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History of Na Pali Coast [Kaua’i]

Cliffs on the Na Pali Coast

Na Pali Coast is located on the North-west side of the island of Kaua’i. The  17-mile stretch of coastline is not connected to any roads, makes it nearly inaccessible, except by boat or helicopter. The coastline is regarded as the most beautiful portion of Hawaii, and is the number #1 must do when visiting the island.

“Na Pali” means “the cliffs” or “many cliffs” in Hawaiian. They span from from Ke’e Beach on the north shore to Polihale State Park on the west side of the island. These cliffs stretch up to 4,000 feet into the air and are second in height only to the sea cliffs of Moloka’i. Between the cliffs are deep and narrow valleys and is one of the few places in the world that fresh waterfalls that flow directly into the sea.

Millions of years of erosion lead to the formation the sea cliffs and the valleys of Na Pali. Year after year, large winter surf pounds Na Pali Coast which widens sea caves, causes landslides, and chips away at the cliffs. At the same time, freshwater from flowing streams and trade winds lead to erosion which shape the valleys. This natural processes continues to shape the coastline today.

For hundreds of years, thousands of Hawaiians inhabited almost all of the valleys on Na Pali Coast. Their communities were completely self-sustainable and farmed, fished, and traded amongst one another to survive. Once Europeans and Westerners arrived in Hawai’i, families slowly began to move out of the area. By circa 1930, none of the valleys on Na Pali Coast remained inhabited.

Beginning in the 1960’s, nature and travel magazines like National Geographic started featuring  Kalalau Valley as “The Garden of Eden.” This sparked an influx of curious “hippies” to travel to Kaua’i, seeking to settle into their own secluded society. The influx of visitors to the area eventually lead to establishing a permit system and after several years, the state decided to break up the commune and start regulating camping, hunting, and hiking along the entire Na Pali Coast.

People still come from all over the world to hike to Kalalau Valley, but they are only allowed to stay for five nights at a time. The trail that leads to the valley, commonly referred to as “The Kalalau Trail”, begins at Ke’e Beach and traverses five valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach. It is a spectacular way to see the “accessible” part of Na Pali Coast, but this adventure is not for the faint of heart; in 2008, Backpacker Magazine listed the Kalalau trail as one of America’s 10 Most Dangerous Hikes.

All of the valleys, beaches, caves and waterfalls between Kalalau Beach and Polihale State Park are inaccessible by land, which is why boating is the preferred method for viewing the coastline. Na Pali Coast boasts an incredible array of marine life. Dolphins, turtles, and tropical fish are seen on a daily basis. Monk seals, rays, or whales often make an exciting appearance.