Travel log Kauai, Hawaii, 2007

Before the Cordilleran Roundup conference I had a week off and decided to use my mileage points towards a trip to Hawaii.

I think flowing lava is rather romantic and that experience should wait until I have a partner to go with, so I went to Kauai instead, the northern-most island. It has a spectacular hiking trail called the Kalalau, which is noted as the most beautiful hike in the world and recommended for advanced hikers only. Just for me, I thought 😉

Upon arrival, I took a taxi directly to Hanalei, a fantastic laid-back surfing community on the north coast of Kauai, close to the trail head. I brought a backpack with a small tent, clothing and a package with 8 servings of instant miso soup and some souvenirs for the Hawaiians (photos of snow-capped mountains, bald eagles and bears, a pack of smoked salmon and a container of maple syrup). The surfing town was fun, I ate seared Ahi Tuna that was out of this world delicious and watched world famous surfers (men and women) paddle endlessly for the right waves.

The first night I spent on Hanalei beach with Uncle Kal and Blu’ Kinny, two aging Hawaiian cousins who welcomed me to their tent and gave me one of their cots. I slept next a homeless Portuguese (I thought they were all on holidays…) who served as their cook. They drank a lot of beer and talked about the old days of scuba diving (“blowing bubbles”) and of course surfing. They have striking features characteristic of Hawaiians, thick silver wavy hair, bronzed skin and olive colored eyes. I gave them the smoked salmon as a thank you gift and told them about the tough surfers on Vancouver Island who brave the cold waters of the north Pacific and get chased by bald eagles and bears 😉

The following day I combed the beaches and found exotic shells, puka shells (small round ones with holes perforated) and an intact sunriseshell (buttery candy colors of yellow, pink and white), which is endemic to the region. The rare sunrise shell was a sign of good luck and I took this as good fortune to start on the Kalalau hike.

It was 11 miles in, extremely steep terrain with switchback pathways, often less than 20 cm across. Some parts of the trail were simply life-endangering and I am sure that if I had hiked with a friend I would have reasoned that it was too dangerous to continue. But I was alone and continued on.

Dainty pink orchids lined the pathway in some parts. In others, all vegetation had eroded away and steep crumbly scree slopes took its place, with 200 m drop to the cliffs down below. The switchbacks would wind up and up and curve around a rocky spire with beautiful views of the ocean, then the path would wind down and down into the mountains and creeks and waterfalls draped with ferns had to be traversed.

It is customary to stop half way at the 6 mile point, but I was feeling good and didn’t stop. I arrived at Kalalau beach in the late afternoon, it had taken me just over 8 hours.

What I experienced at Kalalau was a supernatural wonder, a superb composition of nature’s elements. Steep towering spires of volcanic rock blanketed in dense tropical rainforest, white ribbons of waterfalls hundreds of meters high, a gorgeous mile-long stretch of beach with sand composed of olivine and coral, silky fine to the touch, enormous cliffs hosting large sea caves below and feral goats above living life vertically.

And the ocean…the Pacific pays homage to this spectacle with relentless waves like seahorses rearing up, bowing down, rearing up again and again, frothy manes spraying mist like flames. Tears were rolling down my tired face as I witnessed the finest display of nature I have ever seen and I laid my tired body down on the beach until the sun set.

I spent 3 days there, a small tent set up below the cliffs on the beach, which are alive and rumbling, dropping large boulders night and day. Since my miso soup was not enough I had to forage and lived of guavas, passion fruit and citrus fruit. I also allowed myself small swigs of the by now precious maple syrup 🙂 Although the weather forecast had been gloomy, the sky was clear and the sun warmed me dawn to dusk every day. This forecast resulted in very few people coming out that week and I found myself alone most of the time.

The surf was strong and even ankle deep the ocean has a dangerous undertow. The ocean was pulling at my legs and I respected its power and stayed only knee deep. I played in the foamy part, which stretched for 25 meters or more and I felt like I was the only person on the planet, no-one was to be seen. I showered in the waterfalls and drank straight from the creeks. Exotic birds surrounded me and came curiously close to inspect the bright colors of my clothing. Three types of cardinals, mynahs, hummingbirds, small blue doves and tiny green birds with white rings around their eyes visited my camp site. What a paradise…. During the day there would be helicopters flying over me and twice a large cruise-ship passed by. But they could not see Kalalau from my viewpoint down on the beach. That is in my mind the reward of the hike; you become part of Kalalau.

Within the valleys, where I would search for guavas, there were numerous low man-made walls, part of terraces built by ancient Polynesians. On the fifth day it was time for me to leave. I had a plane to catch the following day and my maple syrup was finished….

The 11 miles seemed daunting and I thought I would break the trip into two parts, but whenever I reached a point for breaking I wouldn’t stop and continued on. I excelled by now at finding guavas all over, knocking them down from the trees with my walking stick and easily catching them in my left hand. I had so many, I even gave some away to newcomers (“thanks for the aloha!” “where did this come from?”). Since I had left a little late in the day, darkness was falling fast and there was no place to camp on a 20 cm trail…I pushed myself and allowed no breaks, not even to watch a new pod of whales, not even to check out the pillow basalts. Forget the guavas, I had to get out before dark!

I barely made it to the trail head, narrowly missing stepping on large black toads with eyes glowing golden in the dusk. But I made it. It had taken me less than 6 hours to return. I set up my tent and slept…the following morning I walked along the highway, picked a hibiscus and placed it in my hair. I felt alive. The back of my heels were peeled raw from the hard hike back, but I was walking on air. A 40-ish surfer picked me up and drove me back into Hanalei. He was tanned with long blond hair. He said that there used to be no girls in this part of Hawaii, but that more and more were coming, which obviously pleased him. He made some hand motions to other surfers, where thumb and little finger are extended and the three middle fingers curved down. “surf’s up”

I don’t know when I will ever return to Kalalau, but I highly recommend the trip. Some of you have already done it and my respect for you has grown even more. I feel like I am carrying part of Kalalau with me, still.