Posted by: kerryl29 | November 11, 2019

Hawaii Day 3: The Kalalau Trail, etc.

The point of racing to Ke’e Beach at the tail end of Day 2 was to preview the early morning trip the following day.  My plan was to hike a segment of the Kalalau Trail on Day 3 and I wanted to hit the trail as early as possible.  The trail head for the Kalalau Trail is adjacent to Ke’e Beach, which lies in Ha’ena State Park.  For more than a year, access to the park was virtually eliminated as the north coast of Kauai recovered from horrific flooding that took place in April of 2018.  Approximately 50 inches of rain fell in this area during a 24-hour period, washing away parts of the Kuhio Highway, which provides the only land access to this part of Kauai.  The park wasn’t reopened to the public until the summer of 2019, just a few months before I visited.  Part of the restoration involved a new reservation system for those wanting to drive their own vehicles into the park’s lot.

I got wind of this new system less than two months before I visited and secured access to Ha’ena State Park for parts of three days.  (Passes are sold in daily segments, with each day having three segments–morning, early afternoon and late afternoon to sunset.  Without a pass, you cannot drive your vehicle into the park and there’s nowhere nearby that provides public parking from which one can walk in.)  For this particular day, and the next, I secured access to all three time segments, since I wasn’t sure which day would prove better for my visit and I had no idea how long I would be out on the trail.

The Kalalau Trail provides one of Hawaii’s most famous hikes.  The trail runs for nearly 12 miles into the wild Na Pali Coast; the first trail segment runs two miles (one way) to Hanakapi’ai Beach.  A side trail–also two miles in length, one way–provides access to Hanakapi’ai Falls, a 410-foot waterfall.  The trail to the falls isn’t maintained and is considered a bit of a challenge.  Anything beyond Hanakapi’ai Beach on the main Kalalau Trail is considered an overnight hike, which requires a back country permit.  My plan was to hike to the beach and the falls, then back to the trailhead.  I figured that this would take most of the day (given stops for photography) and that I would hang out at Ke’e Beach for sunset, then make the drive back to where I was staying after dark.

Things did not go according to plan.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was told that the gate to Ha’ena State Park wasn’t opened until 7 AM, so I planned to drive from my lodgings, in south Kapa’a, to an undetermined beach location somewhere on the north shore, photograph sunrise, and then continue on to Ha’ena State Park, which represents the end of the road on the north side of Kauai.

The “undetermined beach” ended up being Lumaha’i Beach, an easily accessed stretch of sand a few miles east of Ha’ena State Park.  It was still dark when I arrived in the nearly deserted parking lot for Lumaha’i Beach, but I gathered up my things and slogged my way through the sand to the water’s edge.

Lumaha’i Beach Sunrise, Kauai, Hawaii

Lumaha’i Beach Sunrise, Kauai, Hawaii

The beach seemed pretty barren when I first arrived but as the light came up I realized that a stream, at the far western edge of the beach, emptied directly into the ocean.  I made my way over there and managed to make a few images.

Lumaha’i Beach Sunrise, Kauai, Hawaii

I quickly set off to make the final 10-15 minute drive to Ha’ena State Park.  There was an attendant there when I arrived and I handed over my pass, then moved on to the parking lot, which contained  only a couple of cars in at this early hour.  After slathering myself with sunscreen and gathering up my belongings for the day, I made the roughly 1/3 mile walk to the trailhead and set off.

The Kalalau Trail is somewhat challenging, for several reasons.  While there isn’t a ton of overall elevation gain, the trail is undulating…it goes up and down and back up and back down over the first couple of miles, and some of the sections are fairly steep.  That wouldn’t be a huge issue in and of itself, but the footing can be treacherous in stretches because…best I can tell, this trail is always wet.  The northern part of Kauai isn’t the wettest part of the island–that would be Mount Wai‘ale‘ale, near the island’s center, which is one of the wettest spots on earth.  But the north shore of Kauai is plenty wet–it rains there, at least briefly, just about every day, and the trail is almost always saturated, which means it’s extremely muddy in spots.

Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

Mud on the Kalalau Trail doesn’t imply the kind of morass in which one sinks to mid-calf; there isn’t enough top soil for that.  Muddy means rocky and tree root surfaces that are covered with a film of mud.  These make for extraordinarily slick conditions, which aren’t all that big of a deal when the trail is flat…which is rarely.  When the trail is steep…look out.  I did not fall while hiking the Kalalau Trail, but I did skid on a few occasions and there were some spots that were sufficiently steep that, given the footing, some kind of a hand hold on something was advisable.

