When you hike on Kauai you are never far away from a dazzling view of the Pacific Ocean. Kauai is the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain and as an elder, requires that you slow down to visit. Kauai is called the Garden Isle and for outdoor beauty, few compare.
We are lured onto the mountain trails of the Na’pali Coast. Nani means beautiful and pali means a cliff or a precipice. The Na’pali is the rugged coast between both ends of the island highway. The coastal trail is an ancient Hawaiian route, winding along the coast for eleven miles. After walking the edge of eroded cliffs you gratefully arrive at a large beach, where you can camp. It is not recommended that you expect to hike the Na’pali Coast and home again in one day.
The steep cliffs through deep valleys and narrow ridges, like most geology, are manifestations of erosion; it’s been six million years since the volcano went off. The view is spectacular. You will not find quiet solitude the whole way as many people hike the Na’pali, but you will get inside the thrill of the coastal ecosystem.
The rain clouds disappear, leaving behind watered plants and refreshed waterfalls. Wave after endless Pacific Ocean wave crash onto rocks below you. Clouds that make visible the omnipresent trade winds hover on the horizon. In February, we sight Humpback whales migrating from Alaska, chasing one another around in pods. The bulls hunt the females who protect their calves. All of them come up for air once in awhile and put on quite a show. In the summer you can kayak or boat beyond the surf, get to the beach, hang out for a picnic lunch, and take a bath in a romantic waterfall. Isabella L. Bird, in 1873, said that the Sandwich Islands were “loveable” – that she would give all for the luxurious redundance of one canyon, for one day of those soft dreamy “skies whose very tears are balm.” When you finally look down, be prepared for mud-encrusted boots.
Red dirt is the first thing you notice hiking on Kauai. After so many footfalls on the same path the earth is packed tight and becomes very slick during rainy weather. It’s best to wear good hiking shoes for traction and to save wear and tear on your joints. Hiking rates from easy to strenuous. Pack a lunch and take a layer of clothing for evening return hiking – in case you are out longer than you planned.
We drive past Waimea Canyon: the Grand Canyon of Hawaii. It offers a multitude of beautiful vistas and short hikes. Continue on to the top of the mountain, Mt. Waialeale, and discover Kokee State Park. Here are trailheads for more dramatic hiking. One of my favorite trails takes us to the Nualolo Overlook – about 5.75 miles. You can turn around or you can take the next step, which is a real doozy, not for those with acrophobia. The trail is narrow and the precipice, the nani, is great, but the view is of the end of the Na’pali trail. You feel like you have come full circle, or full vertical, as the case may be.
Beyond the park lay the caldera of the Kauai shield volcano: a real bog called the Alakai Swamp. A tropical tree bog is typically formed from tree remains, and rainwater is the only source of water. Instead of a trail, the Alakai offers a delightful boardwalk you can scoot along at your own pace. You’ll end up at another great view of canyons and the distant town of Hanalei.
In the Alakai, you’ll hear and catch glimpses of special little forest birds. A mosquito-born disease killed off these particular birds when they lived on the coast, so this is their refuge. There are fewer species of birds in Hawaii than in any other state, so the list is not that long; the challenge is in sighting through all the foliage. You stand still for a seldom seen Kauai Creeper, and become familiar with the red flash of the I’iwi, with its long decurved beak.
Whether you want to hike all day, all week, or just a few hours, Kauai offers you many miles of good trails. You will discover tropical nature, some solitude, friendly people, and glorious scenery.