Your Guide to Kayaking the Na Pali Coast

Kayaking the Na Pali Coast, on the north side of the island of Kauai, is one of the best sea-kayak trips you can make on this planet. Along the beautiful 16-mile stretch of coastline, you will see large soaring cliffs, deep valleys full of flora and fauna, and waterfalls spilling straight into the ocean. It’s raw, intense, pristine, and makes for one of the most memorable camping trips you’ll ever have. 

I just did this trip with some of my highschool friends – here’s the gallery of all the photos.

Depending on how you do your trip and the weather conditions, you can leisurely float downwind or catch the surf on your kayak going downwind the whole way – making stops at the various state governed campsites to rest for a night or two and to recover from the day’s paddle. You could also be caught in some rough conditions, making for a tiring trip.

While kayaking sounds awesome, you might have to hold your horses; this trip can only be done during the summer months, stretching into some of May and September. It’s certainly a challenge. But those who are comfortable in the ocean and reasonably fit, will be rewarded with some of the best views in the world. Below is a guide to kayaking the Na Pali Coast.

 

Location:

The Na Pali Coast stretches 16 miles on the north side of Kauai. Most people start in Haena (past Hanalei) and end on the west side of the island in Polihale. This is the direction of the tradewinds, a reliable, constant sea-breeze that goes from northeast to the southwest direction. Along the way are the famous beaches like Kalalau, Honopu, Nu’alolo, and Miloli’i.

To get to Haena (the starting point), you can either contract a shuttle that picks you up from Lihue or any other part of the island, or you could get the kayak company you choose to drop you off at the top. The third option would be to rent a car, but you would have to leave the car unattended for a few days – a likely case for a break-in, which would ruin your trip. From Haena, you would ride the tradewinds down the island towards Polihale. 

Camping or Kayaking:

A full day kayaking trip can be arranged with a few kayak companies. This would take you from Haena early in the morning, and you would finish at around 4pm at Polihale in the southwest part of the island. This is a good option for those who want to kayak and only have a day to spare, but for those less inclined, they could just choose a chartered boat trip that covers all the scenic spots. It would be less effort, but you wouldn’t feel as rewarded.

For anyone who has a few days to spare or even a week, the best option is to kayak in and camp at the two state designated camping sites – Kalalau and Miloli’i. You can get your permits to camp at the various camping spots in Kalalau or in Miloli’i through the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources website. It should actually be your first step, and you’ll want to book it way far in advance to secure your spot.

I’ll recap the most important points at the bottom in the quick guide section.

Packing:

I’ve created a free Packing Guide for Kayaking the Na Pali Coast. The biggest item is the need for dry bags. Most kayak companies will provide two large dry bags (about 55L or bigger) per person, which is enough to hold a large backpacking backpack full of gear. Having the right camping gear is essential to a successful trip.

Kayak Companies:

Na Pali Kayaks

Cost:

The total cost runs….

Fixed costs:

Daily Variable Costs:

Overall expense:

Transportation/Shuttles:

Kauai Taxi Company does a good job of getting you to the designated drop-off point. Na Pali Kayaks will leave the boats at Haena Beach Park and you can pick them up there in the morning at around 8:30am or before. The cost from Lihue Airport to Haena averages around $160 total. If you go with a group of four people, you can divide this cost to $40 one way.

Safety and Other Advice:

On any kayaking trip, your goal is to enjoy the scenery, but to also make it out safely. The ocean can be a dangerous place if you are not prepared. Taking the essential precautionary measures is important to not only your safety, but to the safety of others, the kayaks, the environment. Here’s a list of some of the safety advice, but please take time to read up on additional guidance, especially if this is your first time on a kayak.

Getting flipped: at a certain point, you will likely flip the kayak. Everything will spill out and start floating away. Your main goal is to take control of your paddle and the boat. Once you have these two pieces, grab the boat from the far side and flip the boat over. This entails throwing your body on top of the flipped kayak and pulling/ leaning backwards. Flipping the boat any other way, is too difficult in the water.

The mornings are usually calm, with the wind picking up by midday and blowing through like a hurricane in the afternoon. You’ll want to do all your leisure paddling/swimming then. For example, getting to Honopu beach should be done early in the morning, as you can’t beach your kayak there. 

Sun protection:

Your Quick Guide:

Arrange your camping permits here. Reserve your kayaks through Na Pali Kayaks. Hire a taxi to get you to Haena. Arrange another taxi to pick you up from Polihale beach by 3:00pm on the day you finish. Let a few designated people know your plans. Arrange all your gear: packing list here. Paddle down the coast from Haena, and enjoy your trip.

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