By Anne Cyr
We had seen the famous Na Pali Coast on Kaua‘i from the sea and from the air, but it was finally time to walk upon the land.
Conrad and I were nearing the end of our stay on the island, and one activity that still needed to be checked off the list was hiking the Kalalau Trail. Well, the first mile or so, anyway — just high enough to view the spectacular cliffs of the Na Pali Coast.
No road exists to take you atop these 1,000-foot-plus precipices, whose mountain streams and waterfalls are continuously eroding the land as they make their plunging way to the sea. To truly experience this Eden, venturing onto the trail in person is essential.
The trail begins at Ke’e Beach, at the “the end of the road” on the North Shore. The approach to Ke’e is almost surreal, as the road narrows and the vegetation comes close to forming a tunnel overhead. Even the road signs are entwined with vines. When we arrived, there was plenty of room to park, a bathroom and a collection of walking sticks leaning against the sign marking the trailhead. So far so good, we thought, and with light hearts started our hike.
Even though January is supposed to be the wet season, and the North Shore is the windward side, which would make it even wetter, we had been remarkably lucky in that there was little rain during our stay.
Parts of the trail were slick and muddy, however, and we had to pick our way carefully. Being the most popular hike on the island also meant many more people were traversing it compared to our other island rambles. Everyone we encountered was friendly — mostly tourists like us. No “through hikers” on that day. Those who were coming back down assured us it was not much farther until we reached “the view.”
At the half-mile mark, we were high enough to look back on the wide stretch of Ke’e Beach with its golden sand and pounding surf. While pausing for a water break, I heard some rustling and noticed a mouse in the lush greenery by our side; even that tiny discovery delighted us, as it was one of the few mammals we had seen on the island. Humans had transported even the lowly mouse to Kaua‘i — only two mammals are truly endemic to the islands: hoary bats and Hawaiian monk seals. After a final swig of water, we hefted our walking sticks and continued up the trail.
Tantalizing glimpses of the rugged, emerald cliffs jutting into the turquoise sea became more frequent. We were moving along at a steady pace when a young man appeared on the trail above us and quickly stepped aside so we could pass. He was a local boy with short dark hair and kind eyes, long-limbed and graceful, wearing the ubiquitous flowered Hawaiian shorts and displaying a variety of tattoos. In reply to our thanks he said, “Of course.”
It was as simple as that, those two words and the way he said them, that struck us even more than the sight of the undulating Na Pali coast that was finally spread before us. It’s so hard to put into words, the meaning of “aloha ” — but that young man truly embodied it. For him, to step aside was the obvious thing to do. Call it being courteous, or respectful, or even loving, it reflects the island vibe of “we’re all in the same canoe” — we all need to look out for one another.
Were we reading too much into this kind gesture? I don’t think so. It’s the reason we fell in love with the place the moment our plane landed. And the reason we’ll be going back, as soon as we possibly can.
- Anne Cyr is a Maine resident who spent last January on Kaua‘i with her husband, Conrad. After returning home, she subscribed to For Kaua‘i, and says she and Conrad ‘devour every word when it arrives in the mail.’ She can be reached at email@example.com.