Along the Na Pali Coast

Following are edited excerpts from book being written
by Chris Turner, Boat Captain of Na Pali Riders

Photos by Erik van Embden, Na Pali Riders Raft Tours

The Na Pali Coast of Kauai is a constantly changing canvas, an array of magnificent colors and the home of a bountiful supply of marine life.  The wonderful colors of Na Pali Coast depend on the constantly changing direction of the sun's rays, the pattern of clouds against the cliffs and the color the ocean picks up as a result of these. The ocean conditions also vary daily along the Na Pali Coast.  

One day you could be snorkeling with sea turtles and multi-colored tropical fish in water as calm as a fish bowl and the next day large, high-energy swells of 20+ feet show up appearing like mountains of green, glassy waves of water whose size both take one's breath away and makes one feel completely alive at the same time. "Na Pali," literally translated means "the cliffs." It is so much more than this simple translation, however.

Cascading waterfalls wind through tropical rainforest and the verdant green valleys as the water makes its way out to sea.  Mystical, magical sea caves leave you spellbound.  There are pristine coral reefs abundant with marine life.  There are also, of course, the many dolphins and humpback whales (during certain times of the year) which perform great acrobatic feats in the ocean.

The views of Na Pali are amazing and continuously changing.  In fact, it is eroding close to an inch per year on average.  With the strong and consistent winds and rainfall, Mother Nature still is the best sculptor, as witnessed through the Na Pali Coast. Come and see the beauty that is the Na Pali Coast for yourselves!

Note: As a boat captain, my descriptions are generally made as one views the coast from the ocean.

Some of the many points of interest  along the coast are:

Ke'e Beach 
Most call this the end of the road and/or the start of the Na Pali Coast. Here exists an ancient heiau for the hula goddess Laka, right up on the cliff,  overlooking the lagoon. The outside of the reef is alive with fish and sea turtles.  A migratory route for both spinner and bottlenose dolphins is found on the outside of the reef that and they are most often seen between the hours of 8:00 and 9:00 am.

Hanakapi'ai Beach
On the way to Hanakapi'ai Beach there are a few small beaches, waterfalls and sea caves filled with nesting noddy (tern) birds.  The air has a heavy aroma of fermenting guavas coming from the valleys.  The winter's big surf removes all of the sand from the beach, leaving behind an exposed, rocky shoreline.  In the summer, the beach is vast and sandy.  The water becomes a deep blue (reminiscent of sapphires) in color.

Ho'olulu Sea Cave
Along Na Pali Coast there is a little cove that makes you feel like you've arrived on a different planet. Looking straight up in the cove you can find a cliff towering approximately 1,800 feet into the sky which looks like a space rock.  This is a lava dyke pinnacle that has eroded and left literally pointing straight to the heavens.  The water in this cove is a beautiful deep blue in color, caused by a sandy bottom and the perfect lighting from the summer sun. Various caves have beautiful walls of many colors, with some having the appearance of zebra stripes, caused from calcium deposits.  The water here is electric green against the contrasting colors of the black boulders.  

Just around the corner is a most memorable waterfall - since it almost always displays an elegant rainbow above it.  This is because the mid-morning sun shines directly into the cave known as "Pirate's Cave," and the mouth of the cave has a magical waterfall flowing right over the middle of the entrance.  The Pirate's Cave is one of the largest sea caves on the Na Pali Coast.  When the surf becomes large during the winter season, the cave becomes a bellowing blowhole shooting seawater out with incredible force.  The crashing waves against the cliffs which seem so violent, quickly transition into cascading waterfalls as the waves recede.

Wa'iahuakua Cave (Double Door Sea Cave)
The Wa'iahuakua Sea Cave (aka Double Door Sea Cave) has an internal waterfall which pours through a hole in the ceiling. This cave leaves no room for error in maneuvering a vessel though an extremely tight space. Entrance can be made only when the ocean conditions allow and timing must be well planned for entrance and exit due to ever-changing swells.

Wa'iahuakua Valley 
Wai'aihuakua Valley is surrounded by magnificent waterfalls.  The lush valley exhibits multiple colors of green in its cliffs overlooking the waterfalls streaming down the walls of the valley to the dark blue sea.


Hanakoa Valley 
Wild goats and an occasional boar will be spotted along the lower level grassy areas of Hanakoa Valley.  This area of cliffs and ridges was made famous by the popular Hollywood movie South Pacific, hence the common referral of the area as the "Bali Hai Ridge." "

The ocean currents along Hanakoa Beach are quite intense.  There are surface and deep water currents, along with sheer cliffs which meet the large crashing waves.   Hanakoa is the spot where the largest waves assault the Na Pali Cliffs. 

We are now at approximately the half-way point on the Kalalau Trail.  A waterfall winds through the back of the arch to the clear water below. On a calm  summer day you can see the Sahara Desert-like sand dunes on the ocean bottom that clash with big black lava rocks creating  an incredible contrast of shapes and colors. 

Kalalau Valley
This is surely what the Garden of Eden must have looked like.  Banana, coconut, mango and citrus trees abound.  Taro grows in lush river beds. This is one of the most special places on Earth.  Two slippery slide pools of clear water and rocks that are shaped like lounge chairs.  Kalalau Valley is surely God's summer retreat.

"Cathedrals" or fluted ridges
Composed of hardened lava dykes that have eroded away over 6 million years, the cathedrals of Na Pali Coast, exemplify what is in the mind's eye when one thinks of Hawaii. It has numerous waterfalls streaming down the cliffs to white sandy beaches below.

Honopu Sea Arch
Due to Hollywood's long-standing fascination with filming on Na Pali Coast, this area could be referred to as "Na Pali-wood" because so many movies have included this particular location. South Pacific, King Kong (with Jessica Lange), Raiders of the Lost Ark, 6 Days/7 Nights, to name a few, have used the area for various scenes. Just as a movie set changes each day, so does Honopu. The winter months bring huge, pounding surf which makes access to the serene-looking beach impossible. The backdrop of the beach is an intense, sheer cliff.  Following the cliff to the side of the beach, a natural sea arch is formed, large enough for a helicopter to fly through [as was seen in a James Bond film].  A crystal clear water fall streams right through the middle of this paradise-like setting.

On the outskirts of Honopu Valley is a cave with a waterfall that flows straight into the sea.  The walls of the cave are populated with nesting sea terns, which dart in and out of the cave in a constant flurry.  Sunlight shines into the cave and reflects off the sandy bottom, creating beautiful shades of blues that transition from light to to dark.  The base of the cave's walls are pink and red, from the growth of a certain species of surface coral.  

Open Ceiling Cave
The mouth of the Open Ceiling Cave treats visitors to an array of bright blue colors glowing in the water at the entrance.  This is truly heaven at sea.  The many colors that are available for the eye to see are too numerous to count.  Nature again trumps man as even the most ornate man-made stained glass cathedrals cannot come close to what the eye will see here.

Awa'awapuhi Valley
Awa'awapuhi Valley, translated, means "eel valley" and refers to the serpentine shape of the valley between two massive cliffs.  Like an eel slithering its way out to the sea, the twists and turns of the valley make for quite extraordinary views out to the ocean.  One prominent structure at Awa'awapuhi is an old, yet very well-preserved heiau, or Hawaiian place of worship. 

The Na Pali Coast is truly a wonder of the world and its natural beauty will surely give your eyes all they can handle!  The best spot for viewing the Na Pali Coast in all its grandeur is from the ocean, so be sure to book a trip when on island with one of the fine ocean vessels available on the lovely Garden Isle of Kauai.