Three Ways to Experience the Nā Pali Coast

The Na Pali Coast.

Three Ways to Experience the Nā Pali Coast

If you are heading to Kauai, there is one part of the island that is absolutely worth heading to, the Nā Pali Coast. The Nā Pali Coast extends from Ke’e Beach on the North Shore to Polihale State Park on the West side of the island. If you visit Kauai you can’t leave without exploring this part of the island; it leaves me speechless every time. With five-million-year-old plunging sea cliffs rising up four thousand feet above the Pacific Ocean, the Nā Pali Coast really showcases the island’s volcanic past. Its dramatic scenery is totally unique, with its hidden sea caves, arches, secluded beaches, flowing waterfalls; and curtain-like vertical folds. It is the most magnificent place I have ever visited in my life and one of the reasons why I first fell so deeply in love with Kauai.

View over the Na Pali Coast from the helicopter.

A view over the Na Pali Coast from the helicopter.

As we’ve learnt in our years of travelling, the most beautiful places are not always easily accessible. This too is the case with the Nā Pali Coast. There are no roads on the Nā Pali Coast, only some hiking tracks, and those don’t cover the whole area. There are only three ways to experience this natural beauty and none of them involves a car or bike.

Hiking to Hanakapia'a Beach.

Hiking to Hanakapi’ai Beach.

Helicopter Ride

Although expensive, this is the best way to see the Nā Pali Coast because some parts are otherwise totally inaccessible. A helicopter ride will give you a birds-eye view of the entire area, and believe me it’s an awe-inspiring view! This is our favourite way of seeing the Nā Pali Coast, so much so that we’ve done it twice and would happily do it again! There are many helicopter companies to choose from and their tours all take off from Lihue airport. We love Mauna Loa Helicopters. They are efficient, friendly and they offer private tours for the same price. That means that you are guaranteed a window seat! This alone is worth choosing them; who wants to be stuck in the middle seat when the scenery is so amazing?

The cathedrals.

Such an unusual landscape.

The Na Pali Coast and its open-ceiling sea cave.

An open-ceiling cave on the Na Pali Coast.

If you are a keen photographer, choose their doors off option, which lets you take pictures without the usual glare from the windows getting in the way. That might sound scary but your nerves will recover soon after takeoff (you’ll be too busy taking in the amazing scenery to be scared) and you’ll have an experience that you won’t forget in a long time! Our helicopter ride was the absolute highlight of both our Kauai trips.

Hazy view of the coast.

A hazy view of the coast.

Another reason to choose a helicopter ride is that you’ll get to see the entire island, including Waimea Canyon, Mount Waialeale and Kauai’s impressive north shore to name a few. Most tours last an hour and circle the island, giving you jaw-dropping views around every corner. Of course, the Nā Pali Coast is the highlight of each flight.

The remote Kalalau Beach, marking the end of the Kalalau trail.

The remote Kalalau Beach that marks the end of the Kalalau trail.

Just spectacular!

The Kalalau Valley, just spectacular!

Love the colours!

Love the colours!

A very tall waterfall flowing off the Na Pali Coast.

A very tall waterfall flowing off the high cliff.

Boat tour

The second best way to see the Nā Pali Coast is to take a boat tour. Looking up at this impressive coastline instead of down will give you a totally different perspective. Boat tours also let you see the many sea caves and arches up close, and some amazing waterfalls pouring into the sea. Most tour companies will also take you to the Nualolo Kai reef for some snorkeling with the local sea turtles. We absolutely loved the boat tour we took and would one hundred percent do it again!

Our trip on the Catamaran.

A view from our trip on the Catamaran.

Another great view from the boat.

Another deserted beach.

A cheeky turtle coming to say hello at the Nualolo Kai reef.

A cheeky turtle coming to say hello at the Nualolo Kai reef.

There are tours departing from either Hanalei on the North Shore (summer only) or Port Allen on the south shore. Leaving from Hanalei is best if you suffer from sea sickness, you’ll arrive at the Nā Pali Coast mush faster.

Waterfall flowing in the sea.

A waterfall flowing into the sea and a sea cave, so much to explore on this stunning coastline.

Another waterfall flowing inside a sea cave.

Another waterfall flowing down into a sea cave.

Once again there are a few companies that run tours. We used Nā Pali Catamaran and they were top notch. The crew members were friendly, informative and took great care of us. We had the most perfect day out on the water. Another benefit of taking a boat tour is that you might see some dolphins and/or whales (in season). We were very lucky to have a pod of dolphins swim alongside our boat. We even spotted a whale and her calf breaching nearby, even though being April, whale season had technically ended.

A different perspective than from the helicopter. Equally amazing!

A different perspective than from the helicopter. Equally amazing!

More sea caves and spectacular scenery.

More sea caves and spectacular scenery.

A pod of dolphins came to join in the fun!

A pod of dolphins came to join in the fun!

Hiking

This is definitely the cheapest option but there’s one catch; you have to be pretty fit! The Kalalau Trail is a great hike and the only way to access the Nā Pali Coast by land. Starting at the Ke’e Beach carpark, this trail takes you through five lush valleys, across towering sea-cliffs and ends at the secluded Kalalau Beach where the sheer cliffs prevent you from hiking further. This eleven-mile hike (one way) is definitely not for beginners. If you are an experienced hiker and don’t mind camping, or showering in waterfalls (it takes a few days to complete and requires a $20 / day permit), then you should definitely go for it.

Start of the hike to Hanakapi'ai Beach.

The start of the Kalalau trail.

So lush and beautiful!

So lush and beautiful!

If that sounds a little bit out of your comfort zone, you can walk just a small part of the trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach and back. This shorter hike is four miles return and although still quite tough, it is more easily achievable and also completely free. Some parts of the trail can become extremely wet and slippery. Definitely, don’t attempt the hike after heavy rain as flash flooding can happen very quickly. Several times in the past people have been trapped and have had to be evacuated by helicopter! On a nice day, however, it’s a great hike with absolutely stunning views along the Nā Pali Coast. You may not get quite the same perspective as you do from the air or sea but it’s worth the effort nonetheless; plus you’ll feel fantastic afterwards.

Four miles of breathtaking scenery.

Four miles of breathtaking scenery.

The Hanakapia'ia river.

The Hanakapi’ai a river.

I could go on and on about how magical this place is, but a thousand words could not describe the beauty of this part of the island. Even my photos can’t really do it justice! You’ll have to go and see it for yourself to really appreciate it. So now that you know the options it’s time to pick one, or may I strongly suggest, pick three! They all offer a totally different angle on the coast and they are all absolutely worth every penny. So go check out one of the most unique landscapes on this wonderful planet, and when you’re done leave us a comment below telling us all about it!

Three Ways to Experience the Na Pali Coast

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