LIFE’S A BEACH
We were up early on Wednesday and ready to hike. Backpacking the Na Pali Coast to Kalalau Beach had been my original inspiration for coming to Hawaii, so the early hour did little to curb my enthusiasm. Unfortunately, we had some logistical challenges to contend with. Car break-ins are apparently common at the Ke’e Beach trailhead. Allegedly, some rental companies forbid overnight parking there. (I’m not sure if this is true with Dollar-Rent-a-Car, since I didn’t bother to read the contract when we picked up the jeep). Fortunately, we had already made other arrangements. I received a recommendation for Bran’s Taxi Service on http://forum.backyardoahu.com/. I contacted Bran’s in advance, and they agreed to take us from the Lihue airport to the trailhead and back for $140. This may sound like a lot, but the drive is easily 90 minutes each way. Plus, I’m sure it would’ve cost more to rent a car for the last 5 days. Bran’s even agreed to store our extra luggage for us while we were on the trail.
We checked out of the condo early on Wednesday and drove back to the Lihue airport. We turned the Jeep in (it will be missed!), and met our driver, Marvin. We piled our gear in the minivan, and were on our way.
Marvin is a friendly guy, and offered to stop for breakfast or anywhere else we wanted to go along the way. He even specifically asked if we needed to stop in Hanalei to pick up stove fuel. This would’ve been quite handy if we hadn’t driven up there the day before. On the way, Marvin entertained us with many stories about living on Kauai. He had lived there for 10 years, but rarely traveled to any of the other islands (several he had never been to at all). Marvin seemed like the perfect person to ask a question that had been bugging me. Where do people in Hawaii go for vacation? I assumed they most go somewhere even more exotic, like New Zealand or Japan. Marvin’s surprising answer? Vegas. Go figure.
Marvin dropped us off at Ke’e Beach at 9AM. He agreed to pick us back up on Sunday at 11:30, and we headed for the trail. First though, we paused briefly to check out the beach. Ke’e is a beautiful cove of calm water protected by a reef. Christy suggested we hike out early on Sunday and snorkel there before meeting Marvin for the ride to the airport.
We headed up the Kalalau trail, which climbed steadily out of the woods to overlook the aqua waters of Ke’e Bay. This section of trail had the unique distinction of being both rocky and muddy. Where we weren’t scrambling over rocks, we were slipping and sliding through the mud. This section was also surprisingly difficult. We climbed steadily, and occasionally steeply. To make matters worse, it was already hot and humid. Temperatures were only in the mid-80’s, but it was a steamy, wet heat, with the brutal sun already high above us.
Despite the hills, rocks, heat, and mud, this was a very popular stretch of trail. The Kalalau trail is world-famous, and it seemed like everyone visiting Kauai wanted to hike at least part of it. The first two miles lead to Hanakapiai valley and beach. This is the likely destination for most hikers, while the more ambitious can hike an additional 2 miles up the valley to a dramatic waterfall. We passed a steady stream of families, natives, and tourists during our first 2 miles on the trail. At one point, we even passed 2 girls hiking in thongs (and no, I’m not referring to their foot ware). Holy chaffing, Batman, how do you hike “dressed” like that?
We descended a slippery, eroded hillside and arrived at Hanakapiai Stream. A sign here warned against swimming at Hanakapiai Beach, stating that 82 people had died there over the years. The sign listed the death toll using Roman Numerals, presumably to make it easy to add to the tally.
We switched to sandals and forded the stream, our first of 3 major crossings that day. Then we walked down to the beach to take a break. Many of our fellow hikers were ignoring the advice of the state of Hawaii, as the ocean was full of surfers and swimmers. We were content to rest in the shade, and quickly attracted the attention of a pack of feral cats. Cats are just one of the many animal populations that have gotten out of control over the years. The islands are full of goats, pigs, donkeys, horses, chickens, and cats that have gone wild. It’s gotten so bad, Hawaii should adopt a new slogan – “Farm animals gone wild!”
