Our Adventure as a "Maverick" Sea Kayaking the Na Pali Coast

My wife and I celebrated our tenth anniversary by sea kayaking the Na Pali Coast of Kaua'i. While at first it may seem odd for a site primarily focused on winter hut experiences to post about a sea kayaking adventure, the reality is that both activities share many of the same qualities that make going outdoors so much fun. The Na Pali coast is an impressive stretch of cliffs and ocean that spans seventeen miles. Sea Kayaking this stretch of coast is only available for a few months in the summer time, when the swells are from the east/northeast. While it is most popular to do the trip in one day, we decided to go "Maverick" style, which meant that we would be guided to the beach that we would camp out on. However, from there on, we would adventure on our own. To help us with our adventure, we enlisted the help of Micco and Kayak Kaua'i, who pioneered the guided trip down the Na Pali.

The Journey
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I shared the same excitement the morning of this trip as I do for every hut trip. I love the feeling of doing a new adventure and a new challenge. Much like you wonder what the conditions on the trail to the hut will be, we wondered how big the water would be once we got out there. Like the huts, you know there are going to be secret stashes of cool things to explore once you get there. What animals will you see on the trip? What cool people will you meet and converse with? How do you keep your pack weight down? It all applies to the Maverick Kayak Trip on the Na Pali Coast.

You put the boats in at Ha’ena County Beach Park and cross around a reef to Ke'e. The purpose of this part of the trip is to give you a "skakedown" and get experienced with the big swells similar to what you will see down the coast. If you can handle this, you will be able to handle the coast. We took the advice to tae sea sickness pills the night before, and each day of the journey. If you have not been out in the Hawaiian waters, you will be surprised at how big the swells are, even if the water looks calm from the beach. Don't expect to have a smooth day, quite frankly, the big swells were added enjoyment. Just take the pills and don't worry about sea sickness.

More than likely the morning part of the trip will have some aspect of rain, which is great, because you get an enormous amount of rainbows in the water, clouds, and along the cliffs. It is quite spectacular. As if the views of the cliffs and rainbows were not enough, looking in the water is like a floating safari.

We saw so many sea turtles floating along the coast, it became pretty regular. At Nu'alolo Kai, we had the chance swimming with them. On two occasions, we saw packs of dolphins. The first happened when we pulled out away from the breakers, we were instantly greeted by a pack of dolphins that swam up to the boat. We also saw another pack of dolphins further down the coast that were swimming fast and jumping out of the water. The best reef for snorkeling is Nu'alolo Kai, and it is also the most popular with commercial boats from around the island.

The first major segment is from the put in at Ha'ena beach to Kalalau. You see the entire coast in front of you pretty quickly, with each distant point being a bend in the island. You will travel along the Kalalau trail, and often see hikers along the way. You will float by Hanakapi'ai Beach, and then have the opportunity to enter two caves, Ho'olulu and Waiahuakua. As you kayak down, the geography changes quite dramatically. The further south you go, the less the rain falls. During this segment, you get an abundance of waterfalls, and, depending on the cave you enter, you can get a shower in one when you exit the cave.

The Kalalau Valley is incredibly impressive. On another trip I will include it as a stop, but I don't think that I am interested in camping there. The main reason involved the landing and take out of the sea kayaks is not easy because there is no reef. I did not feel like learning about this type of landing during this trip. We experienced the crash landing at Polihale, and it's something you want to do once! Secondarily, I did not hear that many good stories about camping there, most of them involved too many hikers that don't register to camp. We settled for a gentle float and panoramic view of the valley, which was phenomenal.

The second segment is from Kalalau to Miloli'i. I found this segment to be have the largest swells, although for a shorter period of time. During this segment you traverse some of the most sacred beaches in Hawaii, that are off limit to everyone. Also, there are no trails that access any of the geography that you are seeing. The commercial boat traffic does pick up, and this is where having a guide makes all the difference. For some of the popular lava tubes, you may need to do some navigation with other boats. Thanks to the help of the guide, we were able to enter the open air cave along the way.

This segment of the trip also has Nu'alolo Kai, which is an excellent archeological site as well as snorkeling area. When we arrived, it was loaded with snorkelers. Our guide recommended that we kayak back to the beach in the morning, when it will be empty. We took the advice, and it was well worth it.

