He āina hōano kēia. E mālama.This is sacred land. Give it your utmost care, respect and leave knowing you have preserved it for future generations.
Hō’ihi no ka pono o nā hanauna.
Kalalau Trail (beginning)
After a short–but good–night, we pack again and drive around the island, direction Hanale’i, and Ke’e Beach.
We reach our destination under an (already) strong Sun. It’s a beautiful day. Too beautiful. We park as close as we can from the trailhead. The area is busy, we got here later than I would have liked, a lot of people are already here to enjoy Ke’e Beach and the first part of the trail, to Hanakāpī’ai Falls.
We take everything with us. I read a lot about cars getting broken in when left overnight. Our best bet is to show that there is nothing in there, even by removing the trunk cover. Nothing!
We finally start walking, but Tanya insists that we eat before going. Lunch break before we even step onto the trailhead.
We finally get there and read the recommendations.
“Stay out, stay alive.” Flash floods, falling rocks, and hazardous cliffs are going to be our best friends for the next three days! Sounds good to me. Lots of fun. Let’s start this 11-mile one-way hike!
The first few hundred feet put the body into condition: strong Sun, heat, moisture from the Ocean, uphill slope, weight of the backpack … it could quickly become overwhelming, but the views you get along the way help forget and stay focused.
That previous paragraph easily sums up the 11 miles (one way) of this adventure: even though the hike is strenuous, hard, sometimes dangerous because it can be deadly, you are often reminded that you are walking in a piece of Paradise. So … all things considered, it’s all good.
(A good intro, it’s going to help me keep this episode as short as possible. Remember to add, here and there, some “wow”, “breathtaking view”, “incredible”, “amazing feeling” …)
We reach a first left turn, Ke’e Beach disappears behind us. But from here, we get amazing views ahead, and far in the distance, we can imagine Kalalau Beach, our destination (even though we cannot actually see it, it lays beyond our sight ).
A small “Mile 2” sign can been seen on the trail, which then goes down to the first river and beach, but not before another heartwarming sign welcomes us.
“Do not play with Nature here.”
The stream is strong but the river is low, and we decide to hop on the rocks.
A quick stop to snack, and we start again, leaving all the tourists behind. From now on, the trail is permit-only. And because of the previous days, the hurricane and the whole area being closed until yesterday (you read the previous episodes I hope. If not, I urge you to do so), permit holders probably did not change their pass, or cancelled. We’re the only ones here, and we will be alone for a long time.
The next miles will follow an easy pattern: going in a V-shaped valley, back to the Ocean, around a steeply dipping knife-edge ridge, and again …
The MM 3 marks the entrance of the Hono O Nā Pali Natural Area Reserve. Nā Pali translates to The Cliffs, in the Hawaiian language. Indeed.
From there on, we are almost alone in this part of the world. The first part of the trail was public. Well maintained, large, stairs made of wood sometimes …
Here, you enter Nature’s domain. The trail is as large as your feet, the plants brush you from each side. Here, Nature is not tailored for tourists. We are walking with a feeling that no one has been there before, and no one will after.
We start seeing some signs of a soon-to-come Sunset, and our bodies are getting tired.
M6 — Hanakoa Valley
We finally reach MM 6, Hanakoa Valley, where the first campground (campground = small areas of flat terrain, and one picnic table under a tin roof near the rivers) is located.
We plant the tent for the night, under a giant tree, re-stock water from the river in our Camelbaks.
On the way back to our camp, we meet a young couple and engage the conversation. They planned to hike all the way to Kalalau Beach, but the girl couldn’t get over her fear of/on the Mile 7. I must admit that I read about it. It’s a steep, narrow, holding-onto-the-cliff-straight-over-the-crushing-waves-of-the-ocean part of the trail. Dangerous (I warned Tanya about that), hikers died there (that I forgot to mention). Tanya shrugs a bit. “We’ll see tomorrow.” But I can see anxiety got a grip.
We rinse our sore bodies in the cold river, and make a good dinner. Tonight, freeze-dried Mountain House Mexican-Style Rice and Chicken. It feels like a 5-star dinner. We needed that. Some hot, filling food.
Stomachs happy, we slip into our sleeping bags, and I hang our headlamp for Tanya who wants to write into her journ… zzZZZ.
To the End of the World
Up at Sunrise … well, OK, maybe a bit later than that. Coffee, oatmeal … because there is nothing better than a hot breakfast when you camp in the freshness of the night on an Island in the Pacific Ocean.
Muddy shoes on, water refill in the river (thanks, water purifiers), and back on the trail at 9 a.m.
Before heading to the trail’s end, we make a half-mile detour to reach the Hanakoa Falls, up in the valley.
The trail is easy, but slippery and not really well-indicated, but there is a lot of fresh guava on the way.
Up there, at the dead-end, the falls are spectacular: green frame, birds circling, and a 400 ft waterfall. The total fall tops 1,000 ft, but the upper part is slightly more inland and not visible from here.
Quick dip in the pools, and down again, to the main trail.
Here we are. After fifteen minutes on the main trail, we arrive at the beginning of the Mile 7. From here, the path goes down in laces, and seem to disappear on a sharp cliff, a vertical wall. Hum.
We carefully hike downhill, when I realize that Tanya starts suffering from a vertigo. Her steps are more hesitant, and I see her trying to hold onto roots or plants around. Even though the trail is accessible here, the slope is steep, and the view and eyes go straight down to the Ocean. The sight and sound of waves crashing there have an effect up here.
We finally meet somebody on the trail. Here. And I am glad for it, because this one is going to help Tanya get over a bit of her fear. While we are going down … a runner is coming up. Yes. Guy, alone, shorts and sneakers, water bidon in each hand. That’s it. No backpack, nothing else. He kindly stops to say hi, and I try to ask what lays ahead. The runner explains, and finishes by saying:
“As long as you are careful, you’ll be fine.”
Tanya seems to feel a bit better. If this guy runs it, a ballerina can do it!
We keep with our descent, and the trail finally becomes almost flat again. The tricky part lays before us: The Cliff. A vertical wall on the left hand side, rocky, a trail no larger than 2 ft, and the waves crashing on the right hand side, 300 ft below. No rope, nothing to secure the way.
One step at a time. I try to keep the team’s mood up, and push Tanya to continue. The worse would be to stop and get stuck here.
It took some time, but we made it. I am sure she got a huge adrenaline kick. I understand how traitorous and scary it can look. This wasn’t so bad for me, I hiked a lot when I was younger, in many different conditions.
Around the ridge, and we climb back into a valley.
I see two silhouettes sitting in the middle there, and I am relieved we didn’t meet earlier, in the strenuous part. We meet and greet them, this being about to become one of the most fabulous encounter we will have on the whole journey. This older couple lived on another Hawaiian island, and hiked the Kalalau Trail 15 years ago. Since, and even though they live now on mainland, they fly to Kaia’i every year to hike this very trail. They do not have the same strength and stamina as before, so they take 2 weeks, full 14 days, to do the round trip. Bit by bit. Two miles a day. Then camp. And again. For them, the hike is a pilgrimage, their spiritual therapy, a get-away from the over-connected society we live in. And it’s true, you are fully disconnected. Your cellphone is useless here (we have not had connection since we left the car). No external distraction from the world. An intense and beautiful way to make one with yourself, others, and Nature. I hold an immense respect for these two kind souls, hoping their way of seeing will guide us through life.
We wish them good luck for the way back, and we keep going.
8, 9, 10 … we reach the mile markers one after the other, as Kalalau Valley starts to appear and draws us to it.
Our efforts are rewarded when we reach the entrance.
He āina hōano kēia. E mālama. Hō’ihi no ka pono o
nā hanauna, “This is sacred land. Give it your utmost
care, respect and leave knowing you have preserved it for future generations”.
Small tears, intense joy, and immense satisfaction. We’ve made it.
We walk down the side of the Valley, to reach the stream at the bottom, and finish the trail to Kalalau Beach.
