Thursday 3 October 2013

Kauai: Kalalau Trail Trip Report

The Kalalau Trail, a TODO item!  Having flown over the Na Pali coast the day before, I wanted to walk it.  The Kalalau trail is one of the most famous walks in the world, and the only land access to the Na Pali.  We hoped that a couple of days of mostly rain-free weather was enough to have dried the trail out somewhat.

You start the walk at Ke'e beach, one of the best beaches on the whole island.  The great beach plus the popularity of the trail means parking is a major hassle.  There is a small turning circle and a tiny carpark at the beach and trailhead, but you'll likely have to park in the larger carpark 0.3 miles back up the road.

The trailhead is well-marked but the sign is inaccurate: it claims permits are required to hike past Hanakapi'ai, but this is no longer the case.  As of Jan 1, 2012, permits are only required for hiking past Hanakoa (at which point it is really an overnight hike).

Kalalau Trail
We decided to hike all the way to Hanakoa.  We knew it was going to be a big day, so we carried a fair bit of water, food, and were on the trail by 9am.  I'd definitely recommend carrying water purification tablets to give yourself the ability to re-supply: there are multiple large creeks/rivers.  Hat and sunscreen are mandatory, and be prepared for brutal heat and humidity.

While hundreds of people hike to the first beach (Hanakapi'ai) each day, and a reasonable number head 1.8 miles up the valley from there to see the waterfall, almost no-one day-hikes to Hanakoa.  We were literally the only people without overnight packs who went any significant distance past Hanakapi'ai for the entire day.

First good view: Ke'e Beach and reef

Looking towards Na Pali

It's a dangerous beach, sure, but this sign is bullshit

River crossing at Hanakapi'ai

Climbing up from Hanakapi'ai, looking back over the beach

View from Space Rock, highest point of the trail

Looking down from Space Rock

Trail as it passes Space Rock.  You can clamber around the side via a precarious path for fantastic views.

On our helicopter trip our pilot claimed the Kalalau trail was "the most dangerous trail in the world".  This has no basis in reality.  The biggest danger is the heat (we passed someone on the way back who was really struggling).  The trail is fairly exposed, but not in a scary way, just in a the-views-are-amazing way.  The trail condition was good, not too muddy, although we noticed the section closest to the trailhead deteriorated drastically over the course of the day from the hundreds of people doing the short version of the hike.

The views as you enter the Hanakoa valley are amazing, a natural amphitheatre of knife-edge ridges.  The campgrounds there were pretty ordinary though: in the forest near the creek with no views.  They were also covered in trash :(
Stupendous Hanakoa valley

Hanakoa Valley
The 13 mile round trip to Hanakoa took us 7 hours (half the time suggested on the trailhead sign), but it was a pretty epic day.  There was plenty of elevation change and the heat and humidity were brutal, with little shade for most of the walk.  We set a pretty quick pace but didn't rush the experience and took plenty of photos.

Doing it with an overnight pack would be fairly tough work but something I want to come back and do.  I think the best itinerary would be to do both waterfall side trips (Hanakapi'ai and Hanakoa) on the first day and camp at Hanakoa, have a short walk the next day to Kalalau, then come back in a single day.

Best of all we got to soak our bones and wash off the mud in the warm water at Ke'e at the end of the day and watch a great sunset.

Fantastic Ke'e beach.  This was my favourite beach on the whole island.  Beautiful, and kid-friendly water and shade.

Sunset swimming at Ke'e.  One of the island's best sunset locations

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