Naked Hippies on Hawaii’s Na Pali Coast

So back to finish off Hawaii. The Na Pali Coast is truly a world wonder, with Kalalau Beach being the gem. This is coming from a guy who has spent a lot of time in many beautiful places in the world, some that require boats, helicopters, and some savvy outdoor skills to reach. The Na Pali Coast is stunning. Imagine steep cliffs and sensational valleys carved out by millions of years of rain and flash floods rushing through the island. This inland view has a way of captivating your eyes, let alone Kalalau, a stretch of beach over a mile long with a valley that stretches deep into the island. Normally I’m bored out of my mind sitting on a beach. However, in that magical place, I can sit and enjoy the crashing waves for hours and hours. Experiencing the beauty of Kalalau is contingent upon being able to get there, though, which is not easy. There are two ways to get to Kalalau: by hiking or by boat. The hike is eleven miles in and eleven miles out and ranks in the top 20 most dangerous trails in the world. Looking over some of the cliffs during your hike will confirm this, as will looking at the couple of deaths that have happened on the trail. Your other option is kayaking. Don’t worry, it’s a simple 7 miles each way on the open ocean in what some might call challenging conditions. This method may or may not have produced several deaths as well. There is one other (illegal) option: taking a boat. While I wouldn’t recommend doing anything illegal, you are in Kauai where the police don’t have much power; all you need is the right amount of money and to know the right people. Fair warning: these are not people you want to toy with. I am completely serious when I say they are modern versions of pirates. That being said, we’ll examine the legal means. After trying both methods, I much prefer kayaking, though I’ll start with the hike.

The hike along the Na Pali coast is not for the timid. You will be hiking for eleven miles on both your entrance and your exit. You will also be hiking along steep cliff trails, some thousands of feet high, that barely manage to cling to the cliffs themselves. In fact, there is one portion of the hike where many turn around. It’s known as Crawler’s Ledge, named for the many who choose to crawl this part of the trail that is no wider than a foot and hangs alongside a several-hundred-foot drop. The parks department keeps saying they’re going to fix this part of the trail, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for this to be completed in this or the next decade. You will also most likely be battling the harsh heat and humidity that usually comes with this part of the island. If there are any heavy winds I would not hike the trail. Being blown off the cliff face is a real concern. Hiking it in the rain is a death wish. On top of the trail being extremely slippery, you’re now facing flash flood conditions. However, if you’re willing to brave the harsh hike you will be rewarded with some of the most astounding views you have ever seen. You will also come across hordes of wild goats, beautiful plant life, and jaw-dropping views of the ocean.  In short, hiking is great but tackling the coast by water is by far my favorite. On top of the sensational views that you get on the water, traveling this way tends to be cooler. However, it also has its own drawbacks. When kayaking, it is easier to become dehydrated. You’re running the constant risk of flipping your kayak or crashing into a reef or rocks after the waves have taken you in the wrong direction and there are almost no safe landing spots for you to take a break. It’s all or nothing during the 14-mile round-trip open ocean kayak. If you get good weather, though, you get the added bonus of hopefully seeing things like dolphins and sea turtles. You can also go in and out of sea caves that are scattered along the Na Pali coast. This route is not for the average kayaker; you need experience to get these extra perks. Or you need a very savvy guide.

Now for camping on Kalalau Beach. You can either put your name down on the list and wait for a permit – this usually takes somewhere around 6 to 9 months – or you can just go for it. This is not legal. However, camping there for a few days is nothing compared to what some are doing on Kalalau. There is a small naked hippie colony living there. Once or twice a year the Coast Guard will come and raid the valley but it’s so vast that its residents take to the jungle until the authorities get bored and leave. I spent about a week living in this environment. It was quite interesting and extremely peaceful. There is no concept of time. In fact, it’s so lost as a concept there that I spoke to one permanent resident who everyone called Uncle T. I asked how long he had been living in Kalalau and he responded, “I don’t know… what year is it?” People there spend their days hunting for goats in the valley, fishing in the ocean, and harvesting fruit from the trees growing in the valley. They take time to enjoy the little things in the day, like playing games on the beach or trying to surf the waves on something ridiculous like an air mattress. Air mattress surfing with some naked hippies is to this day one of my fondest memories of Hawaii. I did not partake in the nudity; I was concerned about sunburn in sensitive areas. At night, you can join the groups that get together around fires, talk, and make dinner. Or you can fall asleep on the vast beach and watch the abundance of stars. Light and air pollution are almost non-existent there and electronics don’t work in the valley. The high walls kill all signal, making your phone less useful than a rock. It’s a throwback to the simple things in life, a place where you can leave all the worries of the modern world behind. You don’t stress about much in Kalalau, at least not until you leave and you face the 11-mile hike out. Or the 7 miles of open ocean kayaking. But I promise you, it’s well worth the adventure!

Traveler’s note- Once again, camping in Kalalau without a permit is illegal. No matter how you find your way out there, beware of the sun and dehydration. Cover your whole body while hiking no matter how hot it is. It could save your life. Also, while people in Kalalau are some of the friendliest you may meet, don’t assume they’re going to feed you (though they probably will). Make sure you have what you need to make it while you’re out in this wonderful place.  Here’s the Hawaii State Parks site on the Kalalau Trail and camping.