Backpacking in Kauai
A Rest at the Top
A final climb brings you to a little rest stop at the top of a steep red slope. The slope is Red Hill, and its crumbling soil is deeply gashed by erosion and offers very poor footing. The original route of the trail, where a mileage marker still sits, is now worn too deep to walk over. You need to pick your way down carefully, using one of the improvised routes, to the grassy area below, where you can again see the established trail.
It's not long before you're making your way through guava and Java plum trees and a yellow-flowered relative of cotton, mao or huluhulu. You're crossing the broad alluvial apron of Kalalau Valley at its seaward end. You descend briefly to Kalalau Stream; beyond the stream, you pass the trail to Kalalau Valley (no camping) and come out through guava and lantana onto the low bluffs above Kalalau Beach. What a welcome sight it is!
There are paths leading off through lantana and Indian pluchea into the trees on the inland side, and you can find good campsites there under noni, kukui, Java plum, and papaya trees. You may find goats grazing in the grassy area defined by stones, or you may sit there quietly and watch zebra doves and flocks of tiny finches searching for food. There are a pit toilet and a composting toilet near the east end of the camping zone and a pit toilet near the west end. The campsites become progressively more exposed and overused as you continue west.
Hoolea Falls at the west end of the beach cascades down a mossy groove that makes it a tempting place for a natural shower; unfortunately, falling rock here has seriously injured hikers. As always, never use soap in a stream, and treat all water before drinking it.
A walk to the west end of the beach allows you to wade a little in the surf if it's not too high, but swimming is very dangerous here. Look for dignified black birds with gray caps-black noddies (noio in Hawaiian)-on the rocks near the end of the beach. Most of the sand is swept out to sea in the winter, leaving boulders at the east end and a narrow strip of sand at the west. In summer, a broad sand beach extends along the bluffs and past the sea caves. The cliffs are dangerous because of rockfall, so don't get too close to them. The rockslide at the far west end is said to be the remains of sea caves that collapsed in 1987.
This is the end of the Kalalau Trail. The cliffs of the Na Pali Coast are too sheer and too fragile to permit land travel southwest from here. The ancient Hawaiians used to travel this coast by canoe, not by trail, as long as the weather and sea conditions permitted. Today, modern tour boats take sightseers along the coast but are permitted to land at only a few places.
Relax and Listen
I hope you'll have at least one layover day here to dry out, sunbathe, visit Kalalau Valley, see a sunset and maybe the green flash, hear superb bird concerts, and watch an unbeatable display of stars (if the clouds and the moon permit). The white-rumped shama, or shama thrush, an introduced bird, is such a gifted singer that it's easy to forgive the introduction. Look for a medium-sized bird that's black above with chestnut breast, white rump, and white feathers under its long tail. Shamas flick their tails, so you may notice their white flashes. You're more likely to hear it than to see it. Its song is loud, rich, sweet, clear, and varied. It may not come around your campsite every day, but when it does, drop whatever you're doing and listen.
After dark, you may hear harmless big brown toads hopping through the leaf litter. They don't have the sense to stay out of your way, so try to stay out of theirs. Their skin secretes a poison, so wash your hands before touching your mouth, eyes, etc., if you handle a toad. Pests are few, but they move in fast: ants and cockroaches. Hang your food using rope or twine to which you've applied insect repellent; it's said to work for a while.
Days 4 through 6 (11 miles) are simply the reverse of Days 1 through 3.
There are good examples of boulders undergoing"spheroidal weathering" on some of the open slopes between Manono Ridge and Kalalau. An "onion" boulder consists of a rounded core surrounded by concentric shells of stone that turn out to be quite fragile. This is caused by a kind of chemical weathering in which water penetrates imperfections in the outer surface of the rock and reacts with the underlying rock to form clay. The clay swells and forces the outer surface to separate from the inner surface. The undermined outer surface breaks away, and water attacks the new surface, repeating the cycle and resulting in the concentric shells, like the layers of an onion. The water penetrates more easily at edges and corners than on flat surfaces, so the process wears down sharp angles and produces a rounded core and shells.
Permits are required for dayhikes that travel this far, assuming you can make this as a 22-mile dayhike, as well as for camping at Kalalau. Follow the instructions given at Wiliwili Camp.
Getting There By Car
From Lihue, drive north and then west on Highway 56 literally to the end of the road, which has turned into Highway 560 - a distance of 41 miles. The parking area is small. Your chances of finding a spot here are better if you arrive early. (On the other hand, you may want to come late to watch the sunset from this west-facing beach.)
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication