re grateful for the time spent and encourage others to consider this alternate to the resort experience if so inclined. **Quick note on expenses – we spent a total of $170 in permit fees for the four nights backpacked on the Na Pali Coast and a total of $339.31 for four nights at the hostel. Total $509.31 for 8 nights lodging on Kauai or $63.66 per night.

Mahalo Nui Loa Kaua’i.

Kauai Mahalo

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