Believed to be the sight of one of the earliest settlements on the island of Kauai, Na Pali is a land of steep cliffs, picturesque valleys, gently flowing streams, and some of the most incredible scenery in the Hawaiian Islands. Many visitors come to Kauai just to experience the beauty of the Na Pali Coast, located on the northernmost part of the Garden Isle.
The area is named for its cliffs, or pali, rising some 4,000 feet into the air and forming narrow yet deep valleys that suddenly end when they reach the sea. These famous "hanging" valleys were formed when fierce waves cut into the lava rock faster than the streams could clear out of the valley floor. Unlike traditional valleys, these don't stretch out into the ocean. The result is breathtaking.
This remarkable strip of beautiful Hawaiian coastline is not accessible by car from other parts of the island. It can only be reached by air, sea, or on foot.
Not everyone, however, will seize the opportunity to travel to this remote and unique region of Kauai, accessible on foot via a rugged and sometimes treacherous trail that climbs, winds, and often times seems to fall off into oblivion. The heartiest of hikers will take up the challenge and the effort will be well worth it. There are, however, other ways to get there.
If you're not an experienced hiker, you can view the Na Pali Coast via helicopter or small fixed-wing aircraft. Flying over the region offers a unique perspective of the land.
There are more than a dozen helicopter tour operators located on Kauai and each offers several daily flights over the region with a chance to get close to the cliffs and look down upon the waterfalls and other natural wonders. The length of the tours varies.
Boats, kayaks, and other sea-faring vessels travel along the Kauai coastline during the summer months and provide visitors with a great close-up view of Na Pali without the need to hike the dangerous trail.
Many boating excursion companies offer swimming and snorkeling trips, allowing guests to view some of the area's incredible marine life as well as the natural beauty of Na Pali, with its soaring cliffs and hanging valleys. Such trips usually include breakfast or lunch and last up to 6 hours.
Experienced and energetic hikers will love the challenge that reaching the Na Pali Coast provides them.
The 11-mile Kalalau Trail was originally built in the late 1800s and is the pathway to this exotic portion of Kauai. Though some of the trail was renovated in the 1930s, the trip from one end to the other can still be quite treacherous. Even the most experienced hikers will need a full day to complete the trek and should plan on getting an early start.
The Kalalau Trail to Na Pali begins at Ke'e Beach and the first 2 miles are popular as a day hike for those who don't wish to tackle the entire trail. Nevertheless, this portion can be quite dangerous, especially during bad weather. If you do choose to travel this two mile stretch, you'll be treated to a picturesque waterfall as you reach the end of this section at Hanakapi'ai Valley. Swimming along the way should be avoided as the rip tides and currents are fierce.
The next 4 miles are difficult, climbing nearly 800 feet to the hanging valley of Nanakoa. On the way, visitors can view the Hono o Na Pali Natural Reserve with its variety of native lowland forest plants. Along this stretch there's a rest area for backpackers.
The last 5 miles are drier but offer little shelter from the sun. The trail also becomes quite narrow and the drop off on the ocean side is steep so hikers should exercise extreme caution. But the end result is worth the trip for seasoned backpackers, with a chance to see stunning Kalalau Beach and camp on the sand behind the beach. For more information about camping and hiking in Na Pali, check out www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dsp/NaPali/na_pali.htm for guidelines and safety tips.
Think carefully before embarking on the 11-mile hike to the coast. Hiking experience is a MUST! If you doubt your trekking skills are up to the challenge, consider the boat or helicopter trips. While you may not be able to see everything there is to see along the trail, your Na Pali experience will still be unmatched. Make it part of your Kauai vacation.
For useful information and directions for traveling to the Na
For a great article on touring the Na Pali Coast by boat