Right around the bend from Nu'alolo Kai is Miloli'i, our final destination for the day. While I may not have heard too many good recommendations about Kalalau, I never heard one bad thing spoken about Miloli'i. Every person we talked to on the island considered this their favorite beach, and it becomes obvious as to why. It is a reef protected beach, however, unlike Nu'alolo Kai, which has a natural channel, the channel at Miloli'i was bombed out by the Military during World War II, so they could store ammunition. In both cases, there are a set of markers that once lined up, guide you right into the beach. It was quite easy to land there, as after 12 miles of kayaking, we had gotten pretty comfortable on it. The beach was quiet, and my wife and I set out to find a set of trees to call our campground, then took a long, well deserved, nap. The feeling of exhaustion, excitement, accomplishment and happiness that you get when you finally make it to the hut is exactly the same as when you make it to the beach.

When we awoke from our nap, the other groups that were doing the day trip were getting ready to get back on their kayaks for the last leg of the journey. I was happy relaxing on the beach, and getting ready to explore the beach and canyons by ourselves. To the south of the beach there is a trail that leads sharply up to the campground's water tank. It then continues up at a lesser grade to an eventual waterfall. There is also a natural spring located near the end of the trail, where a grove of Taro plants are. Scrambling up the rocks led us to a tall, but not so powerful waterfall. It was very peaceful to be so far from reality. After the hike we went for a dip in the water, and headed back to the campsite to clean up and have our spectacular dinner, then sunset. As we were approaching the camp ground, we noticed a few missile launches from the nearby Naval Base.

As I discuss in the administrative post, out dinner consisted of sashimi tuna and local avocado wrapped in a seasoned sheet of seaweed. We also had shrimp ceviche, and a big Chocolate bar for dessert. Relaxing under a tree, watching the sun set, eating this food, after a 12 mile trek on a kayak and a 2 mile hike up a canyon, away from reality - I hope you get the picture on how awesome this dinner was! After the sun set, we got to sleeping pretty quickly, but woke up throughout the night to an impressive display of stars.

When we awoke in the morning, our fellow campers noticed our lack of coffee, and invited us over for some. They were locals to the island that took their 7 year old with them. The mother used a single to carry the child, and the father used a tandem that carried the supplies. It was a great conversation about island living, but, after our morning fix, we decided to head out into the ocean on our own, and kayak up to the snorkeling beach. The launch was simple in the morning as the ocean was "calm", but there certainly were swells. We were the first people to arrive and quickly found the off-shore anchors to tie the kayak up with. As soon as we entered the water, we quickly saw sea turtles, and floated with them for a while. The area is full of great fish, too many to mention, and the water is perfect for viewing and swimming.

While you cannot land a boat on the beach at Nu'alolo Kai, you can swim ashore. There are picnic benches and toilets there. We had our granola, yogurt and Mango breakfast there, then headed off to view the archeological sites on the beach. Having seens the anasazi ruins in Moab, these were very similar, in a tropical kind of way. No matter where they are, I am always amazed at their ingenuity. After the hike, we did another round of snorkeling, then noticed the commercial boats making their way to the beach, and we knew it was time to head back to Miloli'i.

Back at Miloli'i, we packed up and cleaned up our camp site, then spent the rest of the time scouring the beach of sea shells. From what I have understood, there are a few types of rare shells, and I think I got a few of each, but, the shells are abundant and colorful. We walked up and down the mile long beach until we ran out of space to put our collection. At about this time, the day's new voyageurs were beginning to appear in the distance. Once they landed, it was our cue to get on the boat and head to Polihale and complete our journey.

The final segment, from Miloli'i to Polihale is the simplest. Once you leave the reef and paddle out a bit, you can see the long beach in the distance, and the waters are much, much calmer on this stretch. The Na Pali Coast, now dry and arid, is still spectacular, and you still can see sea turtles. It was about a two hour trip, and when you get to Polihale, there will be breakers. Our landing started off fine, but we had a wave crash behind us that threw me on top of my wife, and our boat thrown up the beach while our paddles went in another direction. Definately similar to the famous "Garage Sales" where your ski equipment to spread out everywhere after a crash. Once on land, we changed into dry clothes and waited a bit for the Van to arrive. You really don't want to be stuck at Polihale for too long as it is exposed and hot. It is much better to spend your time at Miloli'i. Once we were loaded up, our driver took us to Poi'pu where a nice room and service was waiting for us at our resort.

If you are looking for the hut trip experience in another part of the world, I would highly recommend this type of trip. No matter what, if I were on the island of Kaua'i, I would do this trip, even if it was for the day. However, going through the extra work and figuring out a way to do it 'Maverick' style will allow you to become more intimate with the Na Pali coast. I think one of the major keys to success was to listen to the recommendations of the people on the island. Telling people you are camping at Miloli'i is like a golden ticket to good information and special service. However unnatural it felt to us, we took everyone's advice and it worked out perfectly. While there are a few groups that do these trips, my experience with the people at Kayak Kaua'i was so good that I can't imagine anyone doing it better.