Kauaʻi – North Shore
The Kona airport is the sweetest airport I have ever been to. Open air huts are scattered around a beautiful statue and the grounds are gorgeous. We flew Hawaii Air to Maui airport to change planes for Kauaʻi. The Maui airport was the opposite of Kona- old, crowded and dumpy looking. Hawaii Air was a pleasure to fly on – the staff was friendly, the flight on time and luggage came quickly when we landed at Kauaʻi.
The Avis rental car place tried to talk us into an upgrade as usual. It worked on me – we had never upgraded before and I was dying to try a sportier car on some of the narrow, windy roads. J took a little more convincing, but eventually we left with a nice silver Mustang. As we headed north from the airport in the bumper to bumper traffic, I began to doubt the wisdom of the upgrade. There is one highway that encircles the island, running along the coast. Picture Kauaʻi as a clock face – the road runs clockwise from 11:00 o’clock to 8:00 o’clock, with the airport at 3:00 o’clock. In between 8:00 and 11:00 is the gorgeous, spectacularly rugged and sometimes terrifying Na Pali coast. Eventually traffic thinned and after crossing a couple of one lane bridges, we arrived at our yurt in Ha’ena, west of Hanalei and almost at the end of the road. (Yurt pics and info are at the end)
Snorkeling was planned for Thursday. We drove to the end of the road to Keʻe Beach but the lot was already filled. Backtracking, we came to Ha’ena Beach, which seemed run down and dirty. We continued on, looking for Tunnels Beach, but couldn’t find the access point, so continued on to Waipa Beach on gorgeous Hanalei Bay. South Pacific was filmed here in 1958 and off in the distance we could see the magnificent St Regis Princeville. Beyond the break we could see surfers, so far out they looked the size of seagulls.
But the surf was rough and the beach was closed to swimming. The lifeguards were serious about the warning signs – a dude came walking along the edge of the beach, barely ankle deep, and they whistled him out. Hawaii’s beaches are the most dangerous in the U.S. With huge surf rolling in from the open ocean, forming rip tides and rogue waves, more people drown in Hawaii than anywhere else in the US. Since no snorkeling was possible, we headed inland and kayaked the Hanalei River for about 6 miles (about 3 hours).
Friday we drove back to the end of the road to the trail head of the world famous Kalalau Trail – 11 miles of narrow, sometimes muddy switchbacks, with spectacular views of the ocean and Na Pali coast. We knew from the previous day that parking was limited so we arrived early and got one of the last spots. The first two miles is all downhill to Hanakapiʻai Beach and no permit is required. The guidebook says it’s a dangerous place to swim and we believed it when we saw this sign just before the beach.
At the bottom, we were scoping the river, trying to decide the best way across to the beach, when a woman and her boyfriend hobbled up. We could see he was in obvious distress and found he had sprained his ankle. They didn’t have any first aid equipment, so we offered him an Ace bandage and some aspirin. He soaked his ankle for a while in the cold stream and then she wrapped it. When he stood up, he could not put any weight on the ankle and had to lean on her for support. I knew they would never be able to hop 2 miles uphill that way, so I offered him my hiking poles. He was unsure at first, but the poles were old and eventually I convinced him to take them and leave them at the top.
The trail continues on for 9 miles to Kalalau Beach but a permit is required to continue. The guidebook warned of the narrow dangerous trail ahead, as they often do, so we wanted to see how bad it was. We went on another mile and it was the scariest trail I had ever been on – far scarier than anything in the Himalayas or Andes. Only a foot wide with sheer drop offs down to the sea and we weren’t even near the supposed worst spot.
We turned around, went back to the beach and then started hiking up toward Hanakapiʻai Falls. It was really muddy and I took off my hiking boots and hiked barefoot for a while. There were many people wandering about and many side trails. It was interesting but eventually we got bored and turned around without reaching the falls. Back at the car, the GPS said we had hiked 9 miles.
Accommodations and tips for the north shore
“Kimo’s Yurt” had a bed, kitchen facilities and a bathroom. Common areas are located under the main house and include hot tub, shower, BBQ grill, laundry and game area. It may not be for everyone but we thought it was the best place we had ever stayed.
The north shore was gorgeous but crowded and this was the off season. It is as Don Henley so eloquently stated in The Last Resort, “call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye.”
The first two miles of the Kalalau Trail are definitely worth the effort. Easy downhill, a bit of a struggle coming back, but the scenery is unsurpassed.