Maui & Kauai Day 7: Na’Pali Coast Kayaking

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We woke up at 5 A.M. on Wednesday morning in Kaua’i and it wasn’t just another day… it wasn’t even just another day on vacation… because who decides on their vacation that they are going to do strenuous ocean kayaking all day long instead of relaxing on the beach and drinking piña coladas? Well, Pie and me, duh!

I had wanted to kayak the Na’Pali Coast since our last trip to Kaua’i in February 2016. We had failed to do enough research before planning our previous trip and arrived on Kaua’i to find out that “winter” time in Kaua’i is definitely not a time of year you do water activities, due to the rough surf. Even few companies run boat tours at this time of year, so kayaking was definitely out of the question.

Even though we had experienced the Na’Pali coast by foot, by air, and by boat, it still wasn’t enough. I realllllllly wanted to kayak it.

When we planned our Kaua’i trip re-do for the summer, I was still worried about weather, or even worse, a hurricane, cancelling our kayak trip, so I scheduled it as the first activity we would do in Kaua’i, just in case we needed to reschedule. It wasn’t until much later when hubby made the official reservations that we found out that the kayak trip is rarely cancelled due to weather. Even in rain, the trip is usually do-able.

It wasn’t ideal having the kayak trip as the first activity during our Kaua’i vacation, because we were sure to be sore afterwards, which meant we would lose at least a day in our vacation recovering. Nonetheless, we kept our original plan to do it early in our trip because we weren’t taking any chances of not being able to complete this bucket list item.

What I also wasn’t taking chances on was not being prepared in every other aspect for the trip including fitness level, clothing, gear, sea sickness…. you name it. I read all of the online reviews of the Na’Pali Coast kayak trip that I could in order to prepare. Two of the most important things I learned were that we should take sea sickness pills not only the morning of the trip, but the night before (check!), and we should wear long sleeve rash guards, long water pants, and water socks because we would be out in the sun for 8+ hours with few opportunities to reapply sunscreen (check!).

The only thing left was to get in shape for this trip! While hubby and I do just about every physical activity out there including, biking, running, hiking, snowshoeing, snowboarding, and who-knows-what-else-I’m-forgetting, we don’t really do activities that involve upper body strength or endurance.

Hubby and I used to go to the rock climbing gym together in Albuquerque on a regular basis, but once we moved to Denver, we stopped doing that as a couple’s activity because I found the gym too crowded during the times that were most convenient to us. With this trip in the books, I renewed my gym membership and joined hubby at the gym at a new, butt-crack-of-down time in the morning with a relentless commitment and motivation that I wasn’t going to be labeled as one of the weak girls on the kayak trip that caused hubby and me to lag behind.

Our check in time was 6 A.M. at the kayak company’s place on the north shore. They shuttled us a short distance down the road to Ha’ena Beach as our launch spot. We were accompanied by 10 other people and everyone would be coupled up to ride a double kayak with a rudder (a blade on the back of the kayak that can help guide the kayak with the use of foot pedals).

We loaded our kayaks and dry bags with water, snacks, sunscreen, and anything else we might want/need for the day. Hubby and I had purchased an action camera for the specific purposes of this trip and also had our cell phones and regular camera protected in water cases.

With the sun sprouting up over the horizon, our two guides for the day gave us an overview of what to expect for the day, but nothing I heard was news to me since I had read a billion reviews online ahead of time.

I zoned out and was paying more attention to the waves crashing on the beach behind them, wondering how on earth we were even going to get into the ocean to begin with when the waves seemed to be telling us that they would spit us right back on the beach if we dared touch them. I had hoped and prayed that the ocean on our day to kayak would be calm as a lake, but it certainly wasn’t.

day 7-3

We didn’t have much time to second guess whether we would make it out into the ocean without spilling over in embarrassment as we were the second kayak to be pushed out and launched into the ocean. I sat up front in the kayak and hubby was in back controlling the rudder. A few seconds and a face full of salty sea water later and we were somehow floating merrily out in the ocean. Hooray, let’s do this then!

From all of my online research, I was fully aware of our day ahead. We would be kayaking approximately five hours south along the Na’Pali Coast and stop at a beach along the way for lunch. After lunch we would kayak another approximate two hours south and end at Polihale Beach. The kayak company would have a shuttle waiting at this beach to drive us back another two hours around the east coast to the north shore again where we began.

napali-kayak-map

Even though we had launched out into the ocean successfully, which I had felt like was the scariest part, we were not in the clear yet. Surprisingly, I wasn’t even worried much about being able to complete the 17-mile trip; I was more worried about sea sickness and just being plain nervous out on the open ocean with the dark water and possible sharks, jelly fish, and other creepy ocean critters below.

