The Ultimate in Outdoor Living

The Kalalau Trail, Kaua’i, Hawai’i

by Michele Knapp

Happy birds in paradise - Dave and Michele Knapp

Moon and sunrise over Bali Ha’i. (caption for main pic)


The airport hotel is only tolerable when your destination is paradise. Early flight before your body knows its awake, five hours to LA plus one for layover then another five to Lihu‘e Airport on the southeastern side of Kaua‘i.

Each Hawai’i sunset is a unique and memorable experience.

Insiders tip – choose a seat on the left or seats with an A; the view traveling over the Polynesian chain is dramatically breathtaking!

Kaua‘i is the furthest island west and the oldest, offering incomparable beauty, lushness and serenity. I was immediately smitten. It is also the wettest spot on earth; the center of the island, called Mount Wai‘ale‘ale, meaning “rippling waters,” sees an average of 432 inches of rainfall; around the rest of the island, only a fraction of this.

Luggage accounted for at the hibiscus scented open-air baggage claim, we make our way across the street in the evening light. The full moon rising silhouettes the magnificent volcanic cliffs. We jump into a white four-door Jeep Wrangler and point north toward Princeville. Wind in my hair, moonlight casting a blue glow on our joyful faces we “ooh” and “ah” our way along the 40 miles of coastline. The abundance of stars, the absolute white of cotton clouds struck by moonlight and blown by the trades are spectacular.

The St. Regis of Princeville sits high on the tip of a peninsula that forms the infamous Hanalei Bay, meaning “wreath shaped.” Upon arrival we are greeted by concierges bearing purple orchid leis then swept off by our personal butler, Joseph, to our room on the 8th floor and now on the waning end of energy after travels.

Our room is so welcoming and true to the culture in its choice of furnishing. I am naturally drawn to a ceiling to floor wall of shutters. Joseph quickly steps in front of me and with a latch click and a roll, I am brought to tears. Gasping and motioning for Dave, I behold the bright moon shining over the cliffs of Bali Ha‘i bouncing its light into Hanalei Bay.

For those of you who may recall the original 1957 film “South Pacific,” this is the slice of beach where Mitzi Gaynor ‘washed that man right out of her hair.’ Unlike Mitzi, very happy with mine, I choose to keep my man in my hair!

Famous Hanalei Bay surfer with tow.

Famous Hanalei Bay surfer with tow.

It is tradition each morning for the butler to bring coffee and your choice of newspaper. These folks are authentic, gracious, proud and spiritual. This is a vibe you pick up the moment you place yourself within the aura of Kaua‘i. It wraps all around you and suddenly your senses – including your sixth – are rocking.

Over coffee at sunrise while entertained by pre-dawn surfers and SUPs, we decide today is the day we will take on Hanakapi‘ai Falls (“bay sprinkling food”), a 6-8 hour hike along the Kalalau Trail which hugs the Na Pali Coast. We have actually been training for this one as it is beyond rugged. It’s rock hopping, stream crossing, tree hanging and cliff hugging at major heights. Not for the faint of heart.

Dave ordered more to eat and had a couple of sandwiches, ­peelable fruit and protein bars sent up for his pack while I tightly braided hair, laced up boots and poured over the map. The scent of sunscreen in the air and watching Dave check out his walking stick in the hallway as the door closed behind us was cause for a giggle and a smile which stayed with me most of the day.

Dave in awe of Na Pali Coast.

Dave in awe of Na Pali Coast.

The ride is a quick one, around the crescent to the end of the road (literally, you can go no further). Dodging roosters and chickens, we arrived early enough at the Kalalau Trail head to get rock star parking. This also marks the fabulous lagoon known as Ke‘e Beach that offers great swimming and snorkeling when calm ­– which was most definitively not this day. Crashing waves and white spray marked the spot.

We should have taken a picture at the trailhead sign before the hike – not after. There had been torrential rain for the first time in a while a day before we arrived, so the trail was very slippery and the streams and waterways where still swift and voluminous. The mud here is quite reddish; like Ash Wednesday for a Catholic, it tells the tale of your whereabouts.

Warning sign at mouth of Hanakapi’ai Falls as it meets the sea.

The first two miles allow for spectacular views at various elevations of Bali Ha’i and the Na Pali coastline. It is here where the falls dead-end into the ocean. And it is here where many have lost lives indicated by the weathered plank hammered to a tree with 83+ hash marks counting victims. Unnerving for me was the recent cross with the name of a woman just a few weeks before our arrival draped in leis. The current and unforeseen wave sets, particularly in winter months, are brutal.

OK, its lunchtime before the big vertical climb up to the falls. Dave frantically digs around in his pack only to discover in his effort to arrange and rearrange, the sandwiches never made it.

Let’s not cry in paradise. We rationed what we had based on weight and height of the consumer ­– which was not in my favor. But hey, I wasn’t going to let a little thing like turkey with cranberry mayo, lettuce and tomato on whole wheat ruin my hike…yum.

One of five river crossings; this was the easy one!


Ancient bamboo forest on trail.


In my humble opinion, this was the best part of the trail. There were five major stream crossings. Boulder jumping, balancing between each one as the water whipped making for slippery landings. The angle is 45 degrees to give some perspective; altogether, about 5000 feet of climbing. We passed ancient bamboo forests and massive Banyans (had to touch one of the big boys and feel the energy of hundreds of years under its bark).

Worth every step, the 300 foot torrent of water free falls into a pristine pool. This is all that could be heard. The force of the water stirred a gentle wind around the insides of the green canyon walls; it felt as if the wind was coming up from beneath your feet and it made my hair swirl upwards toward the blue sky. There were other pilgrims there who had made the trip. In deep appreciation, they sat scattered around as if gathered in a spiritual amphitheater of sorts, speechless and grateful for the moment.

Hanakapi’ai Falls at 5000 feet.

Re-energized, Dave and I managed back down and finally to the trailhead where we had started hours ago. Yes, we took a picture here but will not include it. This hike was just the beginning of a magnificent experience and I would encourage you, the reader, to explore this part of our beautiful country.

Dave and I have pledged a trip back and even poked around at some real estate; the outdoor living type. The island of Kaua‘i is genuinely paradise. Aloha and mahalo!