Well, I TOTALLY lost momentum on this. What has it been, four months since Day 4?
My bad, y’all.
But, this is site is as close to a journal as I’ll get, so I still need to get this out there.
Just when I thought Kaua’i couldn’t get any better… Day 5 had to come along and TOTALLY blow my mind.
Today is hike day. More specifically, the Kalalau Trail – one of the most famous (and dangerous) trails on planet earth. Also, probably more importantly, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my relatively short life.
A little background
Three years ago, Kaua’i experienced severe flooding on the north shore and up around where the Kalalau Trail begins (Ke’e beach) as a result of record rainfall. The water washed away quite a bit and gave the island an opportunity to re-think how they wanted to approach this popular spot that, pre-flooding, was being hammered by tourists.
The state decided to require a permit to get to this beach and hike the trail. The permit to hike really comes in the form of a parking pass, and you have two options here.
Option 1 – You purchase a parking passes for your vehicle. You drive all the way to a parking lot near the trailhead and verify with a park ranger that you have your parking pass. Then, you can enjoy the beach and the trail.
Option 2 – You purchase a shuttle ticket. There are a parking lots that span a couple miles away from the trailhead where shuttles are… well… shuttling people. If you purchase a shuttle ticket, that acts as your hiking trail permit.
We went with Option 2.
There are a limited number of passes, whether for your own car or the shuttle. We got the 2nd earliest shuttle (7:00 AM) so we could get enough time to hike.
There is a short hike from the parking lot to the trailhead/Ke’e beach, which is pretty interesting in and of itself, and then, you’re ready to start the journey.
Here’s a map at the trailhead that guided us along our hike.
Back in the day, my family used to do a lot of road trips. When my mom got cancer, she, my dad, and I visited every county in Utah to complete a passport. Separate from that, we went to countless car shows all throughout the state and into other states.
With these hundreds of hours on the road, it always seemed like my dad was racing everyone else on the road. I think it was subconscious, because I find myself falling into the same patterns at times. It doesn’t matter how fast the person in front of you is going, you want to pass them. Where am I going with this?
Here is where I’m going with this.
This is Caitlin. She is a reckless hiker and has no concept of a speed limit.
If they handed out tickets for tailgating while hiking, my entire salary each year would go to paying for Caitlin’s tickets.
She hikes fast. And if someone is ahead of her, she needs to pass them. Unfortunately, much like driving in the fast lane in Utah, people who think they hike at a brisk pace will go an uncomfortable amount of time before moving to the side to let Caitlin pass. I just try to keep up and apologize to those left in her wake as I slip by.
“She’s fast, isn’t she? Hehe. Sorry.”
Our entire shuttle took off on the hike at about the same time, and we weren’t the first ones out, so we had to pass quite a few people. Once we were in first place amongst our shuttle-mates, we quickly caught up to the group who had been on the earlier shuttle.
We were haulin’.
Here is a glimpse of the scenery while we were between shuttle groups and had a little space between us and everyone else.
At the 2 mile mark, you come to the Hanakapi’ai stream that leads right into Hanakapi’ai beach and the ocean. You cross the stream in what was just below knee-height water for me – around neck high for Caitlin
(I joke, I joke. I’m tall and she is short, but not that short).
This is cool spot to walk in the sand and watch the waves crash in, not the mention the view of the Na’Pali range looking back.
Once you reach this point, you have a decision to make.
Apparently (we learned this later), your regular pass only allows you to come to this point and then hike up to Hanakapi’ai Falls – another 2 miles following the stream up into the mountains. This is a 300 foot waterfall that is supposed to be pretty awesome. We didn’t go here and instead, continued along the Kalalau Trail.
To continue further along the Kalalau Trail, you need a separate pass. We knew about a separate pass, but thought it was only if you wanted to camp at the end of the trail. We didn’t plan on camping and wanted to go deeper in to a different water fall.
So, we split off from the regular group, 90% of whom were headed to the Hanakapi’ai waterfall, and headed further along the trail.
One other notable feature of this spot is the toilet. This is an elevated structure that smells like… well… you can imagine. It was one of the most foul smelling things I’ve experienced and I don’t know if I’d go in there to avoid an accident myself.
Everything was so lush and green. The contrast between the greens of the vegetation and the blues of the sky and ocean gave me what I like to call eyegasms. It’s incredible how beautiful everything is.
It was also very humid. The temperature wasn’t too warm. Right around 72 degrees, but the humidity cause a lot of perspiration and sweat running into the eyes.
Even being there in person, it all just didn’t seem real.
Check out this cool picture.
Here’s a little stream crossing. Hear the helicopters? You’ll see why.
So, at just past the 6-mile mark, we find ourselves in the Hanakoa Valley. A friend had told us that this is the waterfall we should try to see. We split off the Kalalau Trail and onto the Hanakoa Falls Trail. We are on this trail for about a half a mile until we reach Hanakoa Falls – the climax of our hiking experience.
When we arrived at this waterfall, there was a couple who had camped back where the trail split and they were just leaving this unbelievable spot.
Once they left, Caitlin and I were the only ones at this waterfall for an entire hour! It was so cool having our own little private waterfall. Well, except for all those helicopters I mentioned.
