Na Pali Coast Backpack
The Kalalau Trail
Monday, February 20
Dawn at Ha'ena Beach Park
The Na Pali coast is a section along Kaua'i's north shore that is wildly scenic. It is defined by steep, exotic-looking tropical mountain scenery. In many places along the Na Pali, the flanks of these mountains fall precipitously down to the sea in a series of steep, fluted cliffs. Its a place that does not look quite like anywhere else on earth.
Unlike most of Kaua'i's coastline, there is no shoreside road or highway along the Na Pali coast. The only land access is an ancient route that is now called the Kalalau Trail. Starting from the end of the Kuhio highway at Ke'e Beach, the Kalalau Trail contours and winds its way along 10 miles of rugged coastline to a wide, idyllic beach hidden away beneath those fantastic fluted cliffs.
Early morning, Ha'ena Beach Park
Our itinerary for the Na Pali coast was fairly short, according to most peoples' standards. Our plan was a single overnight stay at the backcountry campground at Kalalau Beach - meaning that we would hike the entire trail on this day, and hike back out the next. Ideally an extra day spent contemplating at Kalalau Beach would have been on the agenda, but the particulars of our trip planning ended up with that getting cut out. The fact that we were staying only for two days meant that we wanted to make as much of our time as possible, and so we were up before dawn, packed, and at the Kalalau Trailhead at Ke'e Beach (less than a mile further along the road from Ha'ena Beach Park) by a quarter after seven in the morning.
Nearing the end of the line
A quick walk over to Ke'e Beach gave us a limited view west down the rugged coast we were about to follow. The famous fluted slopes were not visible from here, but all the same, it looked like it was going to be an exciting and interesting walk!
Kalalau Trail Interpretive Signs
After observing the many interpretive plaques and warning signs at the Kalalau Trailhead, we hoisted our packs onto our backs and headed off into the jungle-like vegetation at the trailhead.
Jenn heads off
The first part of the Kalalau Trail is quite wide. Clearly this is a very travelled section of trail. In places it bears the sign of extensive trailwork, with areas of roughly-interlocking stone and steps - indications of the historical nature of this route when it was used to connect to remote villages that used to exist along the Na Pali coast.
Nice Trail Pavement
The morning air was thick with humidity, enhancing the jungle-y feeling of this stretch of trail. Thankfully, the periodic rainshowers that seemed to be a hallmark of the area seemed to not be happening today. Above, we could see a mixed sky of clouds and blue sky.
The trail gained altitude as it headed west, passing the first of a few good lookouts back down to Ke'e beach within the first quarter to half mile. We then levelled out and walked on a nice, wide path (although somewhat slick with a thin layer of mud) through verdant tropical forest. Many plants were unfamiliar to us northern-dwellers, with screwpine and o'hia trees being two very common ones along our path.
We continued west as the trail contoured in and out of several minor ravines, sometimes ascending, sometimes descending. On the up and down sections of the trail, the wide, slick surface meant we needed to exercise some caution to avoid getting a muddy butt. Hiking poles proved to be quite useful.
Towards a spectacular coastline
The Trail Dog
Along this first stretch of trail (which extends from the Kalalau Trailhead to Hanakap'ai Beach, about 1.8mi/3km in), we had a fourth companion join us on our hike: A human-less dog, with a friendly, Benji-like look and demeanor, hiked with us along the trail. He or she would occasionally look up with big mournful eyes, and we got the distinct impression he was looking for handouts. The dog didn't seem all that scrawny, so we figured that either the handout business was decent or the dog actually belonged to someone at one of the houses situated a little ways down the road from the trailhead.
Approaching Hanakapi'ai Beach
A little over an hour after starting out, we started a slippery descent down the trail into Hanakapi'ai Valley. Upon reaching the valley bottom, we had to do a little rock-hopping to cross the Hanakapi'ai Stream, and had a quick visit to Hanakapi'ai Beach. It wasn't much of a beach when we visited it, being composed during the winter months of large bowling-ball sized basalt rocks. Apparently in the summer, there's a nice sandy beach here.
Crossing Hanakapi'ai Stream
Andrew crossing Hanakapi'ai Stream
Cairns on Hanakapi'ai Beach
Jenn at Hanakapi'ai Beach