Kauai’s Na Pali Coast Inspires Adventure

Howard Ignatius

I’m motionless all but for the rhythmic kicking of my fins, left and then right. Levitating in a sea of blue my gaze is transfixed ahead.

Three Hawaiian Sea Turtles fill my field of vision, the colouring of their shells camouflaging their form against the coral below. Flying gracefully through the water they appear unaware of my presence, their paddle like forearms propelling them forward with ease.

As I dive down to take a closer look the vast sea cliffs of Na Pali disappear from view and I’m submersed in a world of aquamarine. Rays of sunlight pierce the waterline and light up the foreground.

Kauai is Hawaii’s garden island


Although famed for its lush interior Hawaii’s Garden Island offers some of the most scenic panoramas in the archipelago. Miles of sea cliffs tower above the waves, their form unique but strangely familiar.

Boarded by a landscape of lush rainforest and deep valleys that extend out to the coast, the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park has provided the backdrop to some of Hollywood’s most adventurous storylines.

Impenetrable to most who visit but for a tour via air, on foot or by sea, this region of Kauai has nurtured the imagination of children across the globe. King Kong, Jurassic Park, South Pacific, and Raiders of the Lost Ark were all filmed with the assistance of this breath taking stretch of coast.

Kauai’s Na Pali Coast Inspires Adventure. An environment in a constant state of flux, Hawaiian legends tell of the goddess Pele and her sister Namakaokaha’I who fought each other for the right to claim Na Pali their home. Their battle lives on in the erosive forces that continue to sculpt the shoreline today.

Snorkelling on the Na Pali coast

I’m in a meditative state with my face pointing towards the sea bed, sipping air through my snorkel my gaze is transfixed on the turtles.

A heaven for the species that call the region home, Miloli Bay is calm. To my left a small beach fringes towering rock pillars that appear to reach towards the sky like fingers, and to my left a vast expanse of ocean.

One of only three methods by which adventurous travellers can explore the Na Pali coast, HoloHolo Charters’ Snorkel and Sail excursion boasts the opportunity to interact with some of the island’s most famed residents.

A 5 hour experience exploring the Na Pali coast I would highly recommend the tour to anyone wishing to soak in the sights of the real Kauai. Sailing north from Port Allen along the west coast of Kauai the sheer magnitude of the cliffs hits you square on.

Thanks to the rugged grandeur of the deep, narrow valleys that litter this area of the island the region remains largely off limits to visitors.

No roads wend their way to scenic lookouts, no hotels offer onsite stays and there’s certainly no mobile phone signal. It’s the perfect excuse to disconnect for someone like me who has internet capability fed to them intravenously whenever possible.

The northern stretch of this Jurassic inspired coast is home to the 11 mile Kalalau Trail, the only land access to this part of the island.

Although each year half a million or so visitors head out to explore the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, a very small percentage attempt to complete the trail. A challenging route that combines steep drop offs, narrow paths and arduous switchbacks between the valley’s blanketed emerald interior and the cliff edge.

The Na Pali coast is a haven for adventure

Dolphin swimming on the Na Pali Coast HiDrivePhoto via photopin cc

The product of an eruption born from the Emperor Volcanic Chain, the islands emerged from the depths forging new land. However there were weaknesses within the structure of the cooled magma and when Mother Nature saw fit, she re sculpted Kauai tearing away vast chunks of its landscape.

An unstable mass of igneous rock littered with patches or red iron oxide, Na Pali’s unique fluted cliffs and winding coastline are the result of a continuous attack from the elements.

A masterpiece of physical geography they’ve weathered thousands of years of running ground water polluted with botanical acids and ocean waves ripping sediments from the rock.

Back on the boat I sit on the deck sipping a glass of juice. Facing the shoreline I’m once again awed by the scene before me. The cliffs rise ever higher above the waves, sea caves appear in the rock face and sheets of white water fall into the sea.

Our captain, a very knowledgeable fellow, shares snippets of the island’s history and unique geology as we sail for Port Allen, and I’m lulled into a dream like haze as the boat bobs to and fro with the swell.

A guide to exploring the Na Pali coastline by boat


Standing alone against the might of the Pacific Ocean the Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated archipelago in the world. If I’m inspiring you to down tools and book an escape to explore Kauai’s Na Pali Coast, here’s what you need to know;

HoloHolo Charters operate a large catamaran to charter guest along the coast. They offer an exceptional service and provide snacks, beverages (including beer), and a pupus (a light lunch) through the day.

HoloHolo offer several types of tour to soak in the Na Pali Coast. You can choose a 7 hour Niihau and Na Pali supertour, a 5 hour Na Pali sail, or a 3.5 hour Na Pali sunset cruise. We opted for the 5 hour excursion and found it to be a perfect amount of time to be out on the water.

The boat goes very fast for one its size – up to 27 miles per hour – which means that we saw a huge amount of the coast. A real bonus in my mind. Just be aware that for the first 60 minutes or so – until you arrive at the start of the Na Pali region – walking around on deck, going to the toilet etc is a little challenging for those with weak sea legs.

We were fortunate enough to see some of Hawaii’s native Spinner Dolphins, this is not uncommon year round but January through March you may also see Humpback Whales.

Pack water resistant sunscreen, your swimmers, a towel, a hat and if the forecast suggests a waterproof jacket.

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Have you explored Kauai’s Na Pali Coast State Park? Share your comments with us below.

Travel Blogger & Photographer
  1. Those jagged ridges along the coast are so gorgeous! I haven’t been to Kauai since I was very young and these images brought back very nice memories. It’s very encouraging to see how much of Hawaii remains as untouched natural beauty. Hope I can experience it again soon – those skies are really something special.

