There are some things in life that we really want to do, but actually doing it seems a lot harder than it really is. And once we decide to take initiative and just go for it, it seems like things start to fall into place. Thank you synchronicity.
Ever since I heard about this magical place “Na Pali” on the northwestern shore of the island of Kauai, I have wanted to be one of those crazy hippies that hikes the 11 treacherous miles into the valley. And yet I was extremely nervous to actually go for it. My first trip to Kalalau was in a tour helicopter about 12 years ago with one of my best friends when we visited the island with my family. Well, we didn’t actually go to Kalalau, but we flew over it. Yup, we were one of those annoying helicopters that constantly flies over the valley… Then I visited again about 4 years ago with a group of 18 women for one of my friend’s bachelorette parties. That is a whole other story. Most of us boated in and a few of the ladies SUP’d (stand-up paddled) into the valley from the end of the road.
(The photo above is of the group of ladies I traveled to Kalalau with in 2010)
This summer, my son went to visit his biological father in California for a few weeks, so I decided it would be a great opportunity to take some time to do some adventuring that I can’t normally do with a 6 year old around. My boyfriend and I decided we would do the unthinkable: hike all the way into the valley (although the only camping gear we have combined is 1 sleeping bag.) Magically, a few days before we left for the trip, we scored a tent and camping packs from our friends, and we packed a lot of dehydrated foods and a few changes of clothes. We invited our friend Brianna to come, who is an avid camper, and she had all the cool camping accessories, such as a Jet Boil and a water purifier. None of us had ever hiked the Na Pali Coast, and we figured that if other humans could do it, we could. I enjoy hiking, beach running and I used to run cross country in high school, so endurance training is something I’m used to.
Lately I have been running in the woods near my home barefoot, and I decided that for this hike I might need some kind of footwear, but I didn’t want to squeeze my toes into tennis shoes since my feet are used to spreading out when I exercise. So I finally ordered myself some Five Finger toe shoes!!
And I LOVE them!
When Monday, the day of departure into the valley arrived, our lovely hostess and friend Jaime dropped us off at the end of the road. We said our goodbyes and “see you on Thursday between 3-4PM. We knew our flight was leaving Thursday night at 7:30, and we somehow had to get back to Lihue for our flight, so somehow we would make it back to the end of the road at Haena by then. Everything always seems to work out how it is supposed to anyway, right?
So we began our first ascent up the 1st of many mountains on our 11 mile hike into Kalalau. Each of us carrying a 30-40 pound bag on our backs, with sunscreen, hats and sunglasses. Start time 8:25AM. The weather was hot with nice tradewinds, and we quickly climbed up the trail through the woods to warm up our bodies.
Hala plants, used by the native Hawaiians to make lauhala baskets, fans, mats and other items lined the trail, along with Jamaican vervain, a petite purple flower that tastes like shiitake mushrooms. The scent of the humid forest was intoxicating. As we arrived at the first scenic overlook, a beautiful rainbow arched over the ocean, expanding wider than a typical 180 degree rainbow. It seemed fantastical. I took it as a good sign to our beginning of our adventure.
We continued onto the 2 mile point, Hanakapi’ai Beach, a popular local and tourist destination, where there is a river crossing to get to the large stretch of beach with great waves. Dusty, Brianna and I found a nice spot on the beach to plop our bags down, strip off our sweaty hiking clothes and hop in the ocean. Brianna and I assumed it was safe to get topless (no lifeguard on duty here) and Dusty decided to keep his britches on. After a refreshing dip in the cool ocean and a few sweet rides in the shorebreak, we dried off, had a little snack and moved right along.
9 more miles to go and it’s 11AM already. We cruised right along through the jungle, ascending, descending, in and out of more than 20 valleys total. “Na Pali” means ‘the cliffs’ in Hawaiian, and there are no roads, no grocery stores, just simple rugged terrain where wildlife flourishes and God calls the shots.