The biggest reason I hiked this trail was to obtain views of the mysterious Na Pali Coast, an area covering much of the north and western shores of the island with absolutely no vehicle access of any kind.  Other than this trail–and a couple in Koke’e State Park–the coast cannot be accessed by land at all.  Most views of the coast are obtained by boat or aircraft (mainly helicopter).  There are a couple–literally two, in my estimation–genuinely nice views of the coast during the first two-mile segment of the Kalalau Trail, but only one that I felt made for a nice image.

The spot was breezy, which kept messing with the foreground (a real problem, since the composition I liked required a three-frame focus stack) but I waited it out.  As is so often the case on trails that have a fair amount of foot traffic–and, while there was almost no one on the trail when I got there, I ultimately saw plenty of hikers–when I’m set up for a shot, countless people see what I’m doing, pull out their phones and join in the fun.

Na Pali Coast from the Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

As I mentioned, there were other glimpses of the Na Pali Coast from time to time on the hike, but most were obstructed or otherwise objectionable.  And the truth is that the majority of this segment of the trail passes through dense, lush forest.

The two-mile segment of the trail ends at Hanakapi’ai Stream, which provides the outlet for Hanakapi’ai Falls, and flows through Hanakapi’ai Beach into the Pacific.  I arrived at the stream and immediately found myself facing a problem.  It appeared that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to cross the rushing stream without getting wet.  Rock hopping might have been possible but would have been difficult at best with all of my gear.  (I saw plenty of people, effectively unburdened by heavy packs, struggling to find a way across.)  Instead, I rock scrambled over a boulder field downstream and onto the beach, which is bisected by the stream itself.

Hanakapi’ai Stream Black & White, Hanakapi’ai Beach, Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

Since accessing the trail to the falls required crossing the stream, I decided to figure out how to get across after photographing on the beach itself.  Hanakapi’ai Beach was a venue I’d been looking forward to photographing and, while part of it was at least temporarily inaccessible to me (as it required somehow crossing the stream), I decided to put off dealing with that problem for a bit.

Hanakapi’ai Stream, Hanakapi’ai Beach, Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

Hanakapi’ai Stream Black & White, Hanakapi’ai Beach, Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

There were a fair number of people in and around the area when I was there, but not many on my side of the stream.  Most were wading and swimming in a fairly large lagoon that was a ways up the beach, on the other side of the stream.  This worked out well as I had almost no one getting in my way as I concentrated on the confluence.

Hanakapi’ai Stream, Hanakapi’ai Beach, Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

Hanakapi’ai Stream Black & White, Hanakapi’ai Beach, Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

Hanakapi’ai Beach Black & White, Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

Hanakapi’ai Stream, Hanakapi’ai Beach, Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

Hanakapi’ai Beach, Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

As I was beginning to wrap up my shoot, something about one of my hiking boots caught my attention.  It was at that stage that I realized that the left boot was coming apart; a piece that joined the sole of the shoe to the boot itself had literally come off at some point and I recognized that the entire boot was compromised and would not hold together much longer.  I thought about the poor conditions on the trail that I’d just traversed–and that I would have to hike again, for two miles, just to get back to the trailhead.  I also thought about the prospect of making a an additional four-mile round trip hike to the falls on a trail that was almost certainly in worse condition–and steeper–than the one I’d just hiked.  If I wanted to press on to the waterfall, I was facing a total of six additional miles of bad, relatively steep trails.  And, remember:  I still had to cross the stream…at least two more times!  Who knew how many stream crossings the falls trail (both ways) might require.

At this point, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor; the hike to the falls was axed, and I set about returning to the trailhead, with the vague hope that the hiking boot would remain in one piece until I got there.

Because I can be pretty stubborn at times, after I scrambled back over the boulder field, I stopped along the stream to photograph an intimate scene that caught my attention.  I figured that another few minutes of waiting wasn’t going to have much impact on whether my hiking boots would hold out until I returned to the trail head.

The scene that caught my eye was a tiny fern, amid a number of large rocks right alongside the stream.  Getting in position to capture the images and produce the necessary focus stacks was a bit challenging, but I persevered.