The next section of trail was brutal. We climbed steeply on an endless series of switchbacks, fighting our way upward through dense vegetation and shimmering heat. My clothes were soaked long before I reached the top, and I was fighting a loosing battle just keeping the sweat out of my eyes. On the up side, all of the dayhikers disappeared. Finally we reached a cliff, where our efforts were rewarded. In each direction were stunning views of sheer cliffs dropping straight into the turbulent waters of the Pacific. High above, rocky crags draped in moss and ferns were partially obscured by swirling fog. More importantly, the top of the ridge offered a refreshing breeze.
We hiked on, through tunnels of tropical vegetation. Kalalau is a popular trail, and it’s a good thing. If it didn’t receive regular traffic, the thousand-year old footpath would be quickly swallowed by the jungle.
We hiked back into an immense amphitheatre. The highest mountains towered directly above us, and thousand foot waterfalls spilled over the cliffs. Some of the footage from “Jurassic Park” was filmed here, and they couldn’t have picked a better place. Given the outrageous scenery and the alien vegetation, I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if a Pterodactyl had flown over our heads.
We descended again, and reached Hanakoa Stream at 3pm. So far, the hike had been far more difficult than I expected. I was playing the role of Christy’s Sherpa, carrying all of the gear and most of the food, and the load was beginning to take its toll. Between the vegetation, the steep climbs, and my heavy pack, I was already worn out. The biggest challenge though was the heat and humidity. The place was a natural sauna, and the conditions were far worse than 100-degree weather in the Grand Canyon.
We briefly considered spending the night at Hanakoa. We still had 5 miles to go, with 5 hours of daylight remaining. So far we’d made 6 miles in 6 hours, so we knew we’d be pushing it if we continued. There weren’t any likely campsites until Kalalau, given the steep terrain and thick vegetation. On the other hand, we really wanted to get to Kalalau, so we could enjoy it for the next two days. Plus, Hanakoa was officially closed to camping, though plenty of people were ignoring the closure. Ultimately though, we decided we didn’t want to camp there. The valley featured two old shelters and an outhouse, but was lacking in campsites. What it doesn’t lack are mosquitoes. The valley is wet and shady, making for a perfect mosquito breeding ground. We passed numerous groups heading out, and all of them assured us that the last 5 miles were easier. This promise was beginning to remind me of how I felt about Santa Claus when I was eight. I kept hearing a lot about it, and I really wanted to believe it, but deep down inside I wasn’t so sure.
Just like Santa Claus, this claim turned out to be a cruel lie. We managed the tricky ford of Hanakoa Stream and climbed steadily out of the valley. In less than a mile, we emerged from the jungle on a rocky cliff. For the next 2 miles, we clung to the edge of the cliff, with the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean 500’ directly below. The hiking may have been a little easier, but it certainly wasn’t relaxing. Every step was an exercise in concentration, as the trail is composed largely of scree and loose dirt. There was no shade on this section of trail, only barren rock and the pounding surf far below. On the other hand, the fact that we were behind schedule actually worked to our advantage. It was late afternoon, and the sun was hidden by the high ridges behind us. An occasional breeze brought additional relief, and helped us push on.
Over the next few miles, the trail alternated between the sheer cliffs and small coves created by mountain streams splashing down from the wettest place on earth. It was on this stretch that we spotted our first goats. Some were perched on top of the ridges, while others were down in the streams. Goat hunting is allowed (in fact, encouraged), but they didn’t seem afraid of us. A few skittered off the trail ahead of us, but most just watched as we passed by.
By 5:30, we still had 2+ miles to go, with only 2 hours of daylight remaining. I was totally exhausted though. We stopped for a brief snack break, and that seemed to give me enough energy to finish the hike.
A few minutes later, we crested a hill and were greeted with the most spectacular view of the trip. Far below was the Kalalau valley, while above were the green, fluted cliffs that the area is famous for. To our left, a high amphitheatre of sheer peaks surrounded the bowl of the upper Kalalau Valley. To our right, the Pacific Ocean washed ashore at the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. Kalalau is a mile-long stretch of perfect sand, backed by dense rain forest and vertical cliffs. Along the base of the cliffs, we could just barely make out a series of caves. We descended a short distance to an old wooded sign, welcoming us to Kalalau.