After everything we have been through, this simple view is the most beautiful one: straight little path running through the green, vertical cliff on the left, beach and Pacific Ocean on the right, and another razor-cut cliff at the end of the way, closing the view. There is nowhere else or further to go. The End. The End of the World. And it looks like a Paradise.
I wish the story ended there.
We plant the tent, and walk to the waterfall at the end of the beach to get some fresh water.
In Kalalau Valley
We then turn around and walk back to enter the Kalalau Valley, following the trail.
Looking for the Ginger Pools (the couple on the way in told us about it). Natural pools in the stream. We find many pools actually, along the river, and decide that “this particular one” will be our Ginger Pools. Might be, might not, the Sun is getting low, so we take a dip.
We rinse and relax our sore bodies in the fresh water, and walk down to reach the campground. That was my plan: back for Sunset, and dinner with the first stars. We have gas stove and headlamps, we can stay here for some time and enjoy the quiet night.
Tonight: cheese, beef stroganoff, and red wine. Kalalau Beach. Alone in the World. Hawaiian twinkling starry sky.
Better than any Michelin-starred restaurant.
The first two days, in video. Let’s see how you handle your vertigo, shall we?
Back to Earth. Last day on Kaua’i.
Morning in Kalalau. Before Sunrise this time. We walk down to the beach, and appreciate this quiet moment. Alone in the World.
It’s 6:30 am, and the Sun slowly rises, and through a tunnel of clouds gives colors to this part of the World. It feels like this place is of out of Time.
I already feel sad, knowing that we will leave soon, but Kalalau is at its best, using all its palette to cheer us up. Double rainbow on the Ocean, with the Moon setting on the back.
Pleasant routine follows: water refill at the waterfall, breakfast, re-packing.
This is our last day here in Kalalau, but also our last on Kaua’i. We have to walk back.
Mixed feelings. Strong happiness to have found this Paradise on Earth, sadness to have to leave it already. We make the first steps away when I tell Tanya: “We will have to come back. We will come back.” And what a beautiful way to finish our first Kaua’i experience with that.
The rest of the story is almost the same, but in reverse. Kalalau Valley, Kalalau Stream, uphill to leave the Valley, MM 10, back on Red Hill, the red-dust ridge, MM 9, down to Mile 8-7 (a bit faster this time, the orientation makes it look less scary, so easier to go through), Hanakoa Valley, our first night campground under the giant tree … goodbye, see you again giant friend! …
MM 6, 5 … and we see two silhouettes near the MM 4. Yes, they’re here! Our couple of kind souls. We greet them warmly, and take a bit of time to catch up with the news. They are very happy to hear we enjoyed the experience. She tells to Tanya: “You look … different. Something in your eyes.” Maybe the Aloh’a Spirit.
We wish them a good way back, and restart at a very good pace. Our bodies are a bit sore and tired, so I come with a new motivation. On the way in, the motivation was Kalalau Beach. “To the Beach!!”, I would chant. The way back sees another one: “To the Fish Tacos!” We spotted days earlier a small and simple kitchen trailer in Kapa’a which looked good. That’s our new leitmotiv.
Back at Mile 2
We reach Hanakāpī’ai, and, under the circumspect gaze of the tourists (the ones who just walked two miles to get here, not like our 21 cumulated miles), we dive into the river to cool down and let our bodies rest from the nine miles we almost ran through. It feels divine.
Small tea, then we get to the beach to build a cairn. A little piece of us to leave here.
Back on the trail, and the last two miles are really ran, this time. This part is touristy, so not enjoyable.
Down to trailhead.
Shoes and hiking gear off for some peaceful and refreshing time, at Ke’e Beach.
The car is waiting, in one piece, with all the windows. Driving to Kapa’a.
Tonight: celebration with fish tacos and beer.
Tomorrow at dawn: flight to Big Island.
I get the sentiment of having accomplished something great, yet a huge hole is already sinking in my heart. Something is missing. We left a part of ourselves in Kalalau, and we will need to reconnect, when time will come.
We are now like our two new friends: bound to come back.