II: Waimea Canyon


During our second day in Kauai the weather was much better, so we decided to do one of two hikes that we wanted to complete, a six-mile roundtrip of Awa’awapuhi Trail. Remember the Na Pali coast from the previous day? This hike starts above Waimea Canyon, in Koke’e State Park, and travels along one of those mountainous ridges toward the coast. When you reach the end of the trail you are at an overlook just by the ocean – but thousands of feet above it. The rest of our day was spent at various overlooks in the park, with dinner in Koloa on the way back to Kapa’a. The day’s route is shown below; while it looks like a long journey, Kauai is the smallest main island of the four, and the real time deterrent was the traffic.

DayTrip2Map

Itinerary

8:00  – 1:00: Drive to and through Waimea Canyon State Park

1:00 – 5:00: Hike and Stay Koke’e (#3)

5:00 – 9:00: Hang in Koloa (#37) and drive back to Kapa’a

Waimea Canyon State Park

Waimea Canyon has several lookouts along the main drive, and we stopped at three of them. The first one, Waimea Canyon Lookout, is by far the most popular and where all of the famous pictures come from.
IMG_1584-1_edited-1Waimea Canyon is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and it’s easy to see why. While it may not be as wide or deep as the Grand Canyon, the colors are simply fantastic. We were viewing underneath a layer of clouds, but pictures of a sunny canyon show bright greens, deep reds and vibrant purples on occasion. Even if it was still cloudy, the weather was clearly much better than during our helicopter flight over the canyon.

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Waimea Canyon is absolutely beautiful under clouds, and I can’t imagine the colors you see when the sun is out.

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Waimea Canyon

Our second stop was at another overlook of Waimea Canyon and our third was at the very end of the drive (now turned in to Koke’e Drive), overlooking Kalalau Valley, another famous location on the Na Pali coast. The Na Pali coast is completely inaccessible by car, and mostly inaccessible by foot. However, at the northern end of the road is the infamous Kalalau Trail, which hikes 11 miles along the coast to the valley seen below. The Kalalau Trail was ranked as one of the 10 Most Dangerous Hikes in America, but it’s also known as one of the most mind-blowing hikes in all of Kauai. I hope to return one day to complete this hike and camp in the valley, but first I need to get on a stair master!

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Overlooking the Kalalau Valley, the end of the infamous 11-mile Kalalau Trail (22 miles round trip).

If it’s any indication of just how rugged this coast is, below is a picture at the attempt of a road along the Kalalau Valley.

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The failed attempt at a road along the Kalalau Valley.

You may also remember Mt. Wai’ale’ale from the helicopter ride, one of the wettest locations on Earth. Once again we were very near the mountain summit, which is unfortunately inaccessible as well.

Returning once again to the Mt. Wai'ale'ale area, one of the wettest locations on Earth.

Returning once again to the Mt. Wai’ale’ale area, one of the wettest locations on Earth.

After finishing at Kalalau Valley, we returned to Koke’e State Park (adjoining Waimea Canyon State Park) for a quick lunch at the lodging grounds. It’s the only place to eat in the park and our opinions of the food were at the opposite end of the spectrum. But it was a quick meal, just what we needed for our upcoming hike.

Awa’awapuhi Trail

Awa’awapuhi Trail is the trail that begins in Koke’e State Park and heads toward the coastline, ending with sprawling views of valleys and thousand-foot drop offs. Our guide book suggested hiking to the end of Awa’awapuhi Trail and using Nu’alolo Cliffs Trail to connect to Nu’alolo Trail for the hike back up. This was at least a ten-mile round trip hike, and doesn’t include the walk back to your car. We went in with the plan of only doing Awa’awapuhi Trail and back – thankfully the Nu’alolo Cliffs Trail was closed due to recent rain anyway, so we didn’t feel like we missed out.

Our trailhead, which started from Waimea Canyon and descended 1500 feet to overlook the Na Pali coast. It paralleled another similar trail, and the connecting piece was closed due to poor weather.