Our work wasn’t finished though. We spent the next 30 minutes descending the infamous “Red Hill”. This cliff on the northeast side of Kalalau Valley is completely devoid of vegetation and badly eroded. The trail plunges straight down, and it was quite a chore to hike, given our exhaustion. Finally we reached the bottom, and soon found ourselves on the bank of Kalalau Stream.
Kalalau Stream is much bigger than the previous creeks we had forded. In the North Carolina mountains, it would be deemed a river. The stream is wide and fast, and we spent several minutes trying to guess the safest route through the dark water. Finally we put on sandals, and started across.
The icy mountain water felt great on my feverish feet. The stream was thigh deep with a strong current, and the rocks redefined slippery. It was a relief when we reached the far side.
We climbed one last small hill and followed the trail to the edge of the rocky coast. A few minutes later, the rocks ended and the sand began. Christy was ahead of me, and she walked out onto the beach in search of a campsite. I stayed on the trail, reasoning that most of the campsites would be in the trees just behind the beach.
Kalalau is popular, and most of the likely campsites were taken. The trail ended at the base of a tall waterfall, and I wandered down onto the beach to rejoin Christy. She hadn’t seen any likely spots, either, so we continued towards the far end of the beach. We turned the corner at the base of a cliff, and watched the sun sink into the black water of the Pacific Ocean.
We passed one large cave that was already occupied by a number of people. We continued on to another cave, and were greeted by the sound of someone playing a drum. There was someone camping at the near end of the cave, but there was no one at the opposite end farther down the beach. We headed that way, passing the drummer as we hiked. Christy later informed me that the drummer was a naked hippie girl. It was so dark, for all I know, it might’ve been a native trying to order a pizza. I guess I’ll take her word for it.
We stumbled the last few yards through the sand and collapsed in our new home. I easily could’ve passed out right there in the sand, but somehow we rallied long enough to cook dinner. Stir-fry with chicken and fresh vegetables was a bit ambitious, given our physical and mental state, but somehow we managed. Afterwards, it was all we could do to roll out a beach blanket and our sleeping bags before we passed out.
GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM
“Tap, tap, tap.”
“Mom, I don’t wanna go to school today.”
“Tap, tap, tap.”
“Mom, I said I don’t”……wait a minute. Where was I? I opened one bleary, sand encrusted eye. A few inches away, there was a large, silver crab, reaching out with one claw to tap me on the arm again. The same arm, in fact, that I was currently using as a pillow. I jumped and bellowed, and the crab dove down a hole a few feet away. Christy grunted and rolled over. Dawn had just arrived, and I was still exhausted, so I attempted to go back to sleep. This proved difficult. Every time I drifted off, a large drop of water fell from the ceiling of the cave and hit me directly on the back of the neck. Splat! Unfortunately, I was too tired to move. Our cave also turned out to be occupied by a large flock of noisy birds, which I initially mistook for bats. Despite the birds and the Hawaiian Water Torture, somehow, I fell back asleep.
Some time later, I woke again. Christy had screamed, apparently because a large crab had run across her hair. I tried to explain about the earlier tapping incident, but she didn’t seem to comprehend it. Anyway, sleep was futile. Between the dripping, tapping, squawking, and screaming, it wasn’t going to happen, no matter how tired I was. Then I noticed a new sound to add to the symphony. At first, I thought there was a mosquito buzzing in my ear. No, it was the unmistakable hammering of a helicopter high above us. Where was I, Vietnam? I thought back. Oppressive heat and humidity. Impassable jungles of vegetation. Helicopters. Lots of helicopters. I must be having a flashback! It was a clear case of Shellshock. Wait, no, that was impossible. I was born in ’72. I was never in Vietnam. Then it came back to me. The Kalalau Trail. An 11-mile hike that had taken almost 11 hours. Oh yeah, that was why I was exhausted and delirious.
The tourist helicopters had been a constant companion the previous day, and they were back early this morning. Initially the sound was annoying, but eventually the noise simply blended into the background. In other words, it was a lot like the muzak at work. I remembered a suggestion I read in Backpacker Magazine for dealing with unwelcome helicopter intrusions. Their idea? Moon them. I was ready to put their suggestion into practice, when I realized the futility of it. Almost everyone at Kalalau was already naked. What was the point?
