This is my continued blog following My Journey to Kalalau: Days 1-2
Wednesday, August 28th
Dawn on the beach is a magical thing. Even though I was on the sunset side of the island, and it took a bit to see the morning sun because of my sea cliffs backdrop, watching the sky slowly get brighter with varied hues of yellow, orange, pink, blue and grey was very cool. Coming strongest from the northeastern end of the visible Na Pali coastline, the approaching rays quickly warmed the coolness of the passing night.
As I sit here on the beach, I marvel once again at how lucky I am to be here. Wow, what a place.
My first task was to clean up a bit, and what better way than to take a cool shower under the flow of a water fall from the high verdant cliffs.
When the sun began warming the sand, it was time to explore. The beach narrows as it extends further southwest along the rocky cliffs. There are a handful of caves that some campers use, one which actually makes a tunnel with two entrances. The combination of rocks, cliffs, sand and water made for a fascinating beach stroll. The last cave is full of monuments of the curious custom of rock stacking. So, naturally, I had to create my own submission to the gallery.
I was interested in seeing how far down the beach would go, and how close it would get to the next beach of Honopu. This is the beach that we have all seen pictures of and marveled at its majestic beauty, and wondered where in the world is that? The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook calls Honopu Beach "the most beautiful beach in all the islands, maybe in all the Pacific. There is none finer. Period."
So, having read that description earlier, and knowing I was going to be so close to this most beautiful beach, what do you think that made me want to do?
Well, it isn't easily accessed. The guidebook also explains that in late summer the Kalalau Beach extends to the edge of the final outcropping cliff that separates Kalalau from Honopu. From there, it can be a small distance of ocean water to the next sandy shore. If the tide is low and the waves are calm, a good swimmer can make it. Fins recommended.
I have loved to swim my whole life, spending many hours at swimming pools growing up. If I was near the beach, you can be sure I got wet. DeNeise calls me a fish - if I don't get in the water enough, my scales will start to flake off and I'll start flapping around. I love being in water! So now, I had to assess whether I felt the ocean was friendly enough and whether I was confident enough to do this. I have to admit it scared me a bit. For all my swimming, I have never swum very far out into the ocean. Stories of rip tides, sharks, jellyfish, etc, as well as the thought of simply being away from the comfort of sand under or at least close to my toes, made me hesitant.
But here's the deal: through all of my research-induced dreaming about coming to Kalalau, making it to Honopu Beach became the ultimate desire, the crowning point destination of the journey. If it seemed at all possible, I knew I had to try. The situation looked right: calm seas, great weather, no shark fins visible... oh wait. Fins. I don't have any. Hmmm. Nyahhh, who needs fins?? (me?) So I approached the water and thought, "ok, let's give it a try - test the waters and see how I feel."
Here it is, the end of Kalalau Beach - jumping off point to start and end the swim to Honopu. And, since I couldn't take a camera with me, I'm borrowing from others to show the beauty and grandeur of Honopu from the air.
Standing at the end of Kalalau Beach you cannot see the other shore. You have to get out in the water quite a way, around the outcropping cliff, before you can see Honopu Beach. So in a way, it is a test of faith - not having the destination in view until you are well committed. A little way out and the water felt comfortable, no big waves splashing up my nostrils, nothing nibbling on my toes or other body parts. Ok, so I guess I'm doing this, huh? Yeah, I am. Nervous, yet elated I swam out further, trying to keep a good clear distance between me and where the waves met the rocky cliff. Even though the waves weren't big, they did seem to have enough force to make a slam against the rocks very uncomfortable - if not worse. So, keeping away from the cliff created a greater swimming distance.
In a while I was able to see Honopu Beach, and it all felt so surreal. I'm really doing this. Swimming this distance in ocean water was definitely more challenging than if it were a pool or a calm lake. The tides both push and pull you, so the effort, though not overly tremendous, was enough to give me a good workout. About half-way there, I felt a little sting on my back, and wondered if I was having a close encounter with a jelly fish or something. I scratched and swished back where I felt it, and fortunately didn't feel it again. Now, to avoid the sharks! No, don't go there. That just ain't gonna happen!
I can't really say, but I guessed the distance was maybe about 1/4 mile as the crow flies (or should that be a white-tailed booby - don't see any crows around here!), but as the Ken swims, it was probably closer to 1/2 mile. It took me a good 10-15 minutes to get there.
And getting there - THERE - was simply awesome! Stepping out of the water, as the undertow tried to pull me back in was glorious. I felt like a castaway finally reaching shore! Honopu. I'm on Honopu Beach. Someone pinch me! But there is no one. I am here all by myself. Nary a soul to compete with the virgin sand (no other footprints but mine!), the ocean views, the sheer tall cliffs surrounding the beach, the green-clad sand dunes, the archway under the next outcropping cliff that leads to the southern portion of Honopu, the waterfall behind the sand dunes. It was all mine.