As we trudged further along the trail, and we were thick into our green surroundings, far away from cell phone service and checking emails, I remembered that just a few hours prior, on the drive from Jaime’s comfortable cabin in Kilauea, we had seen thick rain clouds hovering above the coastline, and the sky looked ominous, perhaps an uninviting trail awaited us. I said to our crew: Maybe we should go to Jaime’s Yin Yoga class tonight and then start our hike tomorrow in the morning. My ego, not wanting to take this soul adventure, was trying to discourage my spirit from letting go of the comfort and control I have in my safe world of life’s luxuries: cars, restaurants, refrigerators, shingled roofing, my queen size bed. But the crew disagreed: “Noooo, we are starting the hike today Noe. You can’t get out of this one!” “OK, just kidding,” I half joked.
And now the simple chirping of birds and the occasional views of expansive ocean created a deeper sense of comfort, of letting go of everything I feel like I need in a typical day. I don’t REALLY need my cell phone, and I don’t REALLY need to check my Instagram comments. We pushed on, finding many small waterfalls to refill our water bottles, a few ripe guava to quench our hunger, and some nice spots to capture the beauty of nature enveloping us.
Around 3pm, we finally reached mile 7, the supposed most dangerous part of the hike, nicknamed “Crawler’s Ledge,” with it’s narrow loose dirt trail and steep cliffs above and below. You have to hold on to the side of the cliff as you walk forward. This actually ended up being my favorite part, because you had a view of the ocean the entire time, and 20mph gusts of winds kept me cool in the afternoon heat. I nicknamed it “The Goat Crawl” because it seemed like billy goats had made the trail, and we simply crawled along, holding onto the edge.
And finally, a view of Kalalau beach. I felt lighter on my feet knowing we were getting closer to the finish line.
At 6:30pm, we arrived. About an hour before sunset, we found a nice little wooded area to camp, plopped our bags down and headed for the beach for an evening swim. A little beach yoga on the sand to stretch our strong and exhausted bodies, and a rinse in the nearby waterfall to cleanse the salt off of our bodies was a perfect way to complete our long day. We encountered a few other humans, but not many words were exchanged, as we were ready to draw our senses within for the night. We prepared a quick and simple dinner of our premade rice and our dehydrated black bean soup, and passed out for the night. No fire, no socializing, just a simple good night to rest our bodies.
In Kalalau, there are no rules. People, for the most part, seem to mind their own business, and as long as you are respectful of those around you, it’s all good. Adventures abound: there are many trails that you can go on that stretch back into the valley, there is a fresh water cave to bathe in, a waterfall to drink fresh water from, and a wild beach break to play in.
And there is Honopu. Honopu means “conch shell” in Hawaiian, and is named that because of the sound the archway makes when the winds blow through. It’s a short swim past the end of Kalalau Beach, and worth the trip. Dusty and I are avid ocean swimmers, so we were excited for the adventure. But when I mentioned it to Brianna, she said she would see how she felt when we got to the end of the beach. She seemed skeptical, but didn’t vocalize her swelling fear. Dusty and I recognized her sentiment, and kept encouraging her that she would be fine, not focusing on the rising swell and tradewinds. Our swim was intense, as the water surged up and down the shoreline, and choppy seas swished us back and forth. Thankfully, the current flowed in the direction of Honopu, so we arrived on the beach in a short 10-15 minutes. Once we made it onto the sand, Brianna was happy, but almost more anxious, because she knew she still had to make it back. We said nothing to multiply that fear, only giving her words of accomplishment and pride. The long sand beach has a long small tidepool and a magnificent archway on the other side beckons you to see what lies beyond. And if your legs can take you there, you will find the waterfall and small pool at the base. I imagine hardly anyone goes there, for fear of braving the rough ocean.
A few years ago when I went with the group of women, a bunch of us swam to Honopu on a calm ocean day, and found the giant arch. Here is a picture from that trip in 2010.
