With towering cliffs as high as 1200 metres, the Napali coast on Kauai will take your breath away. Seen only by helicopter, boat or hiking along its lone and adventurous trail, this dramatic coastline is a sight you won’t soon forget. Having done them all, we know that each option provides its own unique experience. Which was our favourite? That is a very difficult question to answer, however our favourite time had to be the zodiac tour. The fast, bumpy ride allowed us to see parts of the coast no other way could and participate in some other fun activities, yet still offered us incredible views that were unparalleled to the others.
Here we’ve broken down the options for you, so you can decide what’s best for you. In all reality though, try them all. We can say without a doubt, you won’t be disappointed.
#1 Zodiac Tour
Don’t waste your time on a catamaran tour when you’ve got a zodiac tour to take you along the Napali coast. The zodiac can zigzag you in and out of places that no other boat or helicopter ever could.
In February of 2012, we booked with Captain Andy‘s with my father, sister, brother in law and 5-year-old niece and we can all agree that the experience was off the charts.
The ride itself was pretty wild, especially on the way back when the wind started to pick up. We were bouncing along, bums flying high off the seats, gripping tightly to the ropes. It was like a rollercoaster ride on water! Never once did we feel unsafe though.
On the way out, we slowed down to watch dolphins swimming and playing in the water off the coast. We even caught a glimpse of a humpback whale doing flips in the water. It was incredible! The captain took us into a cave that only a zodiac could fit. With a hole over the top of the cave, it was like heaven was shining down upon us. We saw deserted beaches and even stopped on one of them to have lunch and snorkel around.
What really blew us away? The views of the sky-high cliffs and enormous valleys from the ocean were jaw-dropping. With that size, it really puts into perspective how tiny we are in this world. We felt humble, to say the least.
The best thing about the zodiac tour was that it combined many tours into one. It wasn’t solely about seeing the Napali Coast. We got dolphins, whales, beaches, snorkelling, and a boat ride–all in Hawaii. What more could anyone want?
#2 Helicopter Ride over Kauai’s Napali Coast
A helicopter ride is always a good idea, but it is a great idea in Hawaii. There are just so many valleys, mountains and natural wonders to see that can’t be seen by foot. We especially found this true in Kauai.
We booked with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters in 2012. While helicopter rides are pricey, we would recommend the experience to anyone. Although nervous to be in such a small aircraft, the ride was very smooth. It was such an incredible perspective to be riding right up there by the captain with giant windows to gaze from. At first we frantically snapped photos to try to capture what we were witnessing, faces pressed to the windows, mouths gaping open. At some point, however, we realized our experience was greatest when we just sat back and breathed it all in.
The views from the helicopter were magnificent. The reds and greens seen among the expansive Waimea Canyon is grandest from above, as the lookout points off the roads don’t do it justice. Zooming into the deep valleys to see just how many waterfalls there are, and how big they can get, is priceless. And with Kauai being the lushest island of all the Hawaiian Islands, there are A LOT of waterfalls!
When the captain finally flew beside the high coastal mountains, we once again realized the enormity of the Napali coast. The entire window, from floor to ceiling of the helicopter, was filled with the walls of the mountains staring back at us. Keep in mind, the cliffs can get as high as 1200 metres there! The captain manoeuvred the helicopter in such a way that at some points we were literally sideways witnessing the incomparable natural beauty of the towering mountains meeting the depths of the ocean.
We knew right then and there, the Napali Coast was stunning no matter which angle we viewed it from.
#3 Hiking Kauai’s Napali Coast
Having hiked along the Napali Coast twice now, we can say with conviction that everyone who comes to Kauai needs to do this. Not only does this option allow you to breathe in the fresh air and get a work out in after all that beach lounging, but to be right in the middle of the lush greenery of Hawaii while looking over the cliff edges is a feeling you don’t get to experience everyday. And no matter the weather and the distance taken, the Kalalau trail will not disappoint.
Within one mile, you reach its highest point, the Pali lookout. As you gaze into the horizon, the view is nothing but thick vegetation and beautifully painted mountains resting beside turquoise blue waters as far as the eye can see. From there, it’s mostly downhill as you descend on the beach.
At the start of the hike, there are a lot of rocks and boulders making up the path, but mostly it’s a fairly easy hike down to the beach. That is, unless you are in the middle of a torrential downpour. In that case, the path is made up of mudslides, gushing streams and waterfalls more than anything else. We know this because our first time hiking the Kalalau trail we braved rainy weather and poor conditions, without even knowing that the trail was actually closed. We’ll post about that adventure in due time though 😉
Once you cross a fairly large stream and plant your toes on the Hanakapiai beach, you can stop for a breather and a snack while enjoying the views. Take the time to walk along the beach with your toes in the soft, white sand, a towering rocky cliff at your reach and greenery surrounding you. It’s magical. Again, there’s something about that coast that makes you feel more humble and alive than you’ve ever felt. Though officials say it’s dangerous to swim there, on a nice, sunny day an experienced swimmer could definitely take a dip, but exercise caution.
From the beach, the hike is only two miles into the Hanakapiai waterfall. Depending on the conditions you hike in, you may see a small, peaceful stream of water trickling over the 1200 metre high cliff into a calm pool, in which you can then dip your tired bones. Or, as in the case where we hiked after ridiculous amounts of rain, you will find a gushing waterfall, the booming sound echoing off the cliff walls with no safe place to swim. Either way, it’s spectacular and worth the extra trek.
The Kalalau trail is a grand adventure and an engaging way to see the Napali coast. We can’t wait to get overnight passes and do the whole 22 mile hike and overnight stay!
Keep in mind, there are also a number of hiking trails showcasing the striking valleys and cliffs of the Napali Coast that you can get to from other areas of the island as well. For instance, the Awa’awapuhi trail which is 6 miles round trip, will certainly not disappoint. The views are jaw dropping, but be warned this hike is not for the faint of heart. More on this hike to come 🙂
We’re curious…How have you witnessed the Napali coast? Which option was your favourite and why?