Hanakapi’ai Stream Intimate, Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

Hanakapi’ai Stream Intimate Black & White, Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast State Park, Kauai, Hawaii

The sun was out and it was increasingly hot and humid (and it had been plenty of both earlier) on the return hike and, if anything, the trail seemed even slicker.  (It probably wasn’t, but it seemed as though it was.)  I sweated through my clothes completely, just to add to the ambience.

And then, literally one step after I reached the trailhead, the sole of my shoe partially separated from the boot and flipped underneath.  I still had the better part of half a mile to walk back to the parking lot, but it was on an even surface and I was able to keep things intact until I got back to the car.  Good thing I’d canceled that waterfall hike!  Given the distances involved, the shoe likely would have fallen apart roughly when I reached the falls, leaving me to somehow hike four miles back to the trailhead, including an unknown number of stream crossings, on terrible trails.  That would have been bad.

After towling myself off (and changing shoes), I decided to see if I could find a place that sold hiking boots somewhere on Kauai.  A search on my phone suggested that there was a store in Hanalei–only a few miles away–that sold them.  I was skeptical and when I arrived found that I was right to have been doubtful–they sold some outdoors stuff, but nothing like hiking boots.  The other hit that I got was a Famous Footwear store in Lihue.  I was shocked that there was a Famous Footwear outlet on Kauai, but there was.  It was a good hour’s drive, but what choice did I have?  I’d planned to do a lot of hiking throughout this trip, and that certainly wouldn’t be the case without the proper footwear, so I changed my plans.  It was around noon when I returned to my vehicle and began the trip south to Lihue.

On the way, I stopped at the Hanalei Valley Lookout, a nice view into the valley.  I wasn’t sure that I would have another chance to photograph from this spot, so I allowed myself the 15-20 minute delay.

Hanalei Valley Lookout, Kauai, Hawaii

Hanalei Valley Lookout Black & White, Kauai, Hawaii

Hanalei Valley Lookout, Kauai, Hawaii

I found the shoe store, in an outdoor mall in Lihue, and they not only had an excellent selection of hiking boots, they had the Timberland model I was looking for in my size…and at a shockingly reasonable price.  So that worked out.  But it was now pushing mid-afternoon and I didn’t see any point in wasting another hour driving back to Ke’e Beach.  I’d gotten what I was going to get out of that hike.  Instead, I decided to go the other direction and check out the Poipu area, on the south shore of the island.  I was already 3/4 of the way there.

When I’d visited Kauai in 1980 with my family, we stayed at Poipu Beach, which at the time had a couple of hotels.  I’d been told, years earlier, that the place had been built up tremendously since then, but I had no idea just how built up with resorts, homes and time shares it had become.  Wow.

I probably only had 3-4 hours of daylight remaining by the time I got to the Poipu area, and I made my way to Spouting Horn Park first.  Spouting Horn is a blowhole, on a lava shelf, right on the ocean.  When I’d last been to Kauai it was possible to walk right out to the blowhole, but that possibility had been eliminated years ago.  Evidently a number of people had fallen into the hole over the years and or been swept out to sea in heavy surf, so now visitors are kept up on a bluff, at a safe distance.  It’s still possible to get pretty decent images from this vantage point, since the spray often billows more than 50 feet in the air.  After watching the wave action a bit, I became pretty adept at judging when a big spray action was coming.

Spouting Horn, Spouting Horn Park, Kauai, Hawaii

Spouting Horn Black & White, Spouting Horn Park, Kauai, Hawaii

When the tide is high there’s some pretty good wave action on this part of the coast.

Surging Surf Black & White, Spouting Horn Park, Kauai, Hawaii

After I finished at Spouting Horn, I took a tour of the greater Poipu area and eventually settled at Poipu Beach itself.  There were plenty of people milling about; I gather that there always are, as this is one of the most popular beaches on Kauai.  But the vast majority of people were in the sandy beach areas or picnicking in the grassy area above the beach.  I concentrated on a rocky area between the two sandy beaches, where almost no one else was around, after a general exploration of the area.

While the sun was still out, I amused myself by photographing palm trees and breaking waves.

Palm Tree Evening, Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Breaking Wave, Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Breaking Wave, Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

But when the light started to get really nice, I made my way down to the rocky shoreline and set up shop there, photographing in various directions as the sky started to light up.

Surging Surf, Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

At one point, a partial rainbow was briefly visible.

Evening Light, Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Evening Light, Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Evening Light, Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

In time, the beach was overtaken by an absolutely beautiful Hawaiian sunset.

