September 1, 2013

Kalalau Trail: 'Most beautiful place,' even in the rain

Hikers leave the Kalalau Trail on Kauai happy they made the strenuous and muddy 22-mile round trip.

By PAIGE DONNELLY Special to The Washington Post

As we drove past Pierce Brosnan's oceanfront villa on Kauai, our taxi driver turned to look at my boyfriend and me. "Kalalau Trail," he said, "is trippin'. Man, that's the real Hawaii."

HAWAII
click image to enlarge

The Kalalau Trail on Kauai, the oldest of Hawaii’s major islands, passes through the Kalalau Valley as well as rainforests.

Photos by Tim DeLaVega

HAWAII
click image to enlarge

At one end of the 11-mile trail is Kalalau Beach.

IF YOU GO

STAYING on the Kalalau Trail costs $20 per night. Apply for a permit online at camping.ehawaii.gov.

TO LEARN MORE, go to www.hawaiistateparks.org/hiking/ kauai/kalalau.cfm

He gave us the hang-loose sign, shaking his thumb and pinkie back and forth.

We'd gotten off to a late start, and it was raining hard. Our driver seemed unconcerned. He nodded toward the jungle. "Out there, you do whatever you feel like doing," he said. To my left, I saw the faint edge of a mountain peak smudged out by clouds: Mount Waialeale, the wettest spot on Earth, the driver told us.

At the end of the paved road near Ke'e Beach, the taxi dropped us at the Kalalau trailhead. Leaving behind cellphone coverage and mundane daily routines, we began our ascent up the wild cliffs of the Na Pali Coast.

Kauai is the oldest of the major Hawaiian islands, and the vegetation is tightly knotted and ominous. We were taking a leap of faith into what was once the backdrop of the film "Jurassic Park." I looked up above me, half-expecting to see prehistoric birds swoop down from the canopy.

Instead, the rain fell. My hiking boots, intent on suctioning mud, soon became a pair of squelching blocks. Traction long gone, I was definitely "trippin'."

Most visitors to Kauai keep their footing. They enjoy the beauty of the island through the lens of a resort or a popular beach. As stunning as these magnet destinations are, Kauai's true treasures are buried far off the road. The Na Pali Coast, on the island's north shore, is one such hidden gem.

And the Kalalau Valley is truly hidden. People seldom stray far from the end of the road to make the 22-mile trek out to Kalalau Beach and back, which some do in three days, as we did, while others camp for a week or longer at the remote beach.

Day hikers and surfers frequent the trail's first two miles on their way to the more secluded Hanakapiai Beach. But after Hanakapiai, the trail is much less used. From there, hikers are supposed to have permits (although we met few who had bothered to get them). We were left with the riffraff of island tourists: bedraggled backpackers with mangy manes of hair.

After a few hours, I blended right in. The mud had decided to play a game of heads, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes. And eyes and ears and mouth and nose. I was covered in muck, my hair plastered to my head. The real trouble was that, trying to prove to my boyfriend that I was a light packer, I'd brought no change of clothes.

Even without the extra outfits, with all my camping gear I looked like a pack animal. And munching on carrots as we walked, I really did feel like a scruffy mule clambering in and out of valleys. At least I'm getting the carrot, not the stick, I thought.

'JURASSIC' IMAGES

From the two-mile mark at Hanakapiai Beach to the six-mile mark at Hanakoa Valley campsite, there was little of the coastline to be seen. It was as if we were blindfolded, making our way to some secret location. The trees all around us muffled our sense of direction. An unbroken chorus of eerie birdsong came from unknown perches. Thoughts of "Jurassic Park" re-emerged as we plodded deeper into Na Pali.

That night we ate cold beans from a can. I felt cold. After setting up the tent, we'd dipped into the nearby stream. The water was icy. And it started to rain again. Still, we sat for a while, watching the water pour down the cliff with a guttural surge, only to disappear into the jungle.

(Continued on page 2)

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