In my planning for our Kaua'i visit, I had scoped out several 'Beach Parks' along Kaua'i's northern shore that offered overnight camping and which sounded scenic and pleasant. We reached the first of these - Ainini Beach Park - and stopped to have a look.
Ainini Beach Park was, as promised, a fairly quiet spot a fair distance away from the main highway - down a little twisting road and past some pretty tropical beach vistas. It was quiet and lush, and had a nice grassy area close to the beach with open camping. We got out and wandered around a bit, taking in the first bit of the rural tropical coast experience.
Although the Beach Park was a great place to camp, we decided that we'd move on west, picking another beach park closer to the start of our hiking the next day. We figured that given how empty this beach park was, probably the beach parks closer to the trailhead would have space, too.
The highway gradually narrowed and the traffic diminished as we headed west towards the start of the Na Pali coast. At an overlook near the community of Hanalei, we looked down into a lush river valley filled with low-lying taro fields. More than half of Hawai'i's taro is grown in this river valley. Above the valley, wreathed in clouds that were probably semi-permanent, were some of the wettest mountains in the world.
From the overlook, the highway winds down to the floodplain of the valley floor, and through the sleepy little village of Hanalei. Here we stopped at a small open-air mall complex to buy a compressed gas canister for our stove (specifically, at the Pedal n Paddle store. Website available here
We continued west on the Kuhio Highway, noting how it continued to dwindle in width and increase in twistiness. The thickly-vegetated mountains were increasingly close to the coast here, squeezing the habitable areas into small valley mouths that we crossed every few minutes. Most of the bridge crossings here were small and one-lane, and frequently we had to wait and yield to opposing traffic.
We noticed that many of the houses along this stretch of highway were built with no basement and almost always were high up on pylons - some houses were a full story higher than ground level. This, we felt, was probably due to the impact of Hurricane Iniki, which devastated Kaua'i in 1992 and destroyed many homes with high storm surge. Apparently those who rebuilt remembered how high the water got!
Ha'ena Beach Park
Soon the highway ran past a cliff on the left and a pretty little grassy flat and beach on the right. This was Ha'ena beach park, another of the potential spots for us to camp for the night. It fit the bill perfectly in the logistical sense - we were only 2 kilometres from the end of the highway and the start of the Kalalau Trail (our backpack for the next day), meaning that we could be up and off on our hike nice and early.
Ha'ena beach turned out to be perfect scenically as well as logistically: backed by the steep cliff of black basalt, the beach park has a nice broad grassy area and a pretty line of coconut trees separating it from a nice crescent of clean beach. The washroom facilities were clean and spacious, and there was a nice empty spot off to one side underneath some coconut trees that looked like a perfect place for our tents (with careful positioning to avoid coconut falls, of course).
Arriving at our camping beach
After inquiring with the on-duty lifeguards about camping here without having yet got our permits, we set up our tents (apparently a park staffer will come by early each morning to collect fees from those who don't have advance permits) on the grassy flats above the beach. As we were spreading out and organizing our gear for the next day's backpack, we noticed yet another one of the beautiful rainbows we had seen all day, and which we started to realize portended the next rain shower. We scrambled to prevent all of our gear from getting soaked.
After gear organizing, we did a little walkabout of our temporary tropical home. High winds and heavy surf made (along with a plethora of warning signs) us wary of doing any swimming.
We had read in guidebook and seen on the 'net that some people had had problems with car break-ins at the Kalalau Trailhead. We'd also read that the last store along the Kuhio highway - the Wainiha General Store - offered a bag storage service that would allow us to leave our rental car empty at the trailhead.
So, we left our set-up tents at Ha'ena beach and drove back a few miles to the Wainiha General Store, where we met a very friendly and free-spirited lady behind the counter, and checked-in our bags full of non-backpacking stuff.
We didn't yet feel like a camp-dinner, so we stopped for a restaurant dinner at Bouchon's Restaurant in Hanalei (food decent but our particular service experience was somewhat sub-par).
Tropical Cliffs, Ha'ena Beach
Tropical Cliffs, Ha'ena Beach
We returned back to our beach campsite not long after sunset. We explored a nearby 'dry' cave (there are several caves in the volcanic cliffs around here) that was, I guess unsurprisingly, quite dry. It was very wide and flat, with a low ceiling and a sandy floor. If it were allowed, it would be a perfect place to camp. In fact, you could practically host a whole campground in there.
Interactive trackmap - driving along the North Shore - double-click map to expand