    1. Thanks for your comment Dave! I have to agree with your observation regarding Hawaii’s natural beauty. It’s always so enjoyable exploring a location untouched by the trail of destruction we humans leave in our wake.

  2. How wonderful to snorkel with sea turtles – they’re so calming to watch. It seems summer (maybe spring and fall too) is the only time you can enjoy getting in the water to snorkel on the Na Pali Coast. We cruised up in a tour boat in winter, which had to turn around and come back because the sea was so rough. Another time, we managed the sailing trip up the coast, but on the return, a few people unfortunately suffered the effects of the choppy seas. But, oh the views! The cliffs are breathtaking…

    1. Oh gosh, great advice re time of year to plan your visit. We had heard that the winter months bring with them rough seas which the surfers love but everyone else isn’t too keen on! So thrilled you managed to see the Na Pali Coast, for me the experience brought a whole new perspective to the idea of a Jurassic Park!

  3. Love love love the video of you guys swimming with the sea turtles (I’m kinda in love with them even though I have never ‘met’ one). Hawaii looks stunning and this looks like an awesome way to spend the day. Would love to see the whales!

    1. As scuba divers we’ve seen a number of turtles on our travels. I have to say the magic has yet to wear off, they are such fascinating creatures. To be able to watch them glide through the water is such a thrill.

  4. We were just in Kauai last month and took a catamaran snorkeling tour along the Na Pali Coast. Absolutely gorgeous, though we didn’t see dolphins. We also hiked two miles of the Kalalau Trail before turning inland to the Hanakapiai Waterfall. The Na Pali Coast is really awe inspiring in its beauty.

    1. Oh wow! Slightly green eyed that you managed to hike a section of the coastal trail. We’d heard mixed reviews regarding the terrain and because of the wet weather we had during much of our stay decided to give it a miss. I’ll have to take a look at your blog post covering your experience. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Yes, we’re loving our GoPro. It’s a recent addition to our camera kit and we’re very disappointed not to have bought one before now. There’s so much footage we could have taken of our previous travels!

  5. Wow -this looks so impressive. Whenever I see/saw Jurassic Park I always felt more attracted to the amazing landscapes rather than the movie itself. It looks so wild and rough, definitely a place we’d love to hang out and adventure at!

    1. Before our visit I had no idea Kauai had been the set for so many Hollywood favourites. The landscape of the Na Pali coast really stole my heart. I’d highly recommend a visit to this awesome Jurassic world!

  6. What a stunning stretch of coastline Charli! I am impressed and certainly eager to check this out for myself. Anywhere that offers the opportunity to see dolphins in the wild is a spot worth visiting for sure but the rugged landscape is what makes this such a photographer’s dream and a relaxing haven. Thanks for sharing this and kudos for taking such awesome pictures along the way!

    1. Thanks for your kind words Chris! The Na Pali Coast is certainly one of the most spectacular shorelines we’ve seen on our travels. I hope you make it to the island one day.

  7. Gorgeous photos. I’ve wanted to explore Na Pali for ever since a Hawaiian blogger contributed a guide to the region on our site. I had never heard of this paradise previously. It actually makes me think of the series ‘Lost’ (I don’t know if it was filmed in this region but sure looks similar).
    We’ll make it to Hawaii one of these days.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. Thanks for stopping by Frank! Hawaii has long been our our itinerary and would make the perfect lay over en route from Oceania to the USA. There are so many inspiring landscapes across the archipelago, but the Na Pali Coastline is my favourite!

    1. Hi Aj,

      We spent a week on Kauai, one week on Molokai and a few days on Oahu at either end of our visit. Couchsurfing isn’t something we’ve looked into, we house sit all over the world so choose to book self catered accommodation when we are en route or having a break from assignments. I’ve added some links to articles you might find of use. Are you planning a trip to Hawaii yourself?



      1. Thanks for the links. We’ll definitely check those out. We’re gonna road trip all 49 land-attached states and Canada to volunteer and support local non-profits while living in our travel trailer and then head international for a while. At the end, we’re anticipating settling down onto Big Island (Hilo) for when we aren’t exploring the world. Where do you call home when you aren’t traveling?

        1. WOW, what a great trip you’ve planned. We’re on the road full time as we take on house sitting assignments. It’s quite unlike the standard backpacking/traveller experience, we travel slow and are fortunate enough to live like a local in each location we visit. We’re currently house sitting on Barbados, but we call the UK our ‘home’ …… for now!!

  8. Hi Charli! Gorgeous pictures!!
    Kauai, the most amazing place I’ve ever visited!! I did the same tour as you, and it’s hard to put it in words… Dolphins, whales, turtles, the landscape is just from another world! The snorkeling is not as good as other places in Hawaii like Kealakekua Bay, Big Island (my favourite); Hanauma Bay, Oahu (too touristy) and Ke’e Beach, Kauai; but the whole tour is amazing.
    I couldn’t do the Kalalau trail, but now it’s on my bucket list, I’ll have to go back!

    1. Thanks for your comment Francisco! We’ll have to try out some of those other snorkelling spots you’ve recommended. While the visibility on the Na Pali coast wasn’t superb, the wealth of turtles and dolphins more than made it for it. It was such a great way to immerse ourselves in the richness of the landscape.

    1. The scale of the landscape is certainly on a par with New Zealand. Both humbled me, I felt so insignificant against their incredible form. I hope you make it to Hawaii one day Marie, there’s some truly remarkable natural wonders to see!

  9. Amazing Charli !! your photos and videos are gorgeous!! Thanks for sharing, I love traveling! Greetings from Argentina 🙂

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