3 Ways How to Get to the Nā Pali Coast State Park

Hawaii is formed by eight main islands. Kauai, also known as Garden Island, is the oldest one. In a relatively small area, you can find mountain ranges and valleys, tropical forests together with canyons, waterfalls as well as parched areas. It is its age, those millions of years that make this island so unique and diverse. Rich green vegetation contrasts the reddish dry lands, which remind us of so many other national parks in the US.

The first word that pops up in your mind when you lay your eye on this island is “wilderness”. The inland central part is formed by mountains which hide many gems inside. These are really hard to get into. That is also the reason for 55 thousand inhabitants (out of 71 thousand in total) to live close to the main road – Kuhio Highway. This road lining the coastline does not go round the whole island. It is intersected by the state national park. Nā Pali Coast State Park is a gem of this place and it has closer to a spectacular backdrop from some blockbuster movie, than to reality as we know it. These 26 kilometres of coastline start in the north with Ke’e Beach and extend all the way to the Polihale State Park. It is formed by breathtaking sea cliffs. That is where its name also comes from, as Nā Pali means “High Cliffs”.

Nā Pali Coast State Park

Nā Pali Coast State Park was formed in order to protect the Kalalau valley. For over 1000 years this land was inhabited by people, who were known as taro (vegetable, a.k.a. kalo) growers. However, the arrival of Europeans, which brought many diseases, and the temptations and decoys of big cities caused a large decrease in their numbers. The last amongst these people left in 1919. In 60s, Kalalau valley was rediscovered by a different group of people – members of the hippie movement. There were attempts to exile these people from the valley, and those led to the Nā Pali Coast State Park establishment. Ever since this moment, the entrance has been monitored. Some sources state that there are still some hippies living out there. With some luck, you might spot them going for a stroll at a beach, naked of course.

Not an easy access at all

What has left this place so intact and wild for so long is actually the fact that it is hard to get in. No real road leads into the park. There are only three ways how to access it – by land, by sea, or by air. Each of these options, however, is either physically, financially, or time-wise demanding. On the other hand, it has a bright side to it, when you think about it. In order to save some money, time, or themselves, many tourists omit and skip this step in their itineraries. Which gives YOU a chance to see it in a relative solitude.

1. By Land

This 18 kilometres long trail is often rated as one of the best touristic trails in the US and the world. Kalalau trail is said to be one of the most spectacular, but also one of the most exacting trails in the whole vast Pacific. The path is very narrow, steep, and often slippery wet, so this trail stretching all the way from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach is destined for well outfitted and prepared tourists only. To them, it might take at least 2 days to make it.

Number of visitors is limited and regulated for the sake of park’s protection and preservation. Camping permit is thus something you need to look up and buy in advance. It is in high demand, and a permit for one person will cost you 20$ per night. There are only two places to spend the night in: Kalalau Camp, and Camp Hanakoa. The former one will let you spend 5 nights in, the latter one only one night. Unfortunately, that is all you are going to get, as camping outside of these places is strictly forbidden.

You will not find any water resources in the park. That is why you are on your own, and all the food and drinking water you have to provide for yourself. The trail is intersected by some streams, but it is not advisable to drink from them without filtering it beforehand. What really matters is to mind the weather conditions, and not to undertake this hike when raining. You see, streams grow into smaller rivers after rain, and trying to ford them is not a good idea. Tourists who have underestimated the weather are often helped by helicopters, but if you are not willing to spend hundreds of dollars on such an adventure, then rather wait for better weather indeed.

The hike itself consists of three sections. The first one, you’ll do without the camping permit, but for the second and third you’ll need the permit, even if you mightn’t use it in the end.

  1. Keʻe Beach – Hanakapaiʻai beach: 6.5 kilometres long (there and back) hike with an elevation gain of about 180 metres. This trail will take you through tiny valleys and will let you cross couple of streams. It is a good mini Nā Pali adventure, which ends at a white sandy beach.
  2. Hanakapaiʻai beach – Hanakapaiʻai Falls: Hike, 13 kilometres long, leading down a narrow valley. Quite tricky, as the terrain here is often very wet and slippery, plus there is a risk of quick unexpected floods in case of heavy showers.
  3. Hanakapaiʻai beach – Kalalau beach: Almost halfway through your trip, in Hanakoa Valley, you will find a camp, where many tourists spend a night. Swimming at Kalalau and other beaches is prohibited. The death rate statistics in these waters tell you a lot about how perilous the ocean is, and the risk of drowning is really high.

Hawaiians have a strong opinion about swimming in their waters. You cannot think about swimming there as you think about swimming at home. The ocean is very dangerous here. Every year, there are seven drowned in these treacherous waters. Kauai has the highest death rate out of all the other Hawaiian Islands. In 2016, there were 11 people found dead. The main rules are: never swim alone, never turn your back to the open ocean, and always check the up-to-date info about swimming conditions on www.hawaiibeachsafety.com.

Kalalau trail is currently closed because of recent floods. It should be reopened in November of this year. If you are not up to undergoing such a demanding hike, go to Kalalau lookpoint, which offers a nice view of Nā Pali Valley. You can get there comfortably by car. Or you can take a less exacting route from this lookout. This hike is called Kalepa Ridge Trail Lookout.

2. By Air

80% of the island is uninhabited and difficult to get in. Ride on a helicopter is thus the best and easiest way, how to get to know the island and see the Nā Pali coastline too. However, it is not the cheapest option at all. It quite depends on the company you want to fly with, the time spent up in the air, and also the type of machine you will be flying in. Generally speaking, an hour ride will cost you about 200 – 250 dollars. Despite the cost, I have to say, it was one of the best experiences in my life, and I really recommend you to go for it. What you see from up there is simply indescribable. Cliché, I know, but it needed to be said. I have seen much lately, but I am not sure if I could compare this spectacular sight to anything else.

Most take offs are from Lihue airport. You can look up the skyway and its duration in advance, and you can book it online. You can also book the ride directly at the aviation company. You will need to fill in a form and write down your weight. No cheating, as the people at the office know how to check it in a very discrete way, right before the take off. Don’t worry, only the staff member will get to see the figure. Your weight is what determines where you are to be seated. You cannot choose the seat on your own.

What you can choose, is the plane or helicopter which you prefer, and the time you want to go. There is a variety of small aeroplanes, helicopters and off door helicopters with no doors. The latter ones are not offered by many aviation companies, so if an off door helicopter is what you long for, don’t hesitate much and book it in advance. It is a bit pricier, but the view and the chance to take pictures without glass in the way are definitely worth it.

3. By Sea

Sea is the third possibility how to enjoy what Nā Pali has to offer. It is only up to you weather you prefer raft, kayak or a catamaran tour. The last option is the safest and most comfy one. Zodiacs and kayaks are for those more adventurous types, who are well enough fit for it.

Getting to know the Nā Pali coastline from your kayak is an exceptional experience. You get to find yourself in real touch with the nature, with hidden gems like small coves, nooks, caves and beaches. One of those is known as Milioli’i Beach, which is approachable only from the sea. People coming here often use this beach for spending a night. During the summer season (May15-Sept7) you need the already above mentioned Camping permit, which you want to book in advance.

Kayak tours are a rather complicated matter. You don’t need to be a kayak expert, but to spend 10-12 hours paddling, is not an easy thing to do, and you simply need to be in a really good shape. Your fitness and mental ability will get to be tested well, during the 24km long run. Instructors and their advice are very helpful of course, but the paddling part you will have to do on your own anyway. In case you decide to go for it, the cliffs above your head, rising up to 1200 m.a.s.l will do justice to all your expectations.


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