The wind was up a bit, but the whitecaps outside didn’t look too bad as we gazed into a soft midmorning sun on Thanksgiving Day. Light was bouncing off the white breakers tumbling over the reef that stretched out all along the coast before us. The afternoon before, a strong easterly blew straight onto shore as 5 kayakers shuttled boats and gear in several trips from Lihue to the put-in at a Kapa’a condo. And the easterly continued to blow steady into the night, as Alan cooked up a steak, potato, and salad dinner that we relished, amidst gear strewn around several rooms and as sounds of the ocean began to empty the mind of daily life.
The easterly was to be expected in winter, but it did cause many ponderings and discussions during the night on the best way to paddle the first and most challenging leg of the 47-mile journey that would take us to Kikiaola Harbor. Should we head south and pick our way through the reef, or should we double back north a mile to the more safe bet of the channel? The way this northeast-facing coastline arched out and back along the 13 miles we had to paddle to Nawiliwili Harbor, the way the current — no matter how mild looking — would constantly strive to beat us toward land, the measure of the swells, the wind... the aerials and maps were brought out, put away, and brought out again with the great delight of consideration that only a mere kayaker anticipating the lonely sea can enjoy.
It was only after boats were loaded the next morning and favorite lures — from pink skirts to blue and silver yozuris — were secured on fishing poles, that the merry band of 5 agreed to the channel route. Now in his territory once more, Jeff quickly caught up from launching last to muscling through the channel with childhood abandon, then heading out, out, out, determined to find the right angle where the wind and the seas would loft his boat effortlessly toward the Nawiliwili lighthouse. Tim, who with Jeff (and Chuck) had paddled this leg before in wild and windy seas, much preferred the more interesting and scenic route closer to shore. So we split into 3 and 2 — each paddler armed with a radio. We enjoyed the luxury of knowing everyone’s whereabouts even when great distances of amassing seas prevented any chance of flags being spotted.
No theory of waves or winds could master the seas that day. The buildings along shore from where we first put in slowly turned to the grassy highlands above Wailua Bay, and then trees on the shoreline barely moved by, stroke after stroke. Paddling outside, Jeff and I saw the lighthouse far ahead grow closer ever so slowly as the sun sank into the sky ahead. For 5-1/2 hours, we dug paddles into the surging waves, the kayak bows inevitably drawn landward. Any resting swept the boats quickly in, and then back out again we’d slog. The group inside zagged out from their coastal route to get around the point. In an excited moment paddling alone, Tim reeled in a nice aha which he gave back to the fish gods off Ahukini Point. The 3 eventually met the 8- to 12-footers that broke into massive spitting whitewater some 100 yards offshore, between Kamilo and Ninini Points. Joe got caught in one, “a bunch of water in the boat” we later learned, and Alan, riding the only kayak without a rudder, turned back into the wind and waves to steady the slosh so Joe could climb back in. But, at last, we all rounded Ninini Point and the surge of waves rushed us into Nawiliwili Bay. Jeff and I met up with the 3 waiting inside, and up the Nawiliwili River we paddled, a decent wind at our backs, and arrived at the idyllic backyard of Joe’s friend, Noboru. As we pulled into his private bay, Noboru and his wife and kids greeted us with cold refreshments.
Ambition had left our limbs but not our stomachs. All these miles later, it was still Thanksgiving and we had devised plans for a sumptuous feast ocean-side at a favorite restaurant down the road a piece from Noboru’s. Amidst a setting sun against the green cliffs looming above the piece of river nearby, we set up tents in the grassy backyard. Dusk began to fall, and the — ahhhh — hot showers in Noboru’s basement were a blessing. Soon, in our camping best, we trod down the dirt road a mile towards JJ’s Broiler. From the moment we passed through the door, we were treated like, well, a merry band of hungry-looking paddlers ready for a treat. A kind chef, a smiling bartendress, an attentive waiter and his nice girlfriend, all saw to it that we got a table in a choice spot, were fully lathed with drink, wonderfully fed, and even driven home. We dropped into the tents so fast that even the night’s silence was barely noticed.
