Hui Wa'a Kaukahi

The Whim of Na Pali

by Kevin Ching

Map of Kauai showing area of storyAfter four days of wonder and fun in Kalalau, it was time to paddle to Milolii. The first group had an 8:30 launch time, with the others to follow a little later. The tradewinds were still blowing 15 to 30 mph, at "small craft advisory" levels, as it had throughout most of the four days. The night before, you could hear the tradewind swell pounding Kalalau Beach like concussion bombs in a shoreline assault; "SSSShhhhhBoooommmm!" was the call of the ocean all night, challenging us to not think about the approaching launch. But the time had finally arrived - would we all make it through the 4-foot faces when it was our turn to launch?

The first to launch was Chris and Melanie. Charlie was on the front of the Zest, Doug was on the right and I was on the left. The pounding seemed to take a short hiatus and Charlie gave the signal to launch. Off we went towards the shore, Melanie in the front seat and Chris in the back helping with the launch. Just as the Zest hit the water a big shore break rose as Melanie started paddling hard. Chris jumped in the back seat, but the swell caused the kayak to rock back and forth, throwing Chris off, Melanie not knowing what was going on, continued to paddle for dear life, leaving Chris on the shore with us. She eventually looked back and saw her paddling partner waving frantically from the shore. Chris finally swam out to Melanie patiently waiting out beyond the impact zone. The next was Marty and Bim, and their launch was not any easier, Bim broke his paddle while launching through the impact zone. Doug was next, and I followed. Just outside of the impact zone, I waited for a few minutes to check if there were any more intrepid paddlers. None were seen, and the swells were 3 to 4 feet and starting to break causing an unsettling sensation. It finally seemed that no one else was going to follow, and off we  paddled  towards Milolii.

The caves at the west end of Kalalau which were exposed and sandy just two short years ago were now being pounded by the swells, sending up 20 foot plumes. Honopu was awash in white water, and as I paddled past, the open-top "Cathedral Cave" or Pu'u Opu was out of the question due to the unusually rough water. The ocean did not calm down until we turned the corner at Makuaiki Point, but still it was unusually rough. Turning into Milolii was such a contrast to Kalalau as the ankle-slappers made for a calm landing. There on the beach were Chris and Melanie waiting for all of us to land. Before long, Tim joined them as they all launched again for an early take-out at Polihale.

Milolii was very pleasant, as the climate there is usually hot and humid, but it was actually very comfortable in the partially blocked trade winds. The following morning Charlie, Doug and I set out, back to P'uu Opu . Hoping to avoid the small craft advisories, we set out early in the morning. Along the way we noticed the ocean was considerably calmer than the day before - and here comes Dan and Keith. They had just explored the cave and said it was possible to enter the puka . After fighting uphill against the swells and the wind, we made it to P'uu Opu and enjoyed the cave for a few minutes. Soon we were on our way to Nualolo Kai to examine ancient Hawaiian architecture.

The short stay in Milolii became more meaningful when you realize that this may be the last year that kayakers will be allowed to camp there. The State has sent out a trial balloon that they will be closing Milolii due to budgetary reasons. For all kayakers, this will mean one more loss in our paddling rights and I encourage you to sign a petition against the act. *

The next day we all paddled out of Milolii, anticipating “The Big P” - Polihale Beach, the most feared landing on the Na Pali coast. The winds were down a notch, but as we turned the corner they were still following us. The water was so calm we were able to paddle just a few feet from the rocky shore. The first big caves were exposed in the low tide as Lee and I inched into the grooves in the coral to get to the shallow inside. The next cave was a partially blocked home to a flock of 'Iwa birds. A large rock pile had collapsed from the cliffs above making an interesting entrance to the deeper sea cave. A few yards down the coast were two huge slabs of basalt that appear to have slid down the cliff and now protrude vertically on the lava shelf below. Then came Polihale and another pleasant surprise, the beach was calm and smooth. Everyone landed with minimal effort.

The whim of Na Pali had given us a gift of a safe and happy landing.


*Ed's Note: In 2004, after a lot of sharp language and nasty public scrutiny, the State DLNR decided they did, after all, have the funds to build a new composting toilet at the Miloli'i campground, so the beach remains open to the public for camping. However, perhaps only coincidentally, the DLNR simultaneously changed the permit application requirements (as well as fees), and it is now extremely difficult to get a camping permit for either Kalalau or Miloli'i Beaches. Ah, well, such is life.

Miloli'i is accessible only by sea.


© 2003 Hui Waa Kaukahi