I exaggerate slightly. Aside from The Little Naked Drummer Girl, and a bunch of naked men, and a considerable number of topless women, almost everyone else was wearing some clothing. And even the naked people weren’t really totally naked. The Little Naked Drummer Girl had enough sense to wear a hat (see, she did listen to her mother). Plus everyone wore something on their feet, because the sand was hot enough to fry up an entire Grand Slam breakfast from Denny’s, even at 8AM. So any wild stories about rampant nudity at Kalalau Beach that you may read about are certainly the product of a delusional imagination.
Originally, we had planned to dayhike on Thursday, but that seemed unlikely since we could barely walk. We decided to enjoy the beach we’d worked so hard to get to instead. We laid out in the sun for a while, enjoying our books, before the heat caused Christy’s inflatable pad to implode and the sun drove us to the shelter of our cave. We spent the rest of the morning hiding in the shade, watching the imaginary naked people cruise up and down the beach.
That afternoon, we mustered up the strength to explore. We continued farther up the beach. We reached another cave, but found this one flooded. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore it, so I waded in. The water was waist deep and pleasant, while the floor was sand. I waded back into the dim light in the deepest corner of the cave. I was just beginning to get nervous when the water level dropped. After a few more steps, I found a narrow, sandy shelf at the very back of the cave. There was just enough room there for 1 or 2 people to camp, if they were brave enough. I don’t think I could do it. These caves flood in the winter, and even a strong summer storm could trap a person.
I waded back out and we continued to the end of the beach. The sand stopped at the base of a cliff, which was washed by the occasional wave. Beyond the obstacle, it looked like the beach resumed. We waited for a pause between waves, and dashed through. Around the corner, we found a wonderland of caves, arches, boulders, and surf. First we found a natural sea arch on our left. Passing through it led out to another stretch of beach. The arch also connected to another cave. I explored it, and actually had to crawl through the sand at one point. By doing so, I was able to connect with another passage that brought me out to the same hidden beach. Beyond the arch and caves, we wandered amid a jumble of boulders and sea stacks. Finally, we reached the true end of Kalalau, with the full force of the Pacific between us and the next beach.
Later, we met a guy who had swum over to the next beach at the mouth of Honopu Valley. He had fins, and it still took him 15 minutes of vigorous swimming to get around the next headland and back into the valley. The State of Hawaii officially discourages this activity, due to the great danger involved in swimming in the open ocean. Christy could have done it, as she’s a strong swimmer, but I certainly wouldn’t have tried it. The guy that did reported that the next beach is equally as magical as Kalalau. More arches, caves, and a beautiful stream flowing through a lava tube await those with the strength and courage to explore it.
That afternoon, we returned to the cave. We enjoyed our books and played cards and generally relaxed. Later, we visited the waterfall, which serves as a shower for campers at Kalalau. The water enters the ocean just downstream from the falls, so this isn’t quite as unsanitary as it sounds. However, if you camp at Kalalau, I strongly advise getting your water from the falls themselves, rather than downstream on the beach.
That evening, we enjoyed pasta and crab cakes as we watched the sun set from our cave. Rum and lemonade helped wash the food down, and our after-dinner entertainment was viewing a spectacular sky full of stars from the mouth of our cave.
SHIP OF FOOLS
I slept poorly. Thanks to the morning’s crab attacks and the dripping water, I insisted on sleeping in the tent. It was miserably hot in there, even with the window open. By morning, I wasn’t sure which was worse, but either way, sleep was hard to come by.
After a breakfast of freeze-dried eggs and hashbrowns, we went for a hike. We were thrilled that we were physically capable of walking after a day of recovery. First, we walked to the far northeast end of the beach. A side trail led out to a flat clearing and the site of an ancient Heiau. This would make for a great campsite, except that the temple there was allegedly used for human sacrifice. That’s a little too creepy for us, thank you.
We walked into the woods on the main trail, almost as far as Kalalau stream. We reached a signed junction, and followed an official side trail up Kalalau Valley. This path mainly stayed in the woods, but on a couple of occasions it came out in clearings that provided nice views of the ocean and the surrounding mountains.
