Saturday, January 03, 2015

Chrissie in Kaua'i

As the mercury dips down to zero, nothing beats a holiday in the tropics. My family tradition of meeting me outside Australia this year led us to Kaua'i, the garden island of the Hawaiian archipelago.

Being the active family we are, I thought that this would be a great chance to tackle the Kalalau Trail, which I had read about in an Outside magazine list of dangerous hikes. To my way of thinking, as long as it's called a hike, it really can't be that dangerous. Right?

Thanks to the wonders of flying across time zones, my family (my parents and one brother, the other having been offered elective surgery he'd been waiting for four years, a week before the trip - crappy timing!) arrived a couple of hours before they left. I arrived a day after them, so they were responsible for getting food and camp stove fuel for the hike while I was in transit. My Dad had been through scouts and, well, I guess I just assumed a few things... The food consisted of cans of baked beans, tinned tomatoes, a bunch of carrots, a head of lettuce! Not your standard dehydrated set of ingredients. I can laugh about it now.

The plan was to hike 11 miles of hilly terrain in one day, spend two nights at the idyllic Kalalau Beach, and 11 miles back on the third and final day. However we spent the first morning assembling more appropriate food, and buying fuel and a pot. By 12:30pm, we had finished lunch and were setting off.

Despite my hope that we would be able to hike twice as fast as we'd estimated, we ended up hiking exactly the speed we estimated, and arrived at the half-way point shortly before dusk. No worries - there was a nice campsite there, just before a gurgling creek that we could use as a water source.

That night, the island reminded us it is one of the wettest places on earth with a torrential downpour. Fortunately, it was over by morning. However our creek was now a raging torrent. We didn't have all day to wait for it to subside, and besides, what else could we do other than poke and prod the caged lion? My brother and I investigated the possible ways to cross, and with the help of another camper in the same dilemma, we found a 30-foot long log and hauled it along the trail to the creek-cum-river. I took the middle, holding the trunk over my shoulder in one hand, and a branch in the other. The trail was not easy to negotiate while carrying a 200 pound log, and the person at the front stumbled, causing the log to roll. This shifted all the weight of the log into my hand holding the branch, and brought my hand down below my chin. The branch suddenly snapped,  resulting in me punching myself in the face!

The log then dropped onto, and broke over, my shoulder - which resulted in just the right length log for the river - nice! Oh, and blood everywhere. Nevertheless, my family wasn't worried that I should perhaps find a hospital. Mum gave me some antiseptic to apply and words to the effect of "she'll be 'right", and my Dad offered to wipe the blood away with a muddy towel he'd found in the campsite.

The rest of the photos that I'm in include a nice facial wound. I have since grown a beard.

The crossing was still pretty hairy, but without further incident. Once across the other side we realized we could have camped over there instead - anyone planning to do the hike, take note! Others, free free to shake your head or laugh.

There is also a small detour to Hanakoa Falls, which was absolutely amazing. The source of our recently crossed river fell at least 300 feet and exploded with such fury into a pool at the bottom that the water was lashed by the wind, and we were quickly drenched by the spray. Over the centuries this has created a cone-shaped crater, the sides being covered in vegetation permanently bent down from the force of the wind.

The rest of the hike was a picturesque jaunt along the Napali Coast. The tranquility of the quiet jungle was regularly punctuated by the booming surf crashing against the cliffs below. One section winds through the middle of the cliff band, providing a two-foot wide path on a near vertical cliff that drops down into the sea. Easy in our dry conditions, but navigating that in heavy rain would likely be
treacherous. We made it to the beautiful Kalalau Beach, set up camp and cooked a well-deserved meal. Of the few things I brought from Canada, one was a dehydrated lentil mix I'd found in my camping gear, and when it tasted particularly bad even for dehydrated food, we checked the 'best before' date - 2009! Probably still beneficial though.

Despite being warned that the area has a large resident nudist hippie population, we encountered few naked locals. We did chat with a big (clothed) Hawaiian guy who eventually let on that he'd been there for 12 years. He told us about his subsistence hunter-gatherer lifestyle, shared his cache of lilikoi, but more importantly, let us know that lilikoi, the yellow fruit we'd seen along the trail, was a delicious, edible type of passionfruit. He also hovered near the life saver ring on the beach when Tim and I followed through on our plan to swim in the surf. Despite being strong swimmers and having fins on, we were tossed about by the will of the waves and current and spent little time in the water.

Bare foot Tim
Tim and I chatting with the locals gave Mum and Dad a head start. We started out walking through the muddy trail in bare feet, which metaphorically and literally allowed us to become one with nature. However it meant a more cautious gait, and when we found a note at the 6 mile mark indicating the parents had gained an hour on us, we opted for shoes. At that time we realized I'd failed to secured Tim's only pair of shoes to his pack. He ended up wearing my sandals for the rest of the hike, and holiday, and on the plane home because we decided going to the airport barefoot would not expedite his boarding.


The rest of the holiday was spent in a comparatively decadent condo Mum had organized in Poipu, on the south side of the island. Hundreds of metres from surfing and snorkelling, and more importantly, running water, a stove and hot shower! I got to feel like a pro surfer for an evening when Dad used my telephoto lens from the beach. How he had the patience to wait for me to catch any waves at all, in underwhelming surf conditions, I'll never know.

Having gotten scuba licenses in Thailand, we were equipped to do a dive by ourselves. We rented the requisite gear and aimed for Sheraton Caverns. Unfortunately Dad's tank was leaking and so he stayed behind to snorkel near shore. In hindsight, it was overly ambitious to try to swim the 800 metres at the surface in the windy, choppy conditions, and we ended up diving at a random place along the reef. Upon our return, Dad asked if we'd seen all the turtles. No, we hadn't. Oh, there must have been a dozen where I was snorkeling, he exclaimed. We returned the next day with our snorkels and sure enough, turtles everywhere, close to shore. Such majestic creatures!

Plenty more activity filled the remaining days: more surfing and snorkeling, an excellent meal at the Beach House restaurant, and Mum and Dad took a helicopter tour of the island. But the most memorable for me was my brother and I doing the Blue Hole Hike to Mount Wai'ale'ale. We parked before the dirt road recommended for 4WD vehicles only and started jogging, only to hitch a ride with a family in a minivan. The hike generally followed a creek/river bed, and by followed I mean half the time we were in the river. When we weren't doing parkour over slick rocks and boulders, or wading through the river itself, we snaked through the dense jungle, up and down sheer muddy inclines, over logs and through bogs. So incredibly fun! Despite warnings it is usually a 9 hour hike, we managed to get within spitting distance of the inner sanctum in 2.5 hours - 1000 foot emerald-green cliffs nearly surrounded us, but
 the sunny weather also meant the dozens of waterfalls were dry. By this time it was only 1.5 hours from sundown, so we turned around and hauled arse out of there to get back before darkness fell, arriving at the weir at the trail head with minutes to spare. No sign of friendly families from Utah this time, so we had to jog the five kilometres to the car, stopping only to snap a photo at the gate used in the movie Jurassic Park.

The holiday basically finished when my family left, but I still had a couple of days to kill. I went to Waimea Canyon and checked out Kalalau Beach from the cliff tops, and went to the north shore of Kaua'i for awesome, overhead surf conditions, but without the family film crew, it's just not the same...