Remember that Hanakapi’ai Falls were 300 feet? Well, Hanakoa Falls is a 1,000 foot waterfall. Now, you can’t see all the way up to the top from the pool in the video, but there are sections along the hike where you can spot the massive waterfall, and helicopter tours are flying in here all the time to show the tourists this incredible spot.
We both jumped into the pool, which was very cold. Looking up, you could see how fast the clouds were flying past and, when there was cloud cover, it was cool (temperature). When the sun came out, it was nice and warm.
So, we swam, laid out on the rocks when the sun was out, admired the scenery, and enjoyed this little piece of heaven.
The way back
As we headed back, it was at this point the we had the discussion of whether or not we should do the entire trail in one day. That would be 22 total miles in a day (11 each way), and we had another 5 miles to go before the end of the 1-way trail. It was also at this point that I was reminded of 2 other things:
- My knees aren’t great.
- I should’ve packed more food and water.
So, if you ever venture out on this hike, bring more than just a Gatorade bottle of water for each person and more than a cup of grapes.
As we started back, my knees were feeling it. We had been hiking up and down mountains and it was catching up to me. Not to mention all the fluids we’d lost to sweat and only having a 32 oz water bottle. I told Caitlin that I had no doubt she could make the hike in a day, but I wouldn’t be able to, and like most things in her life, I held her back from accomplishing something pretty nuts.
In the post covering Day 3, I mention the shoes that I had for this trip. These shoes were perfect for all the hikes we had done up to this point. And to be candid, they were great for this hike as well. I think the problem is, that by the end of this hike, we did 14 miles in a day. Add to that the 9 or so miles we had done on the other days, and my feet were not feeling great.
I felt like I could feel every rock and pebble hitting my feet on the way down. This wasn’t the case on the way up, but maybe as you’re hoping to get back to safety, everything starts to feel uncomfortable. These shoes held up well and it was nice knowing I could cross streams without having to change shoes.
We work our way back, drinking what water we had left and taking pictures alone the way.
Does Caitlin meet her match?
As we got back to the Hanakapi’ai stream, we encountered this family of parents and two early-teenage kids. There was a girl, probably around 13 who was like a mini-Caitlin. She saw this hike as a race, and she was trying to pass as many people as possible.
You can imagine what this did to Caitlin.
Caitlin didn’t say anything, but our pace went from fast, to stupid fast.
So, as my knees are wobbling and my feet are sore and raw, Caitlin takes off on this high-speed chase to track down and pass this 13 year old who is hell-bent on proving to whoever is near that she is the fastest hiker of all time.
I think we all know how this ends.
We catch up to this girl and Caitlin is quite literally breathing down her neck. The girl finally concedes that she’s been beat and lets us pass. We get to the end of the trail about 2 minutes before her and congratulate her on 3rd place.
You can see it in her eyes that she has met the GOAT when it comes to speed hiking – Caitlin. With a few more years of training, she could become great herself.
5 1/2 years before, when we first visited Kauai, we took a picture on Ke’e beach together and we tried our best to recreate it.
Look how young we look in the 2015 one… And the water levels were much different. There was a lot more exposed rock this time.
I did a good job of hiding it, but I was pretty miserable physically at this point in the 2021 picture. My body was sore. I was dehydrated and crazy-mad hungry. Which is unfortunate, because this is my favorite beach on Kauai. The sand is soft and the water is warm. There is a little cove that is calm and doesn’t have waves crashing down on you. This place is amazing.
Caitlin laid out on the beach while I hobbled back to the shuttle area to find some water. I ended up resorting to the shower water because there weren’t vending machines or other forms of water.
We had a nice chat with the shuttle driver who drives shuttles all over the country. His contract brought him here for a couple months and then he’ll head back to the mainland for other work.
These shuttle drivers are amazing. The roads are super tight and these shuttles are wide. They are inches away from hitting the mountainside or other cars, but they cruise around with impressive calm.
We get back to our car and Erik needs food.
Searching for a restaurant
In previous posts, I mentioned how the road had been destroyed by a landslide a few months before our visit. This meant that we were stuck on the Hanalei side until they opened that road up during certain times of the day.
We parked our car in Hanalei and went looking for food. It was one of those moments where I am so hungry that nothing sounds good. Plus, everywhere was packed with long waits.
With the pandemic, restaurants were hit hard and they are all short staffed. This meant longer wait times. We walked around for a good half hour before we settled on the Hanalei Gourmet.
This is a cute restaurant with a bar. They sat us at the bar next to this older gentlemen who has led quite the interesting life. He is house-sitting for a friend of his and has been off and on for years.
The food tasted amazing. I wasn’t sure if it was because it was genuinely great, or I was just so hungry that anything would’ve tasted like the best meal I’d ever had. The view out of this restaurant is so beautiful, too.
This whole island is just absurdly gorgeous.
Once the road opened up, we headed back to our hotel, jumped in the pool and hot tub, showered, and crashed. It was an epic day.
If you ever visit Kauai, getting a glimpse of the Na’Pali coast is a must. The Kalalau Trail hike was both Caitlin’s and my favorite parts of this vacation. There are several other great things we did mentioned in other posts, but this hike was THE highlight of highlights on this round.