Two years ago, Emily and I went on our first trip to Kaua’i. From the moment we left the island, the only thing I could think about was going back. It’s not hard to see why Kaua’i is so appealing, but I have this strange sort-of magnetism to the island that I cannot shake. I want to know everything there is to learn about the beautiful coastlines and how they were formed, the warriors that once called this place home, as well as the legends and traditions passed down through generations. I want to see everything there is to see, sleep next to the streams and battle the notorious north shore waves. For some reason, it feels like home.
After 24 months, this was the year that we returned to Kaua’i. And I guarantee it won’t be the last.
Our trip was a family one, so the hiking and long jungle treks were kept to a minimum (here’s to our next visit). Ha’ena and Napali Coast State Park were also closed due to extremely heavy rainfall that damaged the roadways over a year earlier. As a result, the Kalalau Trail was also closed. So, despite having permits (purchased months in advance), we had to put it on the list for next time as well. This was especially disheartening for me because Emily and I had only made it to Hanakoa on our last visit due to being unprepared and overly exhausted, and I thought for sure we’d be able to conquer the trail this time. Kalalau remains elusive as ever, and Honopu ever more so.
Kalalau & Honopu Sunset
After spending some leisure time at the resort, Nick, Nicole, Katy, Emily and I met up with our friend Jason (@hairybelly) for a sunset hike. It was the first hike we had done on our last trip and provides an amazing view of Kalalau and Honopu Valley from above. We were joined by two of Jason’s friends, as well as a ferocious dog named Hula.
Hula was a fan favorite. As we hiked back in the dark, she would run up ahead of us as if to make sure she hadn’t lost anyone. She’d then sit and wait for everyone to pass her, before she darted up again to the next checkpoint. One of Jason’s friends mentioned she had once backpacked into Kalalau with a full size pizza. This made us laugh but also made me wish she had decided to do the same for this trip. We made it to the parking lot and said our goodbyes before heading back to the North Side.
After racing each other and having breath-holding contests in the pool like we were kids again, we decided to head to Hanalei for sunset. This area was also affected by the flood, so we had to park quite a ways away and then walk the rest of the distance to the the pier. This was a welcome beach stroll and we made it just in time to see the sun hit the horizon (no green flash this time).
We met up with Jason and his wife again, this time on the North Shore. After a short hike, we came around the corner and saw this incredible cove on the side of the battered cliffs. As if on queue, it started raining. We climbed down the jagged rocks and waded through the waist-deep water into the empty cave. My brother commented how cool it felt, we could have easily been characters in an adventure film, exploring uncharted caves and seeking shelter from the rain. As we pushed further into the cave, it became apparent that the tunnel continued some 300 feet into the dark. We took out our phones for light and walked the length of the tunnel to the opening on the other side. As we approached the opening, we spotted two huge turtles resting on the sand next to the water.
We spent the rest of our time at this beautiful place snorkeling and taking photos.
After we left, I told my parents about this place and gave them some general directions to get there. On the morning they decided to go, they stumbled on a sea turtle who, unfortunately, had a fishing hook stuck in it’s neck. After overcoming the fear of being bitten (do sea turtles bite?), my dad was able to get the lure out. I felt proud to have parents who are willing to help creatures in need especially these amazing icons of the islands.
Anini Beach & The Little Green Church
Woke up early and headed to Anini Beach for some snorkeling. Unfortunately, the wind was making most of my split-shot attempts impossible, so I set the camera aside and took a nap in the hammock with Emily.
Spent the day being lazy, but managed to head to a unique spot for sunset. Heading west from Hanalei, off to the left sits a little green church. Wai`oli Hui`ia Church was founded by early Protestant Missionaries in 1834. The multi-colored stained glass reflects the sun in a way that perfectly compliments the beauty of the simplistic architecture and the church’s lush surroundings. We explored the area and discovered a small cemetery with very old gravestones, some so old they were illegible. Emily loves cemeteries, so we spent some time finding the oldest graves and attempting to pronounce the traditional Hawaiian names.
I was able to play with my new 10 Stop ND filter and snagged a picture of a palm tree being battered by the wind. We were joined by some beautiful birds and time seemed to come to a stand still. As the light faded, the sun seemed to set with the single intention of lighting the front-facing stained glass of the church.
Spent a day out on the water catching dinner. My sister-in-law got pretty sea sick, but we were able to catch two skipjack! It was quite a learning experience as Emily and I talked with the first mate about following the birds and reading their movements. If the birds flew wildly in a concentrated area and dove into the water over and over, that was a good sign that there were also fish feeding there. The sky was so clear, we could almost see the distant island of Oahu! We were out for about 4 hours before heading back to the island with a cooler full of fish!