We reached a major tributary to Kalalau Stream amid a maze of side trails. Our intended destination was a swimming hole I’d heard about in the valley. Unfortunately, directions to it were sketchy, and the swimming hole isn’t marked on the map, so I had no idea where we really needed to go. The good news is that it’s hard to go wrong in Kalalau. Every trail seemed to lead somewhere interesting.
We rock hopped the tributary and climbed away from the stream. We reached a junction, and turned right to continue switchbacking up the hill. We hiked into a deep forest that featured some surprisingly large trees. I had expected waterfalls and beautiful beaches in Hawaii, but huge trees were a real bonus. We also passed old rock walled terraces that were the site of Taro Fields hundreds of years ago. The fields are now completely overgrown with fruit trees. To Christy’s disappointment, the Mangoes and other fruits weren’t out due to a harsh winter.
Some time later, we reached the main stream and forded it on slippery submerged rocks. Here we met 4 locals that were out hunting goat or pig with bows. I was impressed that they were using bows, though these certainly hadn’t been handed down through generations of ancestors. In fact, I’d guess they were probably purchased at Wal-Mart. At least they weren’t using automatic riffles.
After 10 more minutes of hiking we arrived at Big Pool. Big Pool is a swimming hole at the base of a pretty cascade. Despite the name, it’s actually fairly small, but roomy enough for a dip if you’re willing to brave the cold water. I did, but Christy elected to nap on the rocks in the sun instead.
The trail officially ends at Big Pool, but a rough track continues. The hunters passed by and crossed the stream above the cascades. One of the locals slipped and fell while fording it, discouraging me from exploring further upstream. If the natives can’t get across safely, I probably shouldn’t try.
We had lunch and relaxed at Big Pool for a couple of hours before hiking back. We did some exploring on the return though. One thing I was looking for was “the library”. Apparently, the original settlement actually had a library, and part of the building still stood. Supposedly there was a side trail that crossed the stream and led to the site of it.
We were halfway back when we passed a path that looked promising. I followed it to a ford, and managed to get across despite waist deep water and a powerful current. On the far side, I found a pleasant, flat camping area under more immense trees. I also found a totally naked man. Somehow I wasn’t surprised. I asked him if he knew where the library was. He didn’t, but it wasn’t until later that I reflected on how bizarre that conversation was. When was the last time you were walking through the woods and stopped to ask a completely naked man how to get to the library?
We returned to the trail junction just southeast of the tributary we had crossed on the hike in. We turned right, and followed a path back down to Kalalau Stream. We then followed a faint path upstream through mud and tunnels of bamboo. On the way, we passed a long series of cascades and swimming holes. Somehow we had found our other destination for the day – Ginger Pools. We kept hiking until we found a swimming hole we liked, and this time Christy joined me in the frigid water.
We never found the library, but were content to return to camp late that afternoon. On the way, we passed three neighbors from the next cave. They were a Dutch couple and a 15 year-old boy from Arizona out for a hike. They warned us that some new neighbors had arrived by boat and moved into our cave, practically on top of us. They were very sympathetic, which worried me. They even offered to let us move in with them in their cave. We thanked them for the offer and headed home to assess the situation.
It was every bit as bad as we had feared. Our new neighbors had moved into our cave, between us and The Little Naked Drummer Girl. Because there were about 20 of them, they were right on top of us. To make matters worse, they had cut down trees and “replanted” them in the sand around the mouth of the cave, apparently to give it more of a tropical setting. Every one of them was drunk and / or stoned, but they had hardly put a dent in the full bar they had brought along. One drunk ditz was stumbling around and trying to sing a Led Zeppelin song. Dazed and confused indeed.
None of this was in keeping with the spirit of Kalalau. We decide to move. I was pretty pissed that we had been run out of our campsite, but I knew we’d be miserable if we stayed. Plus, the people in the next cave seemed friendly. Unfortunately, I had to retrieve our gear from our former campsite, meaning I would be forced to have an actual conversation with the morons. So much for the old adage about not saying anything at all if you don’t have anything nice to say.