A cool wind greeted our awakening the next morning. We bid mahalos and farewell to our kind host, Noboru, and kin, ducked under branches from our secluded spot, and slid into and down the river, onto the bay, then climbed up the foothill waves that had washed us into the harbor. Soon we found ourselves outside of Kawai Point and in perfect kite weather. Or was that weather for imperfect kites? All kiters, take heed: if it doesn’t stay up, maybe redo the knots on the same side of where it’s pulling wrong. It’s counter-intuitive so if it doesn’t make sense, talk to Alan and Tim, ‘cause they got plenny experience!
“Kitemares,” Tim muttered over the radio, even though he had gone some distance with it flying high, close to the Kipu Kai shoreline to check out the caves and cliffs, before the kite spiraled down. As for Joe, he knew his kite was tangled from the start and accepted my invitation to hook up to me. We sailed down the coast behind my soaring kite while a trusty rubber bike tire stretched and dangled between stern and bow with every swell and breaking wave. Joe would often end up surfing on a swell alongside me, but his skillful bracing kept our speed up and pointed in the right direction. Eventually all kites were up and running toward the Sheraton Poipu (hey, no camping spots on the point, what’s up with that?), and we caught up with trouble-free high-flying Jeff.
Soon enough, Joe unhooked from me and headed in while I roped in the kite, the low bright sun glazing into my eyes as it dropped toward the edge of the sea. Paddling in, it became clear from radio talk that everyone had landed except for Jeff and me, and we couldn’t even see each other, but were taking directions by radio from Joe. We had gone too far and had to come back through a bit of reef — suffice it to say, radios and kites may lead you towards shore but they can’t make you land!
Since we had no choice but to stay at the Sheraton because of the requirements of our chosen itinerary, we took full advantage: free Mai-Tai hour complete with sunset, dinner at the famous Brennecke’s, morning jacuzzi and water slides, then a “chef trek” to the nearby store so that Alan could properly design and prepare fresh meals for the next two nights’ camping dinners. Joe even had time to entertain some tourists with a kite-flying session on the beach. We were so eager to escape the indulgence of the resort life that we finally launched from Poipu at about 2:00 Saturday afternoon. "Too late launching!" our Kauai Coast Advisors (Chuck and Jean) would admonish us, we knew. But we had also been advised that we had several landing/camping spot options within 5 miles down the coast, not too difficult to paddle or figure out — talk about good information in dangerous hands!! So with the sun already descending on the horizon, we paddled down the coast, staying mostly close to shore to enjoy the Poipu blowhole – Spouting Horn – and to keep an eye out for our uncertain landing spot. Then an excited voice over the radio -- Tim had caught another fish, an uku , this one a keeper for the night’s meal and packed away safely in his cooler. Some kayakers put up kites to catch the rising tradewinds but too soon we were passing Nomilu Fishpond, our landmark to start looking for Loko'awa Bay and to make a choice to land. Jeff and Tim were in front and behind, checking out landings, trying to gauge camping sites — their radio messages not very confident about either one.
We finally decided on a boulder beach in a small cove with hardly any lee — it was breaking big on the right, closed out with 4-foot-plus waves exploding onto shallow boulders, and white water seemed to boil all the way across to the left. But Alan paddled slowly in on the left, bracing out of sets, and made it look easy, perfect. We all followed, landing without incident, and the long rays of the sun shone low now, soft and bright upon our faces in the late afternoon. The camping seemed unspectacular until, climbing across boulders to the right and up onto a ledge, we discovered a small grassy meadow that was flat and cozy, perfect for camping. Jeff went down to clean Tim’s fish, and the rest of us set about putting up tents and the kitchen tarp.
All too soon it was obvious that we were at the funnel end of a verdant valley, where dark clouds looming back suddenly tumbled down and pummeled us with cold, huge raindrops that went right through the skin. This spot quickly earned the moniker “Squall Meadows.” We all rushed to get rainflies on, dripping cold; once we managed that, we had a break in the rain to finish setting up the kitchen tarp, dark now settling in... flashlights, bungees, Alan’s great telescoping poles, and people all doing a dance in and around each other, now rain really began to pour down... OK, we think we’ve got it... no, OK, correct this corner, correct that side, OK, good!! Jeff came up from the beach with the uku filets….we scrambled into tents and dry clothes... got kitchen gear together under the tarp... and the rain soon broke into a pounding rhythm, with 5 kayakers happily taking refuge under the shelter.