We had reservations at one of our favorite dinner spots (Keoki’s Paradise) which was on the other side of the island. To kill some time, I suggested the Fern Grotto Tour that I had seen advertised in a tourism brochure. Fern Grotto was once a sacred place only made available to royalty. Nowadays, it’s one of the more popular tourist attractions on the island, as well as the site of many weddings. Only 25 bucks and it would knock out an hour or two. My family and I took the boat to the grotto which was a less than exciting trip, but the grotto was definitely worth seeing. Unfortunately, due to some rockfall, you were no longer allowed up the path to the mouth of the cave, so I had to take my photos from a large viewing platform. Probably won’t do this one again, but it’s a great easy time-killer for all ages.
Queen’s Bath Sunset
After reading about Queen’s Bath over and over on the Internet in facebook groups and blog posts, Emily and I decided to go to photograph sunset. We had actually gone earlier in the trip with my brother and his wife to attempt to snorkel, but the tide was far too rough and we decided against it.
WARNING: Do not snorkel here unless you are extremely aware, comfortable around tides and rough seas, and have friends to help keep watch. Honestly just don’t snorkel here. It’s too dangerous. It’s a beautiful place to walk along the rocks and explore, but you need to be present and you must watch the tides. You could easily be swept into the ocean and killed.
As the sun set, I scrambled the rocks looking for unique angles of the waterfalls that poured into the ocean. I also spent some time trying to photograph the movement of the water that slowly carves its way into the side of the island. A very peaceful night no doubt, plus we were the only ones there! Nothing beats having a place normally swarmed with people all to yourself.
As the sun set, the coastline came alive. Birds flew from their perches and swooped down towards us, even aggressively so. We had apparently overstayed our welcome and Queen’s Bath now belonged to its original inhabitants. We packed up our stuff and used our phones to navigate to the trail back to the parking lot.
We trudged up the trail and heard rustling in the bushes. Then a shadowy figure moved towards our feet. We jumped back and shined our flashlight on the creature and realized it was a huge toad. Emily and I had a good laugh, gave him a name and continued walking. We passed probably 20 more toads on our way up the trail. I remember telling Emily how much I enjoyed exploring places in the twilight hours. Not only are there less people, but you never know what nocturnal critters you might see.
Blue Dolphin Charter
Captain Chad welcomed us aboard his beautiful 65′ catamaran. We’d soon learn this charismatic captain was a huge fan of his home island of Kaua’i and loved to share it with others. He also was an even bigger fan of karaoke.
As we left the harbor, we were offered free drinks and snacks. The breeze was cool and Emily and I went out to the bow of the boat where we spent most of the journey. The water rushed under our feet and we felt completely care-free as we glided over the ocean. We spotted a pod of dolphins and Captain Chad slowed to a stop to give us a better look. This was the afternoon cruise and it’s rare to see dolphins at this time of day, so everyone on board was pleasantly surprised.
We continued up the coast and Captain Chad commented on each valley along the coastline, relaying legends and history surrounding them, from tales of cannibals to ancient kings, even film locations for popular movies. We stopped at a waterfall plunging off the side of the jagged cliffs of the Na Pali. Captain Chad pulled the bow right underneath the falls and offered brave tourists a chance to cool off with a sacred shower. My brother and his wife were the first to commit, while I handed my camera to Emily and followed suit.
Once we passed Kalalau, we continued along the coast to see some more waterfalls and sea caves. Captain Chad repeatedly relayed how “No other boats show you this, look at all the boats turning around at Kalalau.” It became a joke on the remainder of our trip to remark “No other boats show you this!” We were grateful for his enthusiasm and willingness to share his home with us. After a few free Mai Tai’s, a delicious dinner and some regrettable karaoke by my entire family, we headed back to port as the sun set behind us.
Kamokila Hawaiian Village & Secret Falls
Emily and I wanted to take a day for ourselves and do something on our own. We decided to kayak the Wailua River and hike to the Secret Falls. Since we had already taken the Smith’s Fern Grotto tour, we didn’t care to kayak the same route from the boat dock, so we found an ancient Hawaiian village along the shore. This was a new place to explore and the distance to the falls cut our kayak time in half so we could spend more time hiking or kayaking at our leisure.
We started with an AMAZING breakfast at the Eat Healthy Cafe in Kapa’a. Emily said the pancakes were some of the best she’d ever had.
Coming down the road to Kamokila, I was thankful we were in a rental. The road was steep, rocky and full of potholes. Some rocks even threatened to scrape the bottom of the car. The road was also wide enough for one car only, so I had to be very careful. It honestly reminded me of home and I got very excited to see where this road would take us.