Well, at least for a while. By the time I was exploring the waterfall, I could see that others had just arrived (cheating, I might say, by hopping off a small boat that came close to shore - certainly they couldn't appreciate being there as much as I!). Well, at least there were only a few, and I still had plenty of beautiful beach all to myself. I took a dip into the cold pool of water near the falls, and caught some of it's spray, but didn't get fully immersed. This was a strong, hard-pounding waterfall. No need for a concussion before I try to make the swim back!
Then, step-sliding down the soft sand dunes, I knew it was time for some serious beach time. I hadn't yet been able to take the time to just bask and nap in the sun, on nice warm, golden sand while listening to the ocean waves come ashore. Yes. Now it was time. Zzzzzzz. Heaven. Yep.
My heavenly nap could have been just a bit more celestial had it not been for the occasional whirring of helicopters flying overhead. Of course. This is "the most beautiful beach in the Pacific" - where else do you think the helicopter tours will go? But no matter. They are entitled to see this place from their viewpoint, and I am entitled to mine. And I really like mine.
So, finally the desire to see other things today won out. It was hard leaving, because I'm pretty sure I won't be back. Who knows. But this was one glorious moment to go down in the books - or blog? Yup. Never to be forgotten. I filled my shorts pocket with some sand and small shells as a souvenir of this place, hoping it wouldn't all get washed out in the return swim. Then, walking back to the northern beach area through the arch, I found a broken half of a coconut shell with its husk still on, that had apparently washed up on shore. The perfect container for my sand. But how do I swim with it? As it turns out, holding it the right way in my hand while stroking the water actually made it to be an effective scoop. Cool. No problem.
The return swim was not as easy as the first - which wasn't really hard, but neither was it easy. If the first one was a workout, the return was almost double the effort and time. Why? Because I was swimming against the tide most of the time. I traded off using different types of swimming strokes to help me not get too tired. It was a little frustrating at times watching my location in comparison to the cliff, and not seeing a whole lot of progress for my efforts. So I just had to do a Nemo thing - "keep on swimming, swimming, swimming..." Ha!
If stepping on to Honopu Beach was glorious, finally stepping back on to Kalalau was a huge relief. Thank you, Lord, for helping me successfully accomplish this swim, and for having such a wonderful experience!
For the next little while, I walked along the Kalalau Beach, looking for some good shots and finding many. Have I ever said I love the beach? That spot where sand and water meet, that's where I love to be. I really must be part fish - I am drawn to the water.
After a bit of lunch, I decided to head out to the valley. The trail into the valley starts where the main trail meets the stream - a beautiful tropical waterway coming from the back valley mountain cliffs to the ocean. Most of the trail doesn't follow this stream closely, but ends up traversing it a few times. When not near the stream, the foliage actually appeared less tropical, almost like a forest that could be found in many places. But the further up I went, the more tropical it felt.
Heading back down the trail, I was made more aware of a bad choice I had made in hiking this trail. OK, so I know you're gonna say, "duh, that was dumb", and yes, I agree. I had chosen to not wear my hiking shoes and just wear flip flops - more comfortable and airy, but with less support and traction for a trail. Yeah, yeah, I know. Why do we do dumb things even when we know it's dumb? By the time I had made it back to my spot on the beach, my feet were fairly sore. They had already gotten a beating yesterday on the main trail, and now this.
So no more walking today. Just hang out at the beach, soak the feet in the waterfall and in the ocean water and just plain chill until sunset time. Dinner included tuna on hard bread, and a mix of the other trail foods I brought. Tonight there were more clouds on the horizon and the sunset was nice.
But the clouds soon had something else to offer. Just as I was pretty well settled in my open air bed, a few drops began to fall. Shoot. I didn't want to use the lightweight plastic "tube tent" that I brought, especially since it requires being tied on both ends to a tree or something stationary. Nothing like that here by me. Fine. So I opened up the tent and made a burrito for me and all my stuff as the sprinkles fell. Laying under the clear orange plastic, feeling rather claustrophobic, and praying that it won't turn into a heavy rain, I began to wonder at the wisdom of pursuing my sense of freedom versus a sense of preparedness. Fortunately, though, I didn't have to wonder too long. The sprinkles never became full-out rain, and it soon ended. And fortunately, though the clouds stuck around a while and looked somewhat threatening, it never rained again. Outta the burrito and back into the open!
Sleep didn't come easy for me once again, and I spent some time wrapped up in the white sheet walking down to and sitting by the shore, appearing I'm sure, as a ghost in the dark. Reflecting on the day, I had to again, with much sincerity, thank the Lord for granting me the blessing of being here, and being able to experience both physically and spiritually this part of His earth.
The sheet was actually working pretty good for me now, and so I spent a good chunk of the night rolled up only in that. More star-gazing and finally sleep.
Photos by Ken R. Young
See the rest of my journey at: My Journey to Kalalau: Days 4-6
See also: Crawler's Ledge on the Kalalau Trail