I packed quickly. In the few minutes I had to spend near those people, I discovered that most of them were from Ohio. I’m not sure what was worse, the conversation, or listening to Roberta Plant trying to do Led Zeppelin Karaoke without the benefit of background music. The Little Naked Drummer Girl had disappeared, so that was no help. At one point in the conversation, I considered pretending to fall asleep, but realized that it probably wouldn’t be very convincing since I was still packing. Mainly, they seemed really intent on whether there were any park rangers around. Their concern led me to believe that they probably didn’t have actual camping permits and were there illegally. Shortly before I left, one of the frat boys almost, sort of, if you twist it around the right way, very nearly apologized for running us off of our campsite. But not really.
Our gracious neighbors were good sports about taking in us refugees. The new cave turned out to be much better; with more shade, less dripping, and no crabs. Before dinner, we decided to go for a swim in the ocean. The surf looked fairly gentle, and Christy used her lifeguard training to deem it safe. We went out just far enough to get beyond the breakers. We spent at least an hour floating along and gazing up at those gorgeous, jagged cliffs. It was a beautiful, sublime way to spend our last afternoon in Kalalau.
We decided to ride a wave back in to the beach. This was not a good idea. A large wave approached, and I hesitated for just a moment, trying to decide whether to go with it or to bail out. My hesitation may have cost me. I went, and managed to get up on top of the wave briefly. I was flying high, when I looked down - way, way down - and saw only bare sand. The next thing I knew, I was hurling towards the earth at an astonishing speed. I hit hard, and was pulverized by the wave behind me. I flipped twice and bounced up onto the beach. I was just getting to my feet when another wave crushed me. Somehow I was able to crawl out of the surf and stumbled away from the water. My pockets were full of sand. Later, I would find myself rather badly bruised, but otherwise uninjured. Christy hadn’t come out of it in much better shape.
That evening, we shared a campfire with our cave mates while we ate chicken and Caribbean rice. Our neighbors included the previously mentioned Dutch couple. He was a teacher, and she was a college student. Their trip was similar to ours. They were in Hawaii mainly to camp and hike. It turns out they were heading to the Big Island the day before we were. We also met a woman and her 15-year old son from Sedona, Arizona. She owns her own business there, providing guided tours of the local art galleries. They had reached Kalalau by sea kayaking from Ke’e Beach. Penn and Renata had also arrived by kayak. They had moved to Kona on the Big Island a few years earlier. They had met in Colorado, where Renata had gone to college after growing up in Austria. We also met the guy who had swum over to Honopu Beach, as well as a very stoned dude who reminded me of Jeff Bridges in the Big Lebowski. I didn’t catch his name, so I’ll just refer to him as Lebowski.
We spent a good bit of the evening making fun of our friends from Ohio. They had arrived by boat that afternoon, but not in the typical fashion. There is an official boat landing area at the other end of the beach, but that wasn’t where they came in. While they were trying to unload, the boat turned over and washed up onto the beach. When it happened, one of the boys who was trying to hold the boat steady was nearly crushed. At least they saved the liquor. Somehow, the boatload of Gilligans managed to get the boat back in the water so the captain (?) could get back to Hanalei.
Lebowski made the funniest joke of the evening. He suggested that they film the next Survivor Reality show on Kalalau. I can see the promo now. “We took 25 people from Akron, Ohio, and shipwrecked them on a remote beach with enough liquor to kill an Elephant. Who will survive?” For my part, I was content knowing that most of them were sleeping without tents. I couldn’t wait to hear the squealing the next morning when the crabs came out.
We woke up early, but most everyone else had already headed out. The mother and son from Arizona had already started the hike out, while Lebowski had paddled their kayak back for them. Penn, Renata, and the Dutch couple had already left, too. We needed to get an early start as well, but enjoyed having the cave to ourselves for a short time that morning.
We’d been living in the beach caves for so long, I was beginning to feel like Tom Hanks in Castaway. If I’d had a bone, I would’ve put it in my beard. Well, I would of if I’d actually had something that could really be called a beard. Anyway, I could see how people could come to Kalalau and never leave. Believe it or not, it happens. The Little Naked Drummer Girl turned out to be something of a permanent resident. Many of the folks running around up in the valley weren’t going anywhere, either. And that’s not to mention the mayor. The mayor of Kalalau arrived from New England in the 80’s, and has been here ever since. The State Park claims that rangers occasionally show up to check camping permits, but nobody we spoke with had seen one all summer.