Here is an ariel view photo taken from http://www.pulpanddagger.com/canuck/Kong_skull.html
This year, after the three of us arrived, we all took a cleansing bath in the waterfall, and started to head back to the beach as the tension began to rise upon our return to Kalalau. Brianna remained somewhat silent and found a nice rock to sit and meditate on before our return to the ocean. Dusty and I ventured around the beach to discover the plant life and the landscape. When we returned a few minutes later, I asked if Brianna was ready. She said “We better go while I’m feeling up for it.” So we all jumped into the shorebreak, and began our swim. Big sets of waves were coming towards us, and out in the giant ocean, I felt really small. Brianna’s eyes got big as she watched the waves coming in towards us, hearts pounding. I noticed her fear, and turned around to face her, and put my arms out in front of me like a mother calls to her child, “Come to me, look at me, not at the ocean. Swim towards me. You’ve got it.” And she did. She looked into my eyes and swam straight towards me as I swam backwards, kicking with my legs and holding my arms out in front of me. “Don’t look out there, look where you are swimming, to me.” I just kept smiling an encouraging smile to her, letting her know that everything is fine. The mind is so powerful when we are afraid. It can be our worst enemy. We get to choose our thoughts and how we react. We finally made it into the toilet bowl flush of the next small beach before Kalalau and we landed safely, squeezing between rocks to make our way back to Kalalau. Only then did I realize that I too had mounting fear that I wouldn’t allow myself to focus on, because I knew I had to be strong for my friend. I was afraid too. The waves were big, the ocean is powerful, and we are but gentle creatures. I hugged Brianna, telling her I was so proud of her, our hearts pounding together, and both of us smiling our giant grins.
That night we practiced some mountain yoga at sunset to prepare our bellies for a delicious meal of hummus, dehydrated greens, instant soup above the heiau on the top of the cliff overlooking Kalalau.
We made a nice fire at our campsite and made a delicious tea of ginger, turmeric, maca, kava and alaea (red clay) to warm our bellies. At dark, the three of us headed out to the beach to gaze upon the brilliance of the millions of stars. Citylights far away, silence abounding. Just us and the Universe.
We started our final morning with a dip in the ocean and some beach yoga beneath the giant green cliffs, gratefully saying our goodbyes to Kalalau, hoping to be back again soon.
We packed up our little camp and began our hike to the 6 mile mark, Hanakoa, to camp for the night.
We arrived after about 4 hours of steady hiking. Hanakoa was amazing: a big river with giant boulders surrounded by thick jungle with plenty of campsites of terraced land from ancient Hawaiian rock walls! The waterfall here is spectacular and definitely worth visiting. As we arrived at the end of the trail leading up to the waterfall, a giant pool awaited us with thousands of feet of cliff overhead, from which sprayed a beautiful feminine mist of water. As we approached, we were mesmerized. Silence. Then the nakedness began. The three of us stripped down and swam across the pool to the waterfall, hoping that a giant mo’o wahine didn’t suck us down underneath the surface, and we bathed under the gentle yet powerful mist of water. Bliss.
After making a fire to keep the mosquitoes away, we slept peacefully in our last night along Na Pali coast.
We hiked out early in the morning and made our way back to civilization as we know it right at 3pm. We went for a swim at Ke’e, the beach at the end of the road. Being around other humans in close proximity with their watchful eyes and funny stares at 3 dirty campers was amusing. We washed off our mud and changed clothes just in time for Jaime’s arrival at 4pm, and we said goodbye to Na Pali.
We did it. We accomplished the unimaginable and something that really scared me. I’m grateful I had my partner Dusty and my friend Brianna to support me on the journey and to give me strength to just go for it.
A few things I wouldn’t pack next time: less clothes (I ended up being naked most of the time) and soap (who needs soap when you’re camping?). What I would bring next time: a Jet Boil and a metal cup (for heating water).
As we say in Hawaiian, “A hui hou,” (Until we meet again). I think I’ll be back soon, and next time I think my little boy will be joining us! He has no fear, and now I don’t either!