This was the day. We had been training all spring for this kayak trip. All last week we were carefully conserving our energy (or at least keeping injuries down), in preparation of this, the highlight of out trip -- kayaking down the Na Pali coast of Kauai.
This kayak trip was listed by National Geographic Adventures as one of the best adventures you could take, second right after rafting the Grand Canyon (an adventure we have already had). So we had high hopes.
We set our alarms for 4:45am. This is supposed to be a vacation right? We were supposed to meet at their shop at 6:00am. They said it would take about 45 min to get there. Well, it might with traffic, but with no one on the road at dawn, it only took us about half an hour. Then they had us wait around for even longer.
The only thing the trip organizers scheduled to do between 6:00am and 6:45am was to check in and get your life jacket. Ok also packing a dry bag that they supply. But we brought our own so we didn't have to do that. This does not take 45 minutes - or the hour of time we had. They could have asked us to get there at 6:20am and everyone would have had plenty of time and a lot less milling around half asleep.
We finally packed into their van at about 6:50am and took off up the coast. We stopped at Ha'ena Beach Park. A beautiful sand beach that has camping. We dragged the kayaks and all the gear down to the water, stashing the gear in the kayaks.
They gave us all spray skirts and showed us how to put them on. Then we took paddles and they showed us how to use them. Not that we didn't already know. And gave us a few hints about the waves - don't get too close behind someone because you could end up surfing a wave and plow right into them, hurting them badly. And pay attention to the guides. When they stick their paddles up in the air go to that guide because he is probably about to show you something and you don't want to miss it.
After our quickie lesson, we hopped into our kayaks on the beach and the guides adjusted our foot pedals. Daphne and I had some confusion about who was going to be in front. When we had discussed it before, I was going to be in front to take pictures but this surprised the guides, who wanted me in back. So we shuffled around.
The back person in the kayak controls the rudder. The rudder is controlled with two pedals that are placed on the bottom/side of the kayak. In our kayaks (and for the front person) this is where your footrests would be and the rudder guides are shaped like foot rests. But you are not supposed to brace yourself against the rudder pedals but only keep you feet lightly on them so you can "feel the rudder".
Daphne had trouble with the camera. I had attached it with a rope so the camera case was under the front and the rope went through the cockpit and attached to the top (just in case we flipped). Just like when we practiced at home.
But this did not work for a number of reasons. First the guides told us that we would not be able to use the camera when we were on the water, and we would not want to lift the spray skirt while we were on the water, and the rope prevented the spray skirt from latching.
So the camera case went into the hatch in the back (sigh). Good thing we had the waterproof camera. We also moved our dry bag to the top so we could get into it while we kayaked although that meant the Balance Bars were in the sun.
After adjusting our cargo, it was time to get in the water. The guides told us that entry would we valet style. I guessed that meant that we would get into the water and they would bring the kayaks to us. But not so. We stayed in the kayaks after having adjusted the foot pedals and our guides pushed the kayaks, passengers and all, right into the ocean. We were afloat, and my feet were still dry.
Once in the water, we had a chance to practice our steering. Daphne and I had never used a kayak with a rudder. Our instinct was to paddle on one side to turn but with the rudder you steer with the rudder only (mostly).
I practiced with the rudder as we paddled away from shore. We had to keep to the right of one of our guides and not crash into any one else. It took a little experimentation to get the feel of using the rudder, but then we were off.
The first leg was just around the corner to Ke'e Beach. Our guides wanted to make sure everyone was doing ok and let anyone that couldn't take it bailout now. There would be no more bailout points later. If you go past this point you are committed for the whole 16 miles. And 16 miles is a long trip, especially if you get seasick.
As we rounded the point, no one gave up and we were off.
There were seven boats on our trip, with 12 people and 2 guides. Daphne and I were on one boat; Bill (steering) and Damon were in another. The guides (Joshua and Joe) had split up.
The first beach, Ke'e Beach was where they filmed the opening of Jurassic Park. There is a botanical garden there along with a beautiful waterfall. We gawked, and then paddled by.
As we went along the coast, the guides would point out the sites (when you were close enough to hear them).
The second valley from the start, Hanakapi'ai Valley, could be reached with a short 2-mile hike. There is another waterfall in this valley (Hanakapi'ai Falls, an additional 2 miles in) to reward the hikers, but we could not see the waterfall from the water.
We padded past the Kalalau Trail which is a trail about halfway up the cliffs and goes south from Ke'e Beach for 11 miles. We even saw some hikers on the trail in the distance.
We paddled past Hanakapi'ai Beach that our guides said was the beach with most drownings in Hawaii. They spent a lot of time telling us about the dangers of swimming off the Na Pali coast. Finally, I had to ask them for some more uplifting stories.
For most of the trip we were shadowed by another small kayaking trip. This group had three people and two boats. They obviously knew our guides since the guides from the two trips talked a bunch during the trip.