That night we had a wonderful, Alan-inspired meal -- into bowls of miso soup were ladled steamed rice and garlic-sauteed uku filets, and every spoonful was rich and good and bore through the cold that had seeped in.
When the rain subsided periodically, the ocean’s breaking waves sounded up to us on the ledge above its crest, pulling us toward a relaxing doziness and sleep.
We awoke to winds meandering through the meadow and the waves lanquidly lapping at our deserted shoreline. All activity the next morning had to be timed to the squalls coming down from the mountain -- we kept the kitchen tarp up until the last possible moment, humping gear in the sun breaks, taking shelter during the downpours. We launched in good spirits, heading toward another uncertain point in the distance — this time, towards a spot past Port Allen about 12 miles down the coast.
Since we were well past the southern point of Kauai and in the island’s lee of the trades, we expected calm winds and seas. But outside a half mile or so, the trades were up a bit at our backs, and the 3-foot swells made this a tempting kite run. Jeff’s was up first, then Alan and Tim hit immediate success this time. My kite now joined the ranks of the tangled so Joe and I paddled the friendly seas sans wind assistance.
The coastline flattened out with red clay plains easing down to the coast and Waimea Canyon stretching up toward the sky behind. We passed Port Allen and Hanapepe Bay, and began a slow angle in with an eye towards a camping spot. Small boulder beaches - very small - dot that coastline and all needed closer inspection as paddlers checked them out one by one. Tim stopped to visit a knoll with signs of an older Hawaii and even found ancient bottles at the site.
We finally found a wide cove abutting sugar cane fields, probably in the Olokele district, and over some boulders to the right, we discovered a protected flat white rocky spit, complete with a couple of good trees for a tarp. It was pretty, too, fronted by boulders that waves lunged over into tide pools. This was unlandable so from the cove we humped gear, landing by early afternoon and with plenty of time to set up camp and a decent kitchen for Chef Alan.
The paddlers relaxed to the colors of the setting sun, orange and pink swirls in a clear sky, and dusk fell on hushed talk and laughter. Alan was already at his post, under the tarp beside the flat cooking rock he had chosen and lugged with great care.…and dinner activity was on! Between sips of favorite imbibements, we all helpfully pitched in while Tim the Sous Chef was always at the ready and then, in the light of lanterns, we feasted -- a whole chicken cooked in broth, noodles, and freshly made sushi rolls that Alan handed out one by one. The stars lit up happy bellies and content faces, and we slowly crawled into tents for our last night of wave sounds to tumble through our dreams.
On Monday morning, our fifth day out, humping gear seemed endless. Finally we launched towards our final destination of Kikiaola Harbor, a quick hop of about 5 miles. Seas were flat, winds calm, yet “twospoons” "tricky fingers" Alan was able to loft his kite — although at least one other paddler did try! — and off he sailed ahead. The coastal road came into view, houses and settlements grew in numbers, and Tim spotted the buoys marking the harbor channel — destination sighted. Paddles dipped into the water slowly and reluctantly, and gradually we reached the fringing reef outside the harbor. I had one excellent ride on a strong swell that sent me flying into the harbor’s mouth, and one by one we pulled up onto the boat ramp.
After readying boats and gear for our ride back to Young Brothers and the airport, we broke out champagne to celebrate 3 paddlers completing the circumnavigation of Kauai. As we stood sipping and grinning, a lifeguard, probably from Kauai County, set out on his fancy long-distance jet ski to head to the Na Pali Coast to rescue a couple of kayakers who were struggling in huge swells and waves.
Finally, the truck we were waiting for pulled up, and 5 boats and gear were never loaded so fast. We arrived at Young Brothers with little time to spare before closing and we got Joe off to the airport for a church-filled engagement back home. The remaining 4 paddlers couldn’t resist one more visit to JJ’s Broiler for a celebratory meal — steak sandwiches and beers all around! Even our Thanksgiving waiter was there, smiling and greeting us. A hearty late afternoon breeze broke off Nawiliwili Bay as we headed toward the airport, and the long rays of the sun disappeared into a rainy mist along the Southern coast of Kauai.