Reason #2: Jurassic Park
Because who doesn’t want to go to Jurassic Park?! Okay, so the islands aren’t crawling with Velociraptors or a genetically modified super dino (come on) but the landscapes these islands offer up are fit for prehistoric times and will stun you more than any super dino could. But you don’t have to take my word for it, take Universal Studios'. The movies were filmed in Hawaii. And if the panoramic expanses of scenery don’t take your breath away, hiking through them sure will.
This article shines the spotlight on Kauai. Known as the ‘Garden Island', the oldest and northern-most island boasts holding one of the wettest spots on earth with an annual average rainfall of 1170 cm (460 inches). The extreme rainfalls feed tropical rain forests with forking rivers and have eroded deep valleys in the central mountains, carving out waterfall-filled canyons… Kauai is lush AF. I can’t resist some sentimentality in writing about Kauai. I started lusting after the island the second I laid my eyes on the Nā Pali Coast. It got me good. It’ll get you too.
The Nā Pali Coast is a rugged 26 km (16 mile) coast along the northwest side of Kauai. The na pali, translating to “high cliffs”, along the shore rise over 1,200 m (4,000 ft) above the Pacific Ocean and the terrain transforms from valley to mud-land to jungle to precipitous-ledge-hanging-over-sheer-cliff-plunging-straight-down-into-the-ocean-below. If you want to feast your eyes on this awe-inspiring topography, you better pack your hiking boots (no, not your Nike Frees) or collect your dollars for a helicopter tour. Adding to its rawness, the coast is preserved by its literal inaccessibility. The only way to get to the illustrious Kalalau Beach is by braving your butt across the Kalalau Trail. Traversing 18 km (11 miles) across the coast and through five major valleys (and many smaller ones) before reaching the esteemed sacred spot at the base of the Kalalau Valley, this “trail” isn’t for the faint of heart.
Nā Pali's current mood: Grassland
We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We were soon to be enlightened. After an afternoon of mud-sliding through the Pihea Trail in Kokee State Park, where we hiked (slipped, slid and climbed) the back rim of the Kalalau Valley, we emerged weak in the knees (and thighs and feet and ankles and entire bodies) and covered in a coat of (very cool) reddish mud. Looking like we’ve just spent the past 8 days residing outdoors, a couple gave us a once over and asked if we made it “down there”, nodding (way, way) down towards the valley. We told them that we hadn’t but planned to. Turns out, there was a lot more in store for us than anticipated.
Pihea Trail: Overlooking the highest point on the rim of the Kalalau Valley
But what’s going on down there anyway?…
Quick history lesson. It’s interesting, I swear. Stay with me. The first Hawaiians, the indigenous Polynesian people, made their way to Kauai more than 1,500 years ago via some sturdy canoes… truly resilient individuals. They settled in the Kalalau Valley, prime real estate given its fertile soil and abundant fresh water. Two sacred ritual platforms, heiau, still flank the valley on either side of the beach. Sh*t got real. In 1919, the canyon was abandoned.
What’s up since? Fast-forward to the late 60s/early 70s. An anti-establishment, decidedly nudist, good-vibes-only, self-sustaining community is up. Taylor Camp: the ultimate hippie life. Our new friends start telling us about a group of thirteen, the woman’s father being their “leader” (as if we bump into this chick), who in 1969, in reaction to the ongoing campus riots in the U.S, left it all behind and sought refuge in Kauai. At this point, my boyfriend and I are obviously exchanging wide-eyed 'what-the...' glances at each other. It gets better. The tribe of hippies inevitably land themselves in jail for vagrancy until an unlikely rescuer swoops in: Howard Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor’s brother. If you haven't connected the dots… thus called Taylor Camp. A real-life hero, good old Howard bails out our innocuous clan (come on, leave them alone right?) and welcomes them to live rent-free on his land. Long live Howard!
At its peak, the “flower power campers” reached about 120 elated spirits living off the land. And you can imagine what a psychedelic time they had…But not even Howard could save them from their imminent demise. A hindrance to tourism, they didn’t stand a chance. Make way for modernization. Cue our real-life villain. In 1977, the state acquired the property and the village was doomed to become the grounds of the Nā Pali State Park forever. Our beloved peace-and-love clan was evicted and their beach-front tree houses set aflame.
Check out the film Taylor Camp for the full (very awesome) account
Fast-forward a little more to today. Don’t start unpacking (I told you to start packing last week) just yet. In this superfluous society of ours, there still exists a “Lost Tribe” (I couldn’t make this sh*t up if I tried) in Kalalau Valley’s isolated pocket, just chillin’ indefinitely on Kalalau Beach. And no, obviously not legally. Our real-life villain won in 1977, keep up. But try to sniff out a crew calling the jungle their home 18 km deep into the coast in which several mile markers are dubbed “crawlers mile” as hikers are forced to get on their hands and knees and inch their way across precipitous-ledge-hanging-over-sheer-cliff-plunging-straight-down-into-the-ocean-below.
It still gets better. Our favourite primitive pack will welcome with open arms any rat-race enslaved hiker who's braved the treacherous journey and made it to their beach. Want to escape everything you’ve ever known and live amongst lawless hippies in a remote, utopian community? GO TO HAWAII.
An aerial view of Kalalau Beach (no, not taken by us, I wish)
Uhm yes, sign me up for the Lost Tribe please
Post sacrificial slaughter at the heiau
^Kidding. Okay, a bit much for your 7 day vacay from the office? Just hiking the Kalalau Trail for the day is an unreal experience. FYI whatever you hike in, you have to turn around and hike out so plan accordingly. You also need a camping permit to hike past Hanakāpīʻai Valley, about 3 km in, but not all hikers abide by this. Your call. The first beach, Ke’e Beach about 4 km in, is without a doubt the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been on.
Travellers tip: Go to the far side of the beach, find the crevice between the sand and rock (it’s a small beach, you’ll find it), get on your belly and army-crawl your way into the cave…
Chance discovery of a secluded beach. Okay day.
The trail has many surprises, not all of them as pleasant as a chance discovery of a secluded beach. Kauai is prone to flash floods and the trail has intermittent helipads ready to airlift out stranded hikers. The trail is renowned as one of the most dangerous hikes in the world and there are reported (and unreported) deaths and injuries annually. Again, your call. My personal opinion is the risk is worth the reward. Just be smart and plan ahead.
Kauai is filled with amazing day hikes too, like the Pihea Trail I mentioned earlier, with views as rewarding as spotting the smoke rise ahead from Kalalau Beach. I’m hard pressed to think of many sights I’ve seen more beautiful than that of the Waimea Canyon. You won’t encounter anything like this geological wonder anywhere else.
Putting the Grand Canyon to shame
No? How about a rainbow shooting into the canyon at sunset?
This is what really gets me about these islands. You’re not pulling out your map (iPhone) and circling (pin dropping) where to next. Sidenote: shout out to our parents for travelling pre smartphones. How the. You’re noticing footprints at, what you thought was, the beach's end and discovering an entirely new, hidden beach all to yourself. You’re taking 5 to pull over on the side of the highway to take in the view.
Hawaii is truly an incredible place to explore. I know I have you now but I'll be posting one more on Hawaii next week anyway.
Peace and love!
Want to read more on Hawaii? Click here to continue to Go To Hawaii: Part III