We eventually lost these other kayaks around halfway down the coast, probably since we move much faster than their ride-on-top kayaks.
We soon came to the first cave (Ho'olulu Cave?). Our guide signaled us to follow as he entered the cave. He entered far to the right, avoiding a waterfall that sprayed water about 10 feet from the side of the cave on to the head of any kayaker who could not steer well.
We followed the guide into the cave, hugging the right wall, then counter clockwise around the back and out again.
This was the first big challenge of my rudder ability. Although the wave action was calm inside this cave, it was rather dark and tricky to keep from bashing against a wall.
On the way out, our guide had us follow him single file between the cliff and a rock formation before we were back on the open ocean again.
Most of the trip we went with the waves, and surfed the waves whenever possible. Surfing the waves was great fun, when we could time it right. (Daphne's note: The waves weren't really big enough for a two-person kayak to surf well. I wanted to be in a single so we could really catch the waves.)
Then there was the steering. As the back person, I had to man the rudder. When we left shore, we were told never to remove our feet from the pedals. If you did, and a wave knocked your rudder, one pedal would jerk hard towards you (the other goes in the opposite direction) and you would not have enough room to get your foot back on the pedal.
So I was careful the whole trip. It was hard since I am used to moving my legs around a lot to keep from cramping up. But after a while, I found a mostly comfortable position and never lost my rudder. (Later I discovered there was a trick. You could lift the rudder using the rope on side. This kept the rudder out of the waves so you could remove your feet. Oh well.)
Keeping the boat straight was sometimes a challenge. The rudder was sometimes out of the water, when you rode the top of a wave, so minute adjustments did not take effect immediately.
For most of the trip, however, I was able to keep the boat on course pretty well. A few of the other boats had more trouble. Sometimes we would have to stop short as a boat to our left would cut in front of us, moving to the right (or visa versa). I attributed this to troubles with their rudder technique rather than just Boston driving.
Another difference with these boats was the spray skirts. We had never used spray skirts before. They really helped keep the water out when a wave came crashing over the boat (which happened every so often), but they meant that you could not stash stuff near your feet and expect to get to them while kayaking. This took a little more planning than we were used to, since when we kayak on rivers we keep a bunch of stuff inside the boat (water, snacks, camera, maps, etc).
Anyway, back to the scenery.
As we went down the coast (the coast was on our left, Japan was somewhere to our right), we passed one beautiful valley after another.
The Na Pali coast is very rugged with tall cliffs and lost of valleys. Erosion has been working for millions of years here, but it is combined with a wet climate that makes everything very green.
At the start of our trip, the coast was an actual rain forest. However, as we moved down the coast the climate became dryer and dryer. At the end, we were in desert, and only 16 miles separated the two.
After paddling for a while, we came to the next cave (Waiahuakua Sea Cave?). This cave was actually a loop. We followed our guide in single file into one cave mouth; around the back and out a second cave mouth.
We had to follow carefully because there were strong currents in this cave. The second guide acted as safety just in case one of the boats could not navigate the turn at the back.
Parts of this cave were open at top so it was well lit. We saw water cascading down the sides of the cave from a hole in the ceiling as we first entered. We could also see the beautiful blue water we paddled through as we navigated the turn in the back.
At mile 8 we came to the Kalalau Valley, the same valley we saw from above when we hiked the Pihea Trail at the end of Waimea Canyon trip. The valley looks very different from the bottom, although still beautiful.
The third cave we came to had a lot of wave action. Our guides told us that in the winter, the surf would rise over the entrance of the cave and the wave pressure would compress the air in the back of the cave. Then, when the pressure built up, the air would force its way back out the front causing a spray of water as if the cave were spitting. In the summer, however, the surf was tame enough that we could safely kayak into the cave and look around.
The fourth side trip was into a small grotto (Queen's Bath Sea Cave). We entered through an arch into a small, round bay with vertical walls, an open top and a small rock formation in the middle. The total diameter was around 5 kayak lengths. Later I was told that it was around 30 feet deep, although you could easily see the bottom in the bright sun and clear water.
We used this grotto as our second bathroom break. This requires some explanation.
Daphne and I drank a lot on this trip. We brought plenty of water and Gatorade and made sure we kept well hydrated. However, all that liquid needs to go somewhere. During the 16-mile trip, we only stopped on shore once, at lunchtime (described later).
At two other times during the trip, the guides stopped to allow us to relieve the pressure. They would hold our kayak so we could climb out into the water. Then we floated next to the kayak and tried to increase the salinity of the ocean.
The real trick was getting back in the kayak. We had to lift our upper body across the opening, and then roll over so our butt enters the kayak first. This is then followed by our legs, and a lot of seawater.
The first hydraulic pressure relieving stop was in a small bay where there were cute little waterfalls to look at to help the process. But by then I was in enough pain that the scenery was nothing but a distraction.
