I’ve been lucky in this life to have numerous visits to Hawaii along with living there for several years. My first visit to Hawaii was enroute to Guam and Micronesia. I was able to delay at my waypoint in Honolulu, tour Oahu, and island hop to the big island. Years later, I moved to Hawaii, got married on a secret beach, honeymooned on Maui, and had a family vacation on the big island. During my life on Oahu, I planned a backpacking trip to Kauai, made the arrangements, and waited at the airport. Unfortunately, Aloha Airlines was going out of business and failed to get me to Kauai. My time living in Hawaii ended and I moved to Tennessee never having visited Kauai.
A couple years later my luck returned. As an instructor for a military engineering course, I was able to travel annually to Missouri, Virginia, California, Hawaii, and even Germany! I went on two of these trips back to Hawaii and each time I island hopped to Kauai. Kauai immediately struck me as primitive/wild in a good way… not developed, only one highway which is mostly two lane (one lane in many places), and very scenic
My first Kauai destination was the Waimea Canyon. The drive includes many overlooks along the highway ascending 4,000 feet into Kokee State Park. In a green rainforest, the canyon contrasts its steeply eroded walls of volcanic reds, oranges, and blacks. I drove the rental car down a 4x4 road to access a trailhead. Only upon hiking to my destination waterfall do I realize the trail only reaches the top of Waipoo Falls. By holding a tree and leaning over the cliff, I could see the water falling hundreds of feet to a ledge and then fall hundreds more feet to create a double waterfall a total of 800 feet into the canyon below. The tiny bit of land between the falls looks inaccessible, but a goat somehow made it to the impossible area. After a refreshing swim above the falls, I hiked out and set up camp. At the high elevation, the stars are crystal clear and it took hours of watching shooting stars before I finally forced myself to rest. The next night was spent in a hotel where the sound of the air conditioner was unacceptable compared to the sounds of
the ocean and nature. I have never spent another night indoors in Kauai on any trip.
Wailua Falls was a bit difficult to find, but well worth the wayward driving. This is the waterfall featured in Fantasy Island. For adventure, I walked into the woods past the overlook and crossed the river where it splits three ways before plummeting 173 feet to the huge pool below. After unsuccessfully finding a way down to the pool, I crossed back and tried the other canyon wall. I had no luck until I was leaving and finally saw a rope-lined path down into the canyon. The view from below the falls was superior to the view from the overlook and I got to have a very unique swim. The blast of mist from the falls kept me from getting close to the waterfall even with the help of swim fins.
My next adventure was snorkeling and camping on the beaches around Kauai. Life on Gilligan’s Island is very close to the fact here. After all, this is where it was filmed. I kept is simple… no stove or cooler, a swimming pool raft as an air mattress,
and a single backpack of essential tools/supplies. At Haena Beach, I met a family from Jackson Hole, a guy from Ohio, and a lady from France. People from all over the world vacation here in Kauai and meeting them is part of the experience. Adjacent to Haena is a great snorkeling area called Tunnels Beach due to underwater tubes where lava once flowed. There are plentiful exotic colored fish and turtles, but very little live coral (as is typical for any heavy tourist area). After preparing my supplies for a two day hike the next day, I get some rest.
At dawn, I start the 11 mile (each way, not including side trails) Kalalau Trail. It is one of the world’s most remote and beautiful, yet difficult and dangerous hikes. The trail starts steep and stays steep, up and down, over and over. I packed light, yet every pound is obvious on every uphill step. Water treatment tablets allow me to refill my bottle and Camelback at clear stream crossings. Citrus, passion fruit, avocado, mango, and many other foods grow wild along the trail for snacking and collecting. Even the smaller jungle plants are larger than a
Waimea CanyonTaken partway down Kukui Trail decending from rim to bottom of canyon
human and, along with the massive landscape, make you feel you are the size of an ant. The landscape is an incredible, near vertical, 3,000 foot drop into green valleys or directly into the blue Pacific Ocean. There are only two beaches along the entire trail. The rest of the coast is a sheer drop straight into the sea. Most of the valleys end in a sea cliff with the valley’s stream creating a waterfall into the ocean (hard to see on trail… best viewed by kayak). After a full day of hiking, I set camp at Kalalau Beach, hang out with the other visitors, take a shower in a waterfall, and accidently fall asleep on the soft beach sand while watching shooting stars. I wake in the middle of the night to the sound of crashing ocean waves and move to my camp.
I depart early morning because I have a same-day flight, but still have the 11-mile hike out and a long drive to the airport on the other side of the island. Although I have done all I wished to do on Kauai, I was excited the next year when I had the opportunity
On my next trip, my first stop was again the Waimea Canyon. This time I hike all the way from the rim of the canyon to the river at the canyon bottom 2,000 feet below. After a swim in the river and a strenuous hike out of the canyon, I started another hike through the Alakai Swamp to the Kilohana Overlook. The day totaled 12.5 miles of steep hiking and my calves were sore for days afterward. For this trip, I will spend the full week outdoors with no hotels and no hot water. I camped at Kokee State Park, but did not get to see the stars due to the mist from Mount Waialeale, the wettest location on earth at 452 inches of rain per year (on average recorded over the last 100 years). The next day I explored Shipwreck Beach with its huge waves, surfers, rock cliffs bracketing each end of the sandy beach, and the fancy beachfront resort in the background. Then I visited the Makauwahi Sinkhole, an archeological cave whose gate happened to be unlocked. I walked a path between the cliff and stream until I saw a triangular
opening just large enough to crawl through. Once through, I was standing in a giant sinkhole bordered by vertical stone walls like a bowl. On the opposite side is the deeper cave, its many branches leading into the dark underground, and numerous archeological digs in progress. I then travel to Anahola Beach and set camp prior to sunset snorkeling to see an underwater channel, coral, and fish. The snorkeling is even better the next day at Tunnels Beach, revisiting the lava tubes and this time finding a young sea turtle too busy eating algae off the rocks to care that I’m watching. I went to sleep while listening to live ukulele and guitar music right outside my tent.
I meet a 65 year old Vietnam veteran who lives a simple life permanently on Kauai and a counselor who is settling permanently in Kauai after a three year vacation throughout US national parks. They recommend a couple new places I should visit. Queen’s Bath is a large tide pool near Princeville. The waves crash against the black lava rock and the water is slightly warmer than the open ocean. There is a nice cascade waterfall along the short
trail and dozens of sea turtles are attracted to the cove where the waterfall enters the ocean. I camp at Anini Beach and hike a portion of the Kalalau Trail the next morning. My legs are no longer sore, but I am definitely not strong enough to finish the Kalalau again. I explore Hanakapiai Beach, climb along the sea cliff to get into the sea caves, and have freeze dried lasagna for lunch. I go into the valley and find a swimming hole in the stream, then head back to camp a couple nights at Haena Beach. I meet folks visiting from Italy, Czech Republic, and Germany. My primitive week without internet or even a cell phone signal made me appreciate the everyday comforts we commonly take for granted. The last day was relaxing and memorizing Kauai in case I never visit again (except in my thoughts). On Sunday I flew back to my life of appointments, backlogs, and deadlines.
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Britain's American colonies broke with the mother country in 1776 and were recognized as the new nation of the United States of America following the Treaty of Paris in 1783. During the 19th and 20th centuries, 37 new states were added to the origina...more info
Kalalau TrailView toward near vertical cliffs in valley along trail