We have continued to return to Kauai to hike and explore, sometimes finding new routes and sometimes enjoying favorites from past years. There are many hikes on the island and a few are among the best trail experiences in the world. Several of these are in Kokee State Park, on top of the island. Although it is always warm, the summit of Mt, Waialeale is also the wettest spot on the planet and the Kokee Trails are only a few kilometers away. When we hike up there, we keep an eye on the forecast and get an early start. Mornings tend to be clear and weather sets in after lunch on most days.
Most of the hikes in Kokee are upside-down, that is, we drive to the top, then hike down and back up. Hikes either drop down the Na Pali cliffs toward the ocean or into the swamp caldera of Mt. Waialeale. Both are interesting and scenic, but other-worldy at times.
One of our favorite trails that we continue to hike is the Nualolo Cliffs Trail, linking two long ridges, both of which jut out to a point above the ocean. We have done this in both directions and either way works fine, but on the last trip, we hiked down the Awa’awapuhi Trail first. This is the easier of the two routes, descending 1560 feet over about 3.25 miles. The trees, flowers, vines, and shrubs are always interesting all the way down.
Views improve steadily and at the end of the trail a junction is reached. Below the trail follows a barren ridge to a point looking straight down to the ocean with views of the pali along this famous coast. The best views, though are along the Nualolo Cliffs Trail, a two mile section that winds along the edge of the cliffs over the Nualolo Valley.
Colors and space are overwhelming at times. Some of the sections of this trail are disorienting so its best just to take your time. Enjoy each new view as it comes. Slow down and take it all in.
As the trail winds through hanging valleys, strange vegetation colorful rock, and sheer 2000 foot dropoffs startle the hiker.
The Nualolo Cliffs Trail joins the NualoloTrail whch also goes down to a narrow ridge overlooking the ocean, not for those with a fear of heights. On a clear day, the view is to the northwest, with Japan as the next stop. Due east is the island of Niihau, 30 miles away. Waves break onto the shoreline far below. This is the wild Na Pali Coast. No roads, no trails, the domain of helicopters and a few mountain goats. One of the only ways to see the Na Pali is this trail, but you have to pay the price with a steep and slippery 3.75 mile route up the Nualolo Ridge. We did this once in wet condtions, and we can’t recommend it. The climb back up seems never-ending, with the afternoon heat and humidity making our legs heavy. Once at Kokee Lodge, there is a 2 mile walk along the narrow road back to the starting point still. Every time we do the second half of this hike, we fnd it diffcult, but we return again most years to do it all again.
Kauai gets its hooks into you and you will need to return. Go to Kokee and hike the Nualolo Trail, the Awa’awapuhi Trail, the Alakai’i Swamp Trail, and the Canyon Trail. Watch the weather and get up early. Hike the trails, but go for swim in the warm ocean water afterward. Kauai has more miles of beaches than any of the Hawai’an Islands, including some near-perfect ones.