In my search for videos about Kauai for this website (KauaiSurfClothing.com) I ran across this video that begins with the words “the adventure of a lifetime begins at the end of the road.” The video is about Na Pali Kayak‘s 17-mile kayak trip along the entire length of Kauai’s famed Na Pali Coast. The end of the road is Ha’ena Beach State Park, very near the actual end of the island’s highway at Ke’e Beach. Already in love with the beautiful island of Kauai, I quickly realized this was a unique and adventurous way to experience the island’s natural assets up close and personal. I was soon on the phone with chatty Na Pali Kayak co-owner Ivan Slack. He convinced me it was something I could do since I was in good physical condition.
I met up with the other kayakers (about 12 of us) at the Na Pali Kayak Hanalei headquarters at 6AM on a Tuesday morning on August 11th, 2015. Ivan was there, in a calm frenzy directing everyone on where to park and how to pack dry bags. Soon we were in a cramped van headed to Ha’ena Beach. (What better way to get to know the people you would be spending the next twelve hours with on an epic journey?)
We were soon at the beach and dragging the two-man kayaks to the launch point. Last-minute preparations were made. The “dry bags” were already moist from previous trips. No problem. Our cameras, snacks and sunblock were stored separately in a waterproof pouch behind our seats.
After a thorough brief, we headed out. The guides were nice enough to give us a “courtesy launch” and push us out to sea.
About a mile up the coast we were at Ke’e Beach, the point of no return. Here, you have the last option of quitting if for some reason the first mile convinced you this wasn’t such a good idea after all. One guy, who didn’t look very well, opted out. A teenage young lady wasn’t feeling too well either, but she decided to stay. (Though she battled seasickness almost the entire way, she completed the trip and I was impressed by her fortitude.) As we waited for one of the guides to take the poor fellow to shore, we cast our legs over the sides of the kayaks and were mesmerized by a brilliant rainbow anchored in the direction we would be headed.
Soon enough we were paddling down the coast and soon enough it became apparent this would be a lovely day, and a tough day. Who would have ever thought 17 miles on the open ocean would be hard? Haha, in the video it looked like everyone was just cruising along with magic paddles. No, you had to earn every mile on this trip, and there were still about 15 miles to go. After the trip, I read the reviews at TripAdvisor and I felt the many reviewers’ pain: “Strenuous trip in the most beautiful place.” “SO SO HARD!!!!!!!” “My toughest day ever.” “It was the hardest thing I have ever physically and mentally done.” “I don’t get seasick, but I threw up at about 4 miles then again at about 9 miles.” “I cried a couple of times.”
Though it seemed we weren’t really moving because there were no close reference points to measure against, we were actually making headway. Our first break was offshore at Hanakapiai Beach. These breaks, about every 15-20 minutes, made the strenuous journey possible. During these breaks, we would flail our legs over the side, take photos, drink water and just enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Some would jump in the water.
There were a couple of sea caves along our journey. One of the sea caves had two entrances, making for a tunnel. The last sea cave was spectacular. The cave was round inside, with an open air ceiling. There was a rock right in the middle for fun times!
After much hard paddling, we were at Milolii Beach for lunch. It is a secluded beach, accessible only by boat. On the map, it is past Kalalau Beach. We were told there was a waterfall that we could hike to, but no one went because we were all so tired. There are two shaded pavilions at the beach. Another kayak outfit already had one, so we grabbed the other. The gourmet sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies tasted ever so good and the cold drinks, including juices, water and colas, were very much appreciated. The lunch ended way too soon, even though it was at least an hour and fifteen minutes long. Time to go back to the grind.
The rest of the way was smooth sailing. Our guides hadn’t really let on, but we had already gone 12 of the 17 miles. Now, it was just a straight-away shot to Polihale Beach. We could see it from the time we left Milolii and prayed the beach we could see is the one we would be landing on. We didn’t want to paddle around any more “corners” at this point. Thankfully, the first beach was our beach. We landed and were ever so thankful to be on dry land. After a quick shower, we were back in the van for the hour-and-a-half trip back to Hanalei. We didn’t care about the time it would take, we were just happy to be resting comfortably. It had been a hard journey, but an incredibly beautiful journey and one none of us will ever forget.
A couple of tips:
You don’t have to be a triathlete to complete this trip, but you do need to be in good shape. Those with kayaking experience will have an easier time.
Bear in mind you could be in direct sunlight, on the open ocean, for at least six hours. Sunblock, wide-brimmed safari-style hats, and moisture wicking (dry-fit) long-sleeve shirts are recommended, and lightweight long pants are not a bad idea.
Bring an extra pair of sunglasses as sunglasses can get lost or broken quickly on the trip. A kayak overturned and a lady lost one of the lenses in her sunglasses on our trip.
GoPro cameras with a floaty device will still sink if they have other stuff attached. For the video below I used a GoPro mounted on a Smatree GoPro Pole and kept it secure by keeping it under the tie-down straps in front of the seat.
Once past Ke’e Beach, there’s no quitting or turning around. You will be sitting rather awkwardly all day, paddling incessantly, in the direct sunlight. Be sure this is something you are committed to doing both mentally and physically. With that said, aside from the guy who was seasick and tapped out at Ke’e, we all made it and had the experience of a lifetime.
Wear gloves if you have sensitive hands. See photo of blisters below.