Poipu Beach Sunset, Kauai, Hawaii

Poipu Beach Sunset, Kauai, Hawaii

Poipu Beach Sunset, Kauai, Hawaii

Poipu Beach Sunset, Kauai, Hawaii

Poipu Beach Sunset, Kauai, Hawaii

The sky show lasted for much longer than I expected, but once it started to fade, I climbed back out of the rocks and still managed to find a couple of worthwhile (I thought) shots of palm tree silhouettes.

Palm Tree Sunset, Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Palm Tree Sunset, Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

That brought the day to a close.  The planned itinerary had to be adjusted, but it had been a pretty satisfying experience overall.

The new hiking boots were going to get a real initiation the following day, as I had a 12-mile hike in Koke’e State Park planned…


  1. Lovely. I liked the feel of the untouched sand. For some reason it always captures me.

    • Thanks very much!

  2. Beautiful images, Kerry. The fern in the rocks was a great find. And thank goodness you were able to replace your hiking boots.

    • Thanks, Ellen.

      Yes, it would have been a real downer if I hadn’t been able to replace those boots, given what I had planned for this trip.

  3. You covered and captured a variety of terrain and lots of information to go with it. Some breathtaking sunsets with light, clouds and waves, my fav being the wide angle Poipu sunset at the beginning with yellow light and sillhouetted palms. I found the scenes of the valley with the square patches of fields in sharp contrast to the lush mountains surrounding them. I hope that they don’t overdevelop there and sadly suspect there are some already- overdeveloped areas on the islands. I love the intimate with the fern and silky water. My favourite of the Hanakapi’ ai beach is the focus on the eroded sand. I have a pair of Timberland hiking boots, what a god-send after a switch from a former favourite that now hurt my feet.

    • Thanks, Jane.

      I think the Poipu area on Kauai is the closest to fitting the overdeveloped label of any spot I saw on Kauai. The area near Princeville could probably acquire that label as well if much more is done up there. The infrastructure on Kauai is really becoming taxed at this point. There are no true four-lane roads on the island (a stretch of the Kuhio Highway between Kaap’a and Lihue–around Wailua–is three lanes, with one reversible depending on time of day) and traffic can get really, really nasty in spots at certain times. The Kaumuali Highway, which runs west toward Waimea from the Lihue area, can be absolutely brutal, particularly eastbound in the afternoons.

      Maui, which has about 2 1/2 times the population of Kauai (and is admittedly physically larger as well) has a couple of very heavily built up areas–West Maui, in the Ka’anapali area, and South Maui (Kihei, Wailea) are both extremely heavily developed with resorts, private housing and commercial areas.

      Both islands have been quite heavily developed compared to what I saw 40 years ago, but I’m not sure if this an ongoing issue or if that growth peaked a couple of decades ago. I should look into it in a bit more detail.

      There are, either way, still plenty of spots on both islands where you can (mostly) escape the crowds, particularly if you’re out early and late, as I always am on one of these trips. Much like Yosemite Valley, it’s harder to do this during the meat of the day when most tourists are prowling around.

  4. The sunset beach images sort of remind me of the BLM site we went to near Farmington, NM. A similarly looking desolate landscape.

    • That’s the Bisti Badlands you’re referencing. Of course, there’s no ocean in New Mexico. 🙂

      In truth, there’s a spot on Maui that I visited–to be documented in a future post–with features more like the Bisti rock formations than any other place I’ve ever visited. Stay tuned.

  5. […] day of the hike, but preferably for several days prior to the hike.  Why?  Avoidance of mud.  I detailed what the Kalalau Trail was like when wet, but that trail involved relatively little elevation gain/loss.  Those kinds of […]

  6. […] considerations and reservation limitations had caused me to do my two longest planned hikes on the second and third full days on Kauai.  But I still had three full days–and the morning of a […]

  7. […] So, I now had my afternoon planned.  It would take about 30 minutes to get to the garden’s visitors center.  I decided that I would go back to Poipu Beach after the tour was over, as I’d be less than five minutes away and it had proven to be a fine sunset location when I visited on Day 3. […]

  8. […] when the tide isn’t super high.  And you can get much, much closer to it than the Spouting Horn on […]

  9. […] when the tide isn’t super high.  And you can get much, much closer to it than the Spouting Horn on […]

  10. […] and lashing the lava coast below me.  As I had done one evening at Poipu Beach back on Kauai–Day 3, to be exact–I decided to engage in some wave photography.  I always find this a fairly […]

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