As much as we would’ve loved to spend the rest of our lives in Kalalau, I was still eager to see the Big Island. Breaking camp was painful, especially knowing the brutality of the hike ahead. When we reached the woods, we took one long parting look back at the most magical beach in the world.
We followed the trail back through the woods to the Kalalau stream ford. The water was still deep, fast, and cold, but I didn’t give much thought to the crossing this time. I should have. I reached the fastest part of the current, and my foot slipped on a slimy rock. I stumbled, but luckily I caught myself on a boulder. I pulled myself out of the stream, but realized that I had gotten my digital camera wet. I had it clipped to my pack, and I never even thought about it when we approached the ford. The case was soaked, even though the camera had only been in the water for a second. I resisted the urge to turn it on. Instead, we took out the batteries and the memory card. I packed it away in a plastic bag, which is exactly where it should have been BEFORE we forded the stream. I would have to let it dry before checking to see if it still worked.
The next stretch of trail was the hardest. Ahead of us was the steep, eroded trail up Red Hill. The total climb is less than 1000’, but the grade is brutal, and it was already hot at 8AM. Fortunately, the view of the mountains, valley, and ocean provided a pleasant distraction from the pain. Christy was enjoying those ocean views when she spotted something out in the water. We were several hundred feet above the ocean on a cliff, but that didn’t stop her from spotting several dolphins jumping. They were just barely visible, so I dug her binoculars out. About the time I found them, the dolphins disappeared. I’m pretty sure they did that on porpoise.
Hahahaha! I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist that one. Anyway, we crested a ridge and found ourselves on another cliff. We looked out and saw literally dozens of dolphins. This time we were actually able to use the binoculars to watch them arc gracefully through the water.
We hiked on until we arrived at Hanakoa Stream. We took advantage of the stream to cool off and had an early lunch. After eating, I took a short hike up the Hanakoa Valley while Christy enjoyed a nap. My goal was Hanakoa Falls, which was allegedly only 1/3 of a mile away. The trail there was primitive, but not really any worse than the main route to Kalalau. On the way I passed two other waterfalls on side streams before emerging in a stunning amphitheatre. I found myself at the base of sheer green walls that extended straight up for hundreds of feet. At the far end, Hanakoa Stream spilled over the lip in a 200’ freefall into a deep pool. It was a spectacular spot, and I had it all to myself.
I returned to wake Christy from her nap so we could resume the hike. We had all afternoon to go 4 more miles to Hanakapiai Valley, so it was a leisurely hike. While we were traversing another cliff, we were startled by another helicopter encounter. Unlike the tourist choppers, this one was flying low along the coast. It passed by, and markings indicated that it was the property of the US Navy. We speculated as to what the Navy could be doing patrolling the north shore of Kauai. Surely they weren’t looking for terrorists on The Na Pali Coast. I figured they were probably just looking for naked girls at Kalalau. Either that, or Georgie Bush and his buddies had decided it was time to finally rid Kalalau of all of those dirty hippies, now that they had finally solved the rest of the world’s problems.
Actually, they may have been looking for a body. The Kalalau Trail is treacherous in places, and we’d heard that someone had taken a bad fall from one of the cliffs while hiking in. We never heard if they found him.
I had a close call myself. I was simply hiking along, when my foot slipped on some loose pebbles. The next thing I knew, I was falling backwards. I found myself staring up at the sky and hanging on to a puny branch from a palm tree. My head and shoulders were dangling over an abyss, some 800’ above the Pacific Ocean. Christy ran back and grabbed me, pulling me away from the edge.
We finally descended a long series of switchbacks down into Hanakapiai Valley. We reached a major junction, with the trail off to Hanakapiai Falls heading upstream. We headed that way, and found a nice campsite 100 yards later. Our site was hidden in a dense forest, and even featured part of a picnic table. Later, while bathing in Hanakapiai Stream, we discovered that we’d missed the best campsite. There was a great spot in the trees just above the beach on the far side of the creek.