Our trailhead, which started from Waimea Canyon and descended 1500 feet to overlook the Na Pali coast. It paralleled another similar trail, and the connecting piece was closed due to poor weather.

The Awa’awapuhi Trail descends 1500 feet in three miles, making it strenous on the knees hiking down and making you short of breath hiking up. The majority of the hike is through dense wooded forest though, shielding you from harsh sunlight and keeping you cool.

A huge, colorful mushroom we saw on the way down to the coast.

A huge, colorful mushroom we saw on the way down to the coast.

At times, we were walking along a two-foot wide trail with drop offs to either side. This was only noticeable if you really looked, since we were still surrounded by trees and brush. If you lost your footing you weren’t going anywhere, but the trail remained interesting at all times.

The trail varied as we descended lower, but sweeping views were hidden until the very end.

At the end of the trail you're left standing in between two valleys of impossibly steep cliffs, thousands of feet tall.

At the end of the trail you’re left standing in between two valleys of impossibly steep cliffs, thousands of feet tall.

The end of the trail was absolutely worth the pain in our knees. Below is one view from the lookout, over Awa’awapuhi Valley. The rock is insanely crumbly here, and walking past the signs is extremely dangerous. Before coming I had seen pictures of people walking out to the edge, but once we got there and saw/felt the rock crumbling beneath our feet I was no longer interested. One wrong step and you get a couple thousand foot dirt and rock slide.

Although the level ground extends past the viewing areas, it is dangerously crumbly and could send you falling into the valley with one wrong step.

Although the level ground extends past the viewing areas, it is dangerously crumbly and could send you falling into the valley with one wrong step.

Overlooking the valley from as close as I dared to get to the edge.

Overlooking the valley from as close as I dared to get to the edge.

The other overlook was toward the ocean, and by following a hidden path to the right, we viewed Honopu Valley. It’s amazing how tall and thin these cliffs can get, but here they stand. I hadn’t heard of the hike along Honopu Valley, but this website shows incredible views I’d love to see on a return trip!

Looking over at the other valley's wall, which almost seemed to defy nature with how steep it was.

Looking over at the other Honopu Valley’s wall, which almost seemed to defy nature with how steep it was.

After taking a 20-minute break at the end of Awa’awapuhi Trail, we started the long hike back to the car. Needless to say, it was exhausting and we were both ready for a good dinner afterward. On our way out of Koke’e State Park and Waimea Canyon State Park, we stopped for one last look at Waimea Canyon Lookout and caught a surprise rainbow!

One last look at Waimea Canyon on the way out of the park, with the sun low on the horizon and a surprise rainbow diving into the canyon.

One last look at Waimea Canyon on the way out of the park, with the sun low on the horizon and a surprise rainbow diving into the canyon. With the sun so low, most of the canyon was heavily shadowed.

The last view of Waimea Canyon before departing the park. Notice the drastic color change when the sun has practically set!

The last view of Waimea Canyon before departing the park. Because the sun was so low, these pictures were taken with a longer exposure than above. Notice the drastic color change when the sun has practically set!

Hang in Koloa

After our hike, I was ready for a full plate of carbohydrates. We used the guidebook to pinpoint Italian places and settled on Pizzetta in Koloa. Koloa is historically famous for being the location of Hawaii’s first successful sugar plantation, but today it is more of a stop for the tourists staying in the resort area of Po’ipu. It was a nice quaint down with plenty of shops, most of which were already closed. However, what we came for, Pizzetta, was open and we had a phenomenal dinner there. Drinks, appetizers and pastas were all wonderful and exactly what we needed. The restaurant was probably a little nice for two hikers who smelled awful and had dirt caked on their legs, but the atmosphere was relaxing and laid-back. After the successful hike and a successful dinner, we made our way back to the hotel in Kapa’a to prepare for the next day’s adventures.

 

Next Up: Kalalau Trail

2 thoughts on “II: Waimea Canyon

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