The Nā Pali Coast is probably the most well known and iconic area on Hawaii's oldest island of Kaua'i. 16 miles of jaw dropping coastline featuring gorgeous beaches, waterfalls, sea caves, and colorful mountain ridges. The real challenge is deciding how to experience this wonder. You can view it by air with a helicopter flight, by land with a backpacking trip, or by the sea with a boat tour. Which ever option choose, I'm sure you will be equally amazed by this magical place.
The fam had started our last full day in Kaua'i off strong with a morning exploring Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park. But we weren't quite done adventuring just yet. We were going to round out the day with a sunset dinner cruise along the famous Nā Pali Coast. While I typically prefer to create my own adventure and not go on tours, there are some things where a tour simply is the best way to experience something. I think the Nā Pali Coast is one of those things. And what better time to do it than when the family is in town!
Our trek began at the harbor in the town of Ele'ele. There's two main spots these boat trips leave from, here and up on the north shore in Hanalei. Despite the fact that we were staying right near Hanalei in Princeville, Ele'ele has more companies and options to choose from. I specifically wanted to do a late afternoon/sunset cruise and based on the rest of itinerary, leaving from the south shore made the most sense.
We chose to sail with Captain Andy's on their Southern Star, the largest of their vessels, for the sunset dinner cruise. We chose Captain Andy's based on word of mouth recommendations, but its prices are comparable to most other companies. The Southern Star is a slight upgrade from their Classic Sunset Dinner Sail, with 10 more feet and a higher end dinner (mmm surf and turf). Sometimes you just gotta splurge a little!
And it's boating time! It took us about an hour to get to Nā Pali from the harbor. The ride was quite pleasant, but if conditions are less than ideal, it may be a different story. The summer months are typically the best time for the boat tour due to the calmer seas. Luckily for us, the conditions couldn't be any more perfect.
On our way out, we passed this little boat, also owned by Captain Andy's, returning from the coast. Similar to choosing departure locations, there are some different options for what type of Nā Pali Coast boat adventure you want to experience. We were doing the most leisurely option, a Sunset dinner cruise, consisting of some nice dinner, drinks, but NO swimming or snorkeling.
Another option, which typically departs earlier in the day, is to go out on a large catamaran like ours, but make stops at a few spots along the coast to get off the boat and swim/snorkel, maybe try to see a honu or two. Usually you still get food and drinks, but it's a bit more active.
One other option, is what is passing us now. Instead of a large catamaran, you tour the coast on this RIB. The smaller craft means a much bumpier ride (it has been described as being on a rollercoaster for 5 hours), but it also gives you the ability to experience some of the less accessible parts of the coast, such as the sea caves. What you choose depends on your goals, but from what I've heard from people who have done each, it's hard to go wrong. Nā Pali is just too awesome.
Speaking of Nā Pali, we're almost there!
The coast starts out with some large flat rock faces. The sheer drop off was impressive and some of them rise several thousand feet in height. They are not the tallest of the Hawaiian islands, however. That title belongs to Molokai, with cliffs over 3000 feet tall!
In addition to those cliffs, you get some gorgeous valleys.
The farther you get down the coast, the more impressive it gets. Those vivid green and oranges coupled with those sharp ridges and cliffs create something so pleasing to look at it.
Remember those sea caves I mentioned? Here's one of those. Now I definitely need to come back for the small boat adventure...
A nice little rock archway next to a scenic beach. This beach is actually Honopu Beach, and is one of those iconic (and highly instagrammed) spots along the coast. The only way to legally get to this beach, is to hike 11 miles along the Kalalau Trail to Kalalau Beach and then swim from Kalalau Beach here (more info here). Sounds like another epic adventure to add to the list.
Speaking of Kalalau Beach, there it is! Those impressive shapes are known as The Cathedrals. It's crazy to me that these formations were created by natural forces. Can you imagine camping on this beach with that behind you?
Can't get enough.
A sea cave, waterfall, and rainbow? Why not!
We finally reached the end of our outbound journey. It was now time to raise the mainsail and begin our return trip.
But why not make things even more flavorful with a little dinner for that return. Not only was the surf and turf delicious, but this was the backdrop we got as we enjoyed our meal. That coupled with a beer (or three), made this pretty unforgettable.
Just one more shot of Kalalau Beach and those Cathedrals.
As we neared the harbor, we watched as the sun slowly dipped below the horizon. It's hard to imagine a better way to experience such an amazing place. Now it's on to the Big Island, for some more magic.
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Also Check Out:
- The Crazy Tourist's write up of different boat tour options