On the third day of a recent camping trip in Kalalau, Kauai, we woke up early and walked to the end of Kalalau Beach. With swim fins and snorkels in hand, we prepared for a long swim to a secluded beach.
We didn’t GPS it or anything but the open ocean swim along the rocky coast felt like a good 350-400 yards.
Our destination was Honopu Beach, one of the most incredible beaches in Hawaii. Boats (including kayaks) are not allowed to land here. So to get here, one must swim.
We started our excursion in the morning. We ate a small breakfast at our campsite then walked the length of Kalalau Beach (pictured above) towards the West. Winds pick up at around 11am or noon. Once the winds come, swimming back here to Kalalau Beach would’ve been impossible. So an early start was a must.
As we walked down Kalalau Beach, we got to see the massive sea caves carved into the cliffs. (That spec at the bottom the photo is a person.)
There was a massive landslide this past winter and a couple hundred yards of Kalalau Beach is now gone. It basically fell into the ocean. (See pre-landslide views of Kalalau Beach.) This made the swim to Honopu that much longer and it made having a snorkel and fins that much more important.
Unless you’re a triathlete or an experienced open ocean swimmer, this swim would not be possible without a snorkel and fins. I brought a small dry bag and strapped it to my leg to carry by camera gear.
Even with a snorkel and fins you need to have some experienced swimmers in your group. A lot of people, though they might be strong, can get panic attacks when swimming in the open ocean. If you were to have a panic attack during this swim, you’d be in trouble as there’s no “shore” for you to swim up to. We happened to have triathletes, ocean safety certified folks, surfers and a former water polo player in our group. So for me, being surrounded by a bunch of confident swimmers was very comforting.
And once the winds pick up around midday, there’s no way anyone (fins or not) is making that swim back, no matter how good a swimmer they are. The winds, very strong current, and waves would be against you and the distance just seems too far.
Oh and, this swim is also only possible during the summer months and when there oceans are calm.
As we emerged from the water on Honopu Beach, we saw that we were surrounded by towering cliffs. The vertical faces were even more dramatic than those at Kalalau.
The scale of this place can only be comprehended by being here. Everything is larger than it appears once you walk up to it. Take that arch way off in the distance for instance. It looks small but that thing is 90 feet tall.
The sheer cliff faces are scarred with lines formed by water running down them when it rains.
We soaked in our surrounds before making our way to the arch.
This arch connects the two beaches of Honopu Valley.
I followed Kurtis (@kurtisfunk) through this massive arch.
The further in he walked, the bigger the arch looked.
This arch is full of water. You can see dykes running through the arch when you look up. It’s the hard rock that’s embedded in the more crumbly earth. The dykes act as aquifers and store water.
Water was dripping down and it felt like it was raining underneath the arch. This means that the arch is constantly eroding and rocks can drop from the roof at anytime. We did not linger under the arch for very long.
The rest of the crew made their way over.
On the other side of the Honopu arch is another beach.
It’s another huge strip of sand surrounded by sheer cliffs.
From the water, we could look back and peer into the sacred Honopu Valley. Like all valleys along the Na Pali coast, Honopu Valley was a home to ancient Hawaiians.
When we arrived on the beach, it was completely empty. It was just us and the occasional crab.
And this rock.
Dane (@nakadane) climbed a sand dune to snap some pics.
As morning sun rose over the towering cliffs surrounding Honopu, it lit up the arch with warm glow. Brian (@blam) and I made our way to towards the back of the sand dunes.
As if Honopu Beach couldn’t get more breathtaking, there’s also a waterfall here.
The falls flow from Honopu Valley.
The water then flows through the arch and into the ocean.
We enjoyed Honopu Beach for an hour or so.
We had to be mindful of time so that we could swim back to Kalalau Beach before the wind came and ocean current picked up. If we missed our window of opportunity, we would have to wait at Honopu until the evening when the winds finally die down.
I followed Kurtis and Sonomi (@lomilomisomi) back through the golden arch.
You can really see how sheer these cliffs are here. The cliffs are formed by erosion during the winter when gigantic surf pummels this side of the island. All of the rubble that breaks off gets washed away leaving this clean edge between sand and cliff.
During our brief time exploring Honopu Beach, I tried to keep in mind how lucky I was to be here. If you factor in the effort it takes to get to Kalalau, and that you then have to swim a few hundred yards to access this beach, Honopu is really hard to get to. It could be some time before I ever come back here.
Then it was time to swim back to Kalalau Beach and cook up some food at camp.
- Three Nights in Kalalau – This excursion to Honopu was part of this recent trip to Kalalau.
- The Kalalau Trail – The famous backpacking trail that takes you to Kalalau, Kauai.
- Learn more about Honopu Valley on Wikipedia.
- Camping at Kalalau requires some serious planning as camping permits go fast. Permits area available on Hawaii’s Wiki Permits website.