Wednesday, August 31, 2011

{ Kaua'i ~ Part VII: Hanakapi'ai Falls Trail }

The Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile hike into the Na Pali coast. Mike and I wanted to do one big, outdoor adventure on our trip, and while backpacking into Kalalau wasn't an option, the first part of the trail is a great day trip to Hanakapi'ai Falls. The trail begins literally where the highway ends on the north shore of the island. After a two-mile hike along sheer cliffs dropping hundreds of feet down to the ocean, you reach a stream crossing and Hanakapi'ai Beach, one of the deadliest beaches in the Hawaiian Islands. It's gorgeous, in spite of the fact that many people have drowned there. To reach Hanakapi'ai Falls, instead of following the Kalalau Trail further along the coast, you follow another trail two miles inland, up the stream to the waterfall. Round-trip, it's an eight-mile hike, and the sign at the trailhead warns that it takes about eight hours. Mike and I were skeptical. "We're young! We're...not terribly athletic. But it won't take us eight hours!"

Here is the trailhead, at Ke'e Beach.

The first two miles to the beach you're going through a mixture of dense jungle undergrowth and exposed trail on the cliff edge, with breathtaking views of the coast. The trail may not look very well-maintained, but compared to the last two miles between the beach and the waterfall, this is a piece of cake. Like a flat sidewalk with ambience and a lemonade stand every block or two. Just sayin' we had no idea what we were in for!

I'd done the hike to the beach when I visited Kauai before, so I knew that the red dirt trail would pretty much ruin our shoes. We both threw away our shoes afterward, they were so trashed.

We're almost to the beach!

Hanakapi'ai Beach is really lovely. We took a break, ate some Clif bars, and explored the sea caves on the beach. We'd brought my phone just so we could tell the time {there's obviously no cell phone reception}, but time seemed irrelevant once we were on our way. We were going to the waterfall; it didn't really matter how long it took us. Since we started around 9am and it wasn't blazing hot, we weren't worried.

: : Looking out from one of the caves : :

Then it was time to head upstream to the waterfall.

We passed several huge bamboo groves. I had no idea how massive individual bamboo shoots can grow to be!

: :Lots of stream crossings : :

The trail quickly deteriorated and showed us just how good we'd had it for the first two miles. In many places, the trail was thick, deep, slimy, snot-like red clay/mud/water. There were roots, rocks, and branches everywhere--you literally had to think about where you were going to put your foot down for every single step.
 It. Was. Hard.

Finally, we glimpsed this and thought, "We're almost there!"

Now we're almost there!

The waterfall is 300 feet tall, plunging into a deep pool. We were high enough in the valley now that it was chilly, and though Mike decided to brave the cold water and swim, I was shivering and contented myself with taking photos.

It's hard to appreciate how huge the cliff face is from these photos. You feel like you're hemmed in by mammoth rock walls on every side except downstream, toward the ocean.

There was a trail up one side of the valley to a sort of ledge in the rock face. It offered a cool perspective of the valley below.

We wolfed down a couple more Clif bars, relaxed for a bit, and then headed back down the trail.
It was at this point that I decided I wanted a sherpa to carry me back to our car. The extremely rugged terrain--climbing up and around boulders, limbs, even entire trees while navigating an extremely narrow trail with poor footing and clay-caked shoes--was using every muscle in my body in ways they'd never been engaged before. We were both pretty tired, but we were only at the halfway point.

Thankfully, the worst terrain was the first two miles we had to cover on our way back. The last two miles from the beach to the car were a cinch compared to the jungle trail--but of course, it was now early afternoon, the cloud cover had burned off, and it was blazing hot. This was a new kind of miserable.

Praise the Lord, I see the beach at the trailhead!!!

Here we are, back at the trailhead, significantly worse for wear, but so glad we had done it! We didn't look at the time till we got back to the car--it was 3:30. Six and a half hours! A lot longer than I thought we'd been gone, but an hour and a half less than the time suggested in the guidebooks. As physically exhausting as it was, that day is one of our favorite memories. And we certainly slept well that night!


  1. So cool and so beautiful! I love all your travel adventure reports!

  2. Oh wow! You are SO brave! Hmm, maybe someday when we go back to Hawaii for a 2nd honeymoon I'll be brave like you. :) I'm pretty content just lying like a bum on a towel in the hot sand and flipping every 20 minutes.