We’re building our list of top 5 hikes. So far positions 5 & 4 are open. At 3 is the Grand Canyon. In number 2 position is Mt Aspiring in New Zealand. And now, at numero uno is the Hanakapi’ia Falls, Kaua’i, Hawaii. Wow, this hike is beautiful. It’s short, only 4 miles out and 4 back, but those few miles took us a whopping 7 hours because of the extremely technical nature of the hike.
The hike starts up a reasonable cliff path, stepping over large boulders up to the most amazing view of the Na Pali Coast.
This is a sectional hike, you can do 2 miles with all the tourists to the beach. Then you have the choice of turning left for a further 2 miles to get to the waterfall. Or you can continue 4 miles to the next beach. And then a further 5 to the end of the trail where you get to camp on the beach. Over night or 22 miles in a day was too much for us so we opted for the 8 round trip to the waterfalls.
The second mile is just down hill. The views are spectacular but the path isn’t. It’s just mud. Slippy slide-y mud. As you approach the first beach you’re presented with an ominous warning sign. 83+ dead. Yikes.
To get the beach you have to wade across the knee deep river. It was amusing watching all the un-prepared hikers trying to keep their shoes dry. Once on the other side you’re rewarded with a cute little beach, hundreds of stone towers and scary looking cave with a skull in it.
This is where the hike really begins. We walk an hour in to the most amazing rain forest we’ve ever seen. The path (if you an call it that, it looks like a muddy old river bed) is lined with the famous walking trees (named because they walk), sheer 30 meter drops in to the dangerous river, and there’s pomegranate fruit everywhere. The whole place smells of delicious citrus, life and a hint of damp. We’re wet. Really wet. Everything in a rain forest is wet.
Out of nowhere we stumble upon bamboo groves. Whole cities of bamboo rising to the roof of the forest and often falling over and causing almost impassible obstacles. This place is amazingly beautiful.
Exiting the bamboo groves we step over / through a few tiny streams.
They’re cute in a babbling brook kinda way, and finally, we once again come to a river crossing. This is, we hope, the final time we’ll cross this river on the way out. It’s a tad deeper than the last time but still fun.
The next mile is a killer. There’s no altitude gain or loss. There’s nothing explicitly hard about it. It’s just unmarked, treacherous, muddy, and other-worldly. It’s also started to really rain. Nothing special, just more water on to our already soaked bodies.
At this point we join forces with two hapless Norwegians that are struggling. We lend them some hiking poles and cross the river an additional 2 times. This is getting silly. The water is getting faster and higher. We didn’t know this was part of the hike.
At one point we found ourselves on the edge of a cliff. It’s half a meter wide, plenty really, but covered in a slick moss and the slow drip of an old waterfall. The drop is huge. One mistake and it’s lights out. We pass without incident and get our first sighting of the falls. It’s still a bit away but wow, this thing is big.
As we march on, the terrain becomes harder. We’re now climbing hand over hand over huge, slick rocks, skirting the edge of raging waters, and all the time the rain is lightly soaking us through.
And then it happens. Out of nowhere two things happen at the same time. We arrive. The 400 meter tall water wall is right there. And the heavens open. Huge rain. The sort of rain that people spend thousands trying to recreate in the bathrooms of their McMansions. Big, wet, warm, rain; droplets the size of rotten fruit. Like all British people, we ignore it, sit on a rock and eat egg sandwiches. The Norwegians take our picture.
We’re there less than 10 minutes and that’s when we realize we might have a problem. We’re at the head of a river that needs to be crossed 4 more times. And it’s raining. That means water. That means more raging. We’re a tad concerned but what can you do? We start walking back to the car.
The first river crossing is ok. It’s no longer knee deep but it’s ok. We make it fine. The water is beginning to turn from a nice blue to a muddy red which is very worrying. Red means flood water. Red means flash floods and swollen rivers. Red means danger.
We arrive back at the cliff face and it’s no longer recognizable. What was the slow drip of an old waterfall is now an almost impassably slick, real waterfall. Joining hands with a few Russians, we group up and slowly make our way along the edge. Below, the swollen river roared and crashed.
The paths have now disappeared and been replaced with rivers. It’s unclear where we’re supposed to head, as the river flow in all directions. We roll the dice and head off along a river that’s ankle deep and rising fast. Every step is in to bright red rushing water. Every step you’re unsure if you’re going to step in a hole, on a bolder or trip on an underwater branch. Going is slow. And the water is rising. Places where we jumped from rock to rock are now river crossing in their own right. Somewhere in a Park Service Headquarters there’s a ranger laughing at the fact this is what they call a path round here.
Yes, that photo, shows the path we’re on. That’s not a river. It’s a path. In a rain forest. Where it’s now been raining for over an hour. There’s no photo’s of the next two river crossings. We were too focused on making it across. The river is now a raging, angry, red beast, waist high on most people and still rising. There’s now about 8 of us. We link arms, hold hands, and cross as one long, scared train.
As the rain gets worse, thunder joins the game. The sound of the forest is now deafening. The roar of the river, the hammering of the rain, the thunder of the storm, and thudding of what we assume are rescue helicopters. Finally, 2 miles is up and we’re back at the original crossing. It’s wider and deeper than the others, and in a shelter are 10 people just waiting it out. They estimate they’re going to be hiding out there 3 hours before the river will be safe to cross.
There’s now two dozen of us split in two groups, we once again form our train and enter the water. There’s no drama, no pictures, just 12 people trying really hard to make it through waist high, fast moving water.
And then we’re over. There’s nothing but 1 mile of uphill mud, fallen trees, crushing wind and then another mile of the same thing downhill. There’s two more river crossing that weren’t there on the way out, but they’re only calf deep.
Finally, ater 7 hours we make it back to the car. Nobody died.
Best hike ever. Period