First formed around 5 million years ago, Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands. (It’s almost twice as old as Oahu.)
Kaui reveals its age through it’s wild topography. On the island you’ll find two extremes. On one end there’s the 3,600 ft deep Waimea Canyon, and on the other you have this place, the Na Pali coast, where the sea cliffs reach as high as 4,000 ft tall.
The most extreme landscape you’ll find along the Na Pali coast is in Kalalau. Here you’ll find the iconic fluted ridges and pointy spires that have been formed by millions of years of erosion.
Kalalau Valley is a lush and sacred place that’s surrounded by sheer towering walls. The valley goes back about 2 miles and is about half a mile wide. At one time it was home to native Hawaiians and remnants of their settlements remain. Now, Kalalau Valley and surrounding areas have been designated a state park (called the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park) which protects the area from development.
Kalalau Valley is home to Kalalau Stream which provides fresh water and many opportunities for swimming (or getting waterfall massages).
Fronting Kalalau Valley is the ocean and Kalalau Beach. Kalalau Beach is a gigantic white sand beach that gets washed away every winter and reformed every summer by ocean swells.
In the summer months, the ocean here is inviting.
To experience Kalalau, one must camp here. You’ll need to camp at least 3 nights to appreciate this place. (Camping permits allow for up to 5 nights. Permits are available online.)
The designated Kalalau camping area runs along the beach. The camp sites are tucked away under the trees and are delineated with stones or branches.
Many have fire pits built by campers. We brought chicken wire and metal bars to form a light weight hibachi over our fire pit.
On our first night we took advantage of the warm summer temperatures and sat out on the beach.
In the morning I walked out from under the trees to see how the soft light of dawn would illuminate the pali.
The ocean was calm with only a gentle breeze in the air.
After a lazy morning at the camp site we made our way to the beach for some body surfing.
You can see how far down the beach stretches looking West.
Looking towards the pali you could see it was shrouded in clouds.
But the beach, the beach remained sunny and warm.
After our morning body surfing session we rinsed off the salt water in this waterfall.
Then we performed our daily chore of fetching water from Kalalau stream. (Note: the water needs to be either filtered or treated.)
After lunch and more lounging at the camp site, we hiked into Kalalau Valley.
In the valley, we were greeted with more views of the cathedral like cliffs surrounding us.
We explored the waterfalls along Kalalau Stream.
We made an effort to appreciate all the smaller sights around us (even though we weren’t sure what we were looking at).
But of course, the epicness of the mountains surrounding us prevailed in capturing our attention.
The seemingly unnatural shapes and patterns carved into the mountains made our hike feel surreal.
When we entered the canopy of the forest, the lushness felt strange given how hot the day was.
But looking off into the distance we could see the source of this lushness. A waterfall poured out of the mountain.
We weren’t going to the falls though. We were following Kalalau Stream to a swimming hole.
The cold water was refreshing after a hike that was more strenuous than I had expected.
We also submerged ourselves in the small step falls above the pools.
Kalo grew around the pool adding to the ambiance.
Looking back towards the ocean we could see the silhouette of the Na Pali. At this moment, I felt very lucky to be with friends in the special place called Kalalau.
The hike back to camp was pretty much all downhill. We used this return hike as an opportunity to collected firewood. (There’s no firewood available at the campsites.)
Kurtis hiked for a good two miles with this trophy log. It burned all night.
After another meal at camp, we rested and set out to try to catch some fish. I don’t spearfish but I was interested in exploring the coastline.
While walking to the fishing spot we crossed Kalalau Stream right where it empties out into the ocean. The view of the mountains from this spot is unreal.
There are somehow enormous boulders right where the stream and ocean meet.
We rock hopped down the coast a bit further.
Then the guys jumped in the water.
With limited daylight and poor visibility in the ocean we returned to camp empty handed.
The sun set as we walked back to camp.
And after dinner we went back out to the beach to check out the stars.
This was right about the time when Jupiter and Venus would meet in the summer sky.
Looking back towards the pali was like looking into a different world.
The next day we woke up early and swam over to Honopu Beach while the ocean was still calm.
Then we spent a good long time at camp enjoying our break from civilization, internet and cell service.
We made it a point to watch the beautiful Kalalau sunset on this day.
The sun cast a warm glow on Kalalau Beach.
It felt appropriate to highlight this moment, on Kalalau Beach at sunset, with a Padron Family Reserve.
That night we watched the moon cross the sky over the ridge line.
The next morning, we jumped back in the water for more body surfing on small but glassy waves.
Getting to Kalalau:
It takes a lot of effort to get here. But the greater the, effort the greater the reward right?
- Kalalau Camping Permits: Camping at Kalalau requires some serious planning as camping permits go fast. Permits area available on Hawaii’s Wiki Permits website.
- Backpacking to Kalalau: I’ve covered all of the details of how to get here, tips on what to bring and all that stuff in my previous series about the Kalalau Trail. The hike takes a good amount of planning as well. You’ll need to carry your camping gear on your back for 11-miles. The trail is really well maintained though. Learn about the Kalalau Trail.
Should you decide to come to Kalalau yourself, please note that what’s presented here are the best moments from our trip. These photos are meant to show the highlights as many folks will probably never make it out here.
If you are planning to come to Kalalau, it’s probably a good idea to temper your expectations. Kalalau is what you make of it. You’re really roughing it out here. Water and firewood is a mile away from camp. We fought off mosquitos constantly. We pooped in not so savory outhouses. Most of our meals were those dehydrated Mountain House packs. We craved a cold beverage more than anything towards the end of our stay. And we went without internet or cell service for four days. My point is, you really need to like nature to enjoy this place.
Also, while Kalalau is a sacred and spiritual place, it’s a bit crowded out there. So, expect to be surrounded by people. To connect with the place you’ll have to really put in some effort to seek out solitude.
Oh and lastly, pray for good weather.