While waiting a short while for the rest of the paddlers to get out in the ocean with us, hubby mentioned that two people didn’t make it. I thought that he meant they had flipped over while being launched into the ocean, but what he meant is that two people hadn’t even set foot in water before giving up. Apparently two people had heard the speech from our kayak guide that this was no easy day of paddling and they opted out already. It was unfortunate that these people had not done their research ahead of time, but it was good that they didn’t try to do the trip any way and ended up with an entire miserable day of vacation attempting to kayak the Na’Pali Coast.

You see, once you decide to kayak the Na’Pali Coast, there isn’t really a bail-out option, as most of the Na’Pali coast is lined with lava rock cliffs and no trails or roads for anyone to come pick you up on.

But that wasn’t entirely true. While the kayak companies were only allowed to launch from Ha’ena Beach on the north shore, there was technically one last beach on the north shore, Ke’e Beach, still accessible by a road.

The guides took us out about a mile, avoiding the shallow reef nearby, and stopped the group with one more last call to bail out before starting a 16-mile journey that couldn’t be undone.

I was feeling great at this point! Apparently taking two Bonine motion sickness pills the night before and an additional two more that morning had paid off; I wasn’t feeling sick at all and definitely wasn’t feeling sleepy from the pills. And as far as being scared of the open ocean… nope! I was pumped!

Some other kayakers were not as fortunate. We ended up having two or three other kayakers bail out who were already sea sick after doing the first mile. Although the wind had been in our favor that morning, the ocean swell was not! The rocking of the waves was enough to send one younger guy puking over the side of his kayak at our one-mile stop, despite the fact that he appeared to have a motion sickness patch behind his ear.

Even more unfortunate was that some of the kayakers that had to bail were some that were set out to do the overnight/camping option that required a permit that had to be obtained months in advance. If hubby and I are fortunate enough to do this kayak trip again, this would be an exciting option to do! I had known about this option before, but figured I needed to conquer my possible fear of the open ocean before I conquered my fear of sleeping in a hammock in the middle of a dark jungle.

After a bunch of shuffling and even losing one guide, the remaining six of us (and one guide) were on our way and could not have been more excited!

The pictures will speak for themselves as we were able to see and experience it all: tall, green mountains and cliffs towering into the clouds, waterfalls that spilled into the ocean, and amazing sea caves (even one open-ceiling sea cave) that could only be accessed by kayak. A portion of the Na’Pali Coast actually cannot be seen by anyone except those traveling by air or boat/kayak, as the Kalalau Trail on the Na’Pali Coast ends 11 miles in, so we were seeing paradise that was hard-earned! My only regret on the trip was not bringing snorkel gear so we could have seen the beauty beneath the Na’Pali Coast waters as well as the charm above.

After four and a half hours of paddling, we stopped for lunch at a beach past the end of the Kalalau Trail. This was certainly not one of the prettiest beaches we had seen along our journey, but it was one of the few that people were allowed to land on.

We were sleepy enough as it was when we arrived on the hot, sandy beach, but to top that off, the kayak company provided a sandwich lunch that filled us up and made us want to sleep like we had just had a Thanksgiving meal. We couldn’t get too comfy though, because we were due to set out again on our journey after about another hour and a half.

I had wondered why we had taken such a long lunch, with the temptation ever strong to fall asleep for the rest of the afternoon, instead of getting back on the water and taking a more relaxed, slow paddle the rest of the way to our end spot, but as it turns out, we were already taking a relaxed, slow paddle. We had arrived at “lunch beach” about half an hour early because the wind and current was in our favor and we were more than likely going to expect that the rest of the way to Polihale Beach, too.

Indeed we did! At one point, the wind was so good that our guide just let us rest our paddles on our shoulders and carry us along like sails!

day 7-21

You’d think I would have been thrilled about the wind helping us, but I was actually somewhat disappointed that we had such a relatively “easy” kayaking expedition. Don’t get me wrong, it was strenuous trip, but I’m still convinced our kayak group got off pretty easy that day. I will probably never know if any of our 6 A.M. rock climbing gym sessions or any of the numerous exercise sets I did in front of the TV while watching Bachelorette and Orange is the New Black made a difference.

But I couldn’t really be unhappy with this small detail of the trip because it meant we were able to enjoy every bit of the trip and actually complete it! It also meant that I was able to put down my paddle several times and let hubby be the muscle in our kayak, so I could take photos and record awesome video.

Some people won’t even walk half a mile to get to where they need to go, but hubby and I do it all. We’ve done 100-mile bike races, hiked 14ers, and now we can say we kayaked 17 miles on the ocean!

Next up: A lazy day and Queen’s Bath.

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