Note – This article is the fourth of a five part series by Leavenworth Washington photographer Dominic Urbano on vacationing and photography on Kauai.
Day 4 – Hanakapiai Falls Hike | Taro Fields | Kilohana Plantation Luau
Photographer, Dominic Urbano, stands behind the Hanakapiai Falls after swimming under the cascade of water.
Day four of our short vacation in Kauai was slated for a hike to Hanakapiai Falls and then a luau at the Kilohana Plantation. The hike would be along the Napali (Na Pali) Coast via the world famous Kalalau trail for the first two miles and then another two miles hike up the Hanakapiai Valley. Billed as one of Kauai’s finest hikes and possibly one of the best hikes in the world.
It was our first trip to the north side of Kauai where we would also see the taro fields. We had been as far north as Secret beach which is near the Kilauaea lighthouse but this time we would be traveling to the very end of Highway 560 and trekking up the Napali Coast on the first few miles of the Kalalau trail before turning up one of the steep valleys to the Hanakapi’ai falls.
The north coast of Kaui is lush green. Traveling along highway 560 there was a sudden change in the flora just a few miles past the turn for Kilauea lighthouse. Suddenly we were in jungle. It smelled different, it looked different, it was different. This sudden change in climate and scenery is one of the wonderful things about Kauai. A tropical island that has so much variety available within short driving distances. (I can’t help but to compare Kauai to St. John island in the Caribbean. Both are beautiful places, but St. John had little variety.)
The drive along highway 56o is beautiful. If you are seeking an easy day of scenic driving, head north. Cute little towns and great vistas made the start of our day a great one.
Hanakapi’ai Falls Hike –
This hike qualifies as one in which getting to the destination is every bit as good as being there. Haakapiai falls is found four miles from the trail head. Four miles of world class views of the Napali Coast, clear tropical streams, stands of massive bamboo, native ruins, and then of course the great Haakapiai falls themselves. This is a day hike where the hiker could turn back at just about any point and still feel they have had a great experience.
The Kalalau trail along the Napal
i Coast begins where highway 560 ends. Haena park surrounds the flat area of ground where the steep cliffs of the Napali coastline begin. It is a popular destination and when we returned from our hike the parking lot was completely over-run.
The trail climbs quickly from sea level and is uneven and rocky for the first half mile or so. We were treated to beautiful views of the Napali Coast and Pacific ocean as the trail skirts along the jagged coastline before dropping back to sea level at Hanakapiai beach two miles in.
At the base of the Hanakapia valley the beach is steep and has obviously dangerous surf. The clear water of the stream from the valley makes its way through large boulders next to the beach before meeting up with the ocean. It is a beautiful spot with plenty of room for day hikers to spread out and have their lunch. From wha
e could see it was a popular destination and most people call it a day here and head back. For us this was the point where we left the Kalalau trail and headed up the valley for the two more miles to Hanakapiai falls.
At Hanakapiai Beach the clear water of the stream meet the Pacific ocean.
The trail up the valley is full of beautiful sights. It is also very primitive. Rocky and uneven I wouldn’t advise anyone with foot, knee, or hip trouble to take it on. As a landscape photographer I was hiking with my tripod over my shoulder. We met a number of hikers who claimed that I would never make it up to the falls that way as I would need both hands at times to scramble over the rocks. I made it just fine, with my tripod, but they were correct in warning that there are spots where you will likely be using your hands for balance. Also, it is not always immediately obvious what is correct path up the valley. Over the years hikers have stamped out numerous trails as they make their way up the valley. Other than having to pause a few times to look carefully and choose pathways we had no significant trouble finding our way. Ultimately it was obvious that following the stream would lead to the falls.
At one time the valley had been developed
for agriculture and the stone walls that had been built to hold terraces are still easily seen amongst the jungle. Large stands of bamboo occupy one section of the valley. Impressive to see, we found it puzzling that the bamboo seemed to be isolated to this one location. The beautiful clear water of the Hanakapiai stream was a constant. Whether it be cascading down steep sections of the valley or creating deep pools the water was consistently beautiful.
Hanakapiai Falls in the distance with a ‘fallen leaf’ floating in a small side pool.
The Hanakapiai falls are a worthwhile destination. Dropping several hundred feet down the face of a cliff these bridle veil falls hit a large deep pool like a heavy rain. I made the plunge into the pool and swam directly beneath the falls. The water was ‘refreshing’… aka borderline cold, and swimmers were not lingering. After four miles of scrambling up the valley trail it was a great
way to cool off before pausing for lunch.
Taro Fields –
As I mentioned previously the drive to the end of Highway 560 on Kauai is a worthwhile trip even if you have no plans on getting out of your car. The best of the roadside sights is the taro fields. There is a great overlook right next to the highway that gives a view out across these unique fields. It is definitely worth pulling over to the side of the road to take in this view. As you continue north the highway drops into the valley and for a short distance you will be driving right next to the water filled taro fields.
The Kauai taro fields as seen from Highway 560
Kilohana Plantation Luau –
This was my first visit to Hawaii and it seemed that taking in a genuine Hawaiian luau would be a good choice. We had asked our hotel Concierge to recommend one. “Something on the smaller end of the scale as we aren’t real big on crowds. Authentic would be nice.” We did not get either. Instead we joined about 500 other people under a massive tent structure at the Kilohana plantation for an all you can eat buffet and an obviously not so traditional Hawaiian dance show.
It was not bad. It just was not at all what we were expecting or hoping for. The atmosphere was a bit more Las Vegas than what we had come to see as casual Kauai. The food was good. The show, a mix of fast paced belly dance and modern interpretive dance, was entertaining.
The next time we visit Kauai we will skip this one.