During the paddle we did not see a lot of wildlife. There was one silver colored fish that jumped out of the water ahead of us and we spotted one sea turtle swimming through the pack of kayaks,
We also saw a bunch of powerboats of various sizes that passed us going one way or another. A few of them also stopped to enter some of the caves. One of those boats had our kids, but we were never sure when they passed
We stopped for lunch after 11 miles at Miloli'i Beach. That 11th mile was the hardest. Both Daphne and I were really feeling every stroke in our arms by that point. We pulled ashore on a beach that was only reachable from the water.
There were two sets of covered picnic tables on this beach and a pit toilet. There was also a park service building that was all locked up.
We pulled the kayaks on shore and dragged the lunch bags up to the tables. Our outfitters had packed turkey sandwiches, chips and drinks for everyone (except those who wanted vegetarian sandwiches). And we also had one cookie a piece for desert.
After lunch, we hung around the beach for another hour and a half regaining our strength. Daphne and I decided not to go snorkeling (the snorkeling off this beach was not supposed to be any good). Instead, Daphne started by walking around the shore collecting shells for Beth.
The shelling was not great, most of the shells were broken up by the wave action. But since very few people reach this beach, Daphne was able to find a few decent specimens.
Then we hiked together to a small double waterfall in the next valley. First we passed a water tank that the park service set up to support running water at the beach. You cannot drink the water but it was there to wash your hands.
The water tank was a round, wooded building around 8 feet tall and, perhaps, 15 feet in diameter. It leaked all around with little streams of water but was probably still full because of the steady inflow from the stream up the valley.
We followed the feeder pipe through a field of tall grass for a few minutes until we came to the twin waterfalls, around 8 feet tall, feeding a small pool in the stream.
Daphne got wet. I took pictures. Then back to the beach.
The launch after lunch was the toughest paddle. We had to stroke into the wind and waves until the guides thought we were far enough out so we could turn down coast. Fortunately, the break was enough for us to rest our tired muscles and we had no more aching arms on the rest of the trip.
There were no more stops on the rest of the trip, no more caves either.
The take out was at Polihale Sands Park. This is the end of a very long beach and we could see the sand dunes a long way off as we paddled from Miloli'i Beach (our lunch stop) for the last five miles.
This stretch was deceptive. We saw the take-out beach a long way off but as we paddled and paddled, it seemed like we were not getting any closer. On the way, we passed a few powerboats that were docked and surrounded by schools of snorklers.
We reached the take-out in mid-afternoon. Kayak Kauai had two people at the take out to help us with the boats as well as the van.
Each boat went in one at a time. The surf was heavy; you wanted to come in between waves. When you got close, the guides grabbed your boat and pulled it ashore. Then you jumped out, so they could pull the boat up.
They gave us a few minutes to frolic in the waves (although they were quick to point out that this was the second most deadly beach in Hawaii).
Then we dragged all the gear and the boats over the dunes to the waiting van.
We had left out backpacks with clean clothes at the Kayak Kauai facilities where we started. They loaded this into the van so it was ready for us at the take-out.
There was an outside shower where we could rinse off and restrooms to change into clean dry clothes. But the facilities were not good enough to wash off all the salt and sand, and more sand.
Then we piled into the van for the trip home.
The van stopped just past Waimea at a store where we could use the rest room and buy junk food that would pass for our dinner. They gave us time to eat the food and stretch our legs before heading back.
This day we had to completely circumnavigate the island. We drove north from the condo to the northern end of the Na Pali coast. There we kayaked to the southern end of the Na Pali cost and drove back around the island, back to where we started. There are no roads that go from the south to the north except all the way around the eastern end.
Bill volunteered to deal with the car so the van dropped off Damon, Daphne and I (with all our gear) at the condos. Bill continued with the van back to where the car was parked and drove home alone. He ended up showing up almost two hours after we had been dropped off (thanks Bill).
Judy had dinner waiting for us, although we had already snacked on the way home.
Well, we survived. The trip was wonderful although I think Daphne enjoyed it a little more than I did. I spent a little too much time worrying about keeping the boat straight to really enjoy the view to the fullest.
We were tired but not all that sore. All our training really paid off. We only had pictures from the underwater camera (and they turned out marginal), but we have our memories and a few less ounces of fat.
Judy and the kids had taken a powerboat trip from Waimea, up the Na Pali coast and back again, while we were kayaking. When we got back, they all said their boat trip was great and that they saw pods of spinner dolphins doing their spins for them.
Introduction | July 14th | July 15th | July 16th | July 17th | July 18th | July 19th | July 20th
July 21st | July 22nd | July 23rd | July 24th | July 25th | July 26th | July 27th | July 28th
Gould Home Page | Travel Index
Text and images © Copyright 2001 Joel and Daphne Gould. If there are any problems or questions email Daphne Gould.