We reached the village and went straight for the kayaks. They did not have a two-person kayak available, which is what we had planned to use. Just as we were about to hop in, a family came rowing around the corner in multiple two-seaters. Perfect! The mother of the family had a makeshift arm sling made of some sticks and a t-shirt. She had fallen and broken her wrist on the trail apparently. They rushed her to the hospital and we happily jumped into our cursed kayak. We paddled up the river and marveled at the silence paired with the birds and rippling water. A truly relaxing sensation.
After a short trip, we beached our kayak at the trailhead and started hiking for the falls. After about 20 minutes of casual hiking along a picturesque jungle river, we found Secret Falls.
Not-So-Secret Falls. Regardless of the crowds, I found some creative angles, used long exposures, and occasionally cloned out the unsuspecting fellow tourist.
Emily was very patient while I went around trying to take an interesting shot and I absolutely love that about her. After defending our lunch from a mob of hungry chickens, we made our way back to Kamokila. The Kamokila Hawaiian Village was a bit underwhelming to be honest. The highlight was not the structures (and definitely not the “Menstrual House” which Emily REALLY didn’t like), but what did make us smile were all the animals running free on the property. We saw multiple peacocks, some cats, chickens (of course), and, our favorite, a tiny piglet who loved to eat shoelaces.
Once we got back to the North Shore, we invited my parents to join us to this local beach Emily and I had visited on our first trip. Emily is a fan of this beach not only because of the sunset colors, but because it’s one of the last “dog-friendly” beaches on Kauai. We shot a few portraits and enjoyed the evening.
Go Blue Adventure Tour
Bright and early, we headed to the opposite side of the island. It was gonna be a jam-packed day because we had a raft tour planned for the morning and a helicopter tour in the afternoon. Assuming we pulled into the dock on time, we would have JUST enough time to make it between reservations. And since it was our last full day on the island, we wanted to go hard. This tour was supposed to be more rough, but a bit more up close and personal with the Na Pali coast. Captain Kalen welcomed us aboard and we held tight to the only thing keeping us in the raft, a thick rope along the top of the raft. There was also a rope on the floor for tucking your foot underneath, which was necessary if you didn’t wanna fly off.
Almost immediately after we embarked, we encountered a pod of dolphins. We were told the morning tour was the best for dolphin/turtle sightings, and since neither of us had seen the Na Pali in the early morning, we decided to mix it up.
Seeing dolphins this close was such a fun experience. We did donuts and created waves for the dolphins to launch over, which was so much fun to see.
We spent a decent amount of time observing these playful creatures before speeding out towards the Na Pali. And damn did we SPEED. I wasn’t sure if it was how close we were to the water, but I felt like we were going 80mph. Weaving close to the rocks on the sides of the cliffs made my heart pump and my grip tighten on the life-giving rope. I also tried to support Emily’s back with my arm, so the ride was a little stressful but absolutely exhilarating. We continued to drift in and out of sea caves, blasting music and singing a lot.
We stopped in an open ceiling sea cave and I was able to capture the whole cave in one picture. The photo makes the cave look small, but I shot it at 11mm and was barely able to fit everything in frame! Capt. Kalen was awesome and even went around a second time so I could get my shot.
I struggled to keep my dome port clean on this trip and also had some focusing issues. I decided it’d be best to put the camera away for most of this trip and focus on enjoying the views. After more sea caves, spotting a monk seal, and some more donuts, we set a course for Kalalau.
After a quick swim, we made our way back to a popular snorkeling spot for lunch and some snorkeling. We then headed back to the harbor. However, it wasn’t that easy. The wind and current had picked up. There were literal whitecaps on the ocean and the seemingly endless army of waves crashed against our raft. Down we’d descend into a swell, only to shoot up and over the wave, crashing down with knee crushing force. Kalen tried to keep it light by asking for song requests, but the 45 minute rodeo back to the dock felt a hell of a lot longer. When we finally made it back, Emily discovered she had developed blisters on her hands from holding onto the rope, and I had bruises on my legs. Heavy underwater cameras sitting on your lap during choppy boat rides is a bad idea.
Despite our battle scars, this was my favorite activity we did the entire trip. Huge thank you to Go Blue Adventure Tours. There is literally no better way to see this coastline…well…maybe there’s one way that’s a little better…
Jack Harter Doors-Off Helicopter Tour
This was our second time flying over Kauai and I can’t imagine a trip where I’d miss it. Jack Harter is one of the older tour companies on the island and the doors-off option is a must. I took just shy of 800 photos and I’ll let them speak for themselves.
This was definitely one of the longer blogs I’ve created, but I had a lot of fun putting it together. I’ve decided to start blogging some of my past trips as well as keeping up to date on current trips, so keep an eye out for write-ups for Firefall: 2019, our last trip to Glacier, and photos from mine and Emily’s wedding coming soon!
And as always, thanks for reading!