We enjoyed a spaghetti diner, and built a campfire to scare off the mosquitoes. A brief rain shower sent us to the tent early, but I didn’t sleep well for long. Christy woke me with a scream. She was scrambling around, shining her flashlight on my pillow. There, just inches from me, was a nasty looking centipede. Apparently it had crawled across Christy’s hair on its journey to my pillow. I opened the door with one hand, and threw the pillow out with the other. We then spent the next 10 minutes scouring the inside of the tent. We didn’t find any more insects, but I know Christy struggled to sleep the rest of the night.
THE HANAKAPIAI BEACH DIET
Have you heard about the new diet craze that is sweeping the nation? You’re guaranteed to loose weight. It’s called The Hanakapiai Beach Diet. The idea is you go out in the wilderness for five days and run out of food.
We got up early on Sunday and ate the rest of our food, which consisted of some raisins. It wasn’t much of a breakfast, but we would make up for it the next week. Originally I had planned to hike up to Hanakapiai Falls before breaking camp. However, it’s a 4-mile roundtrip, and the hike isn’t easy. I figured that it would be similar to Hanakoa Falls, which I’d seen the day before. Plus, Christy really wanted to snorkel at Ke’e Beach before we headed back to the airport. We didn’t have time for both, so we skipped the falls and headed out.
We forded Hanakapiai Stream and climbed another big hill. The final two miles of the hike were rather uninspiring, as we spent most of the time dodging dayhikers coming the other way. It was reminiscent of hiking out of the Tetons on the Cascade Canyon Trail the year before. It was a relief when we finally reached Ke’e Beach.
We arrived at 10AM, giving us 90 minutes before we were to meet Marvin. We walked from the trailhead down to the beach, and stashed our packs amid some boulders. The beach was already crowded, but there was plenty of room for 2 more snorkelers in the water. We hadn’t carried our fins, but decided that we’d be fine with just masks and snorkels.
The aquatic world along the Na Pali Coast is just as beautiful as the land. We swam all around the bay, viewing fascinating fish and colorful coral. 90% of the fish species in the Hawaiian Islands live nowhere else. We saw all kinds, from tropical fish in all sorts of neon colors, to giant black fish that looked almost threatening. The highlight was spotting several sea turtles. We were able to watch them feed underwater from only a few feet away. One of the turtles was absolutely immense – at first I thought we were looking at a dinosaur. I’m only exaggerating slightly when I say that it was the size of, oh, say, a Volkswagen. Dude! Christy got some good photos with a disposable underwater camera. At one point, a wave pushed one of the smaller turtles into her. She touched it lightly, and it regarded her briefly before resuming it’s feeding.
We snorkeled for an hour before heading up to the parking lot to wait for Marvin. We took cold showers at a spigot outside of the bathrooms. This was quite refreshing after a week of living on the beach. Marvin arrived early, and helped us reorganize our gear. My biggest concern for the day was getting all of our stuff back into 2 duffel bags, 2 suitcases, and 2 carry-ons. I had envisioned doing that in the airport lobby, so Marvin’s help was much appreciated.
We were fully packed and on the road by 11:30. We were running well ahead of schedule. Marvin once again offered to stop wherever we wanted. We were famished, so we pulled off at Bubba’s Burgers in Hanalei. Shakes, fries, and grilled cow had never tasted so good. The stop took 30 minutes, but Marvin didn’t mind. Before we knew it, we were back at the Lihue airport. We thanked Marvin and tipped him well before parting ways. If you ever need a shuttle or taxi service in Kauai, I strongly recommend contacting him at Bran’s Taxi at (808) 645-1449 or (808) 645-1456.
From there, we took a quick flight to Honolulu, passing over Pearl Harbor on the way into the airport. Our visit to the island of Oahu consisted of sitting in the airport bar for an hour and drinking a beer. Then we were back on the plane, bound for Kona, on the west side of the Big Island. We had a lot to look forward to. We’d be spending five nights in a resort, while scuba diving and beach lounging during the days. Then we’d backpack for 3 days to another remote wilderness beach in the Waimanu Valley. We’d finish the trip at Volcanoes National Park, where we hoped to get a close-up view of hot, flowing lava.
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