There may be no image of Hawaii’s Garden Isle more iconic than the 27-kilometre stretch of rippling green cliffs along the island’s north shore. Kauai’s Napali Coast is a staple of postcards, travel guides and Instagram feeds everywhere. No visit to the island is complete without at least one look, but you’ll need to think beyond your rental car.
“There’s no road to get there,” said Peggy Sowl of Outfitters Kauai “You can’t see it unless you go out and do something fun.”
Here are three ways to experience this very special place.
By sea: Catamaran or kayak
A sail along the Napali Coast is not for the faint of stomach, but it is an impressive way to get a close-up view of the cliffs – and the area’s rich ocean life. It’s not unusual for dolphins to play in the wake of the boat, or for huge sea turtles to paddle slowly by. From December to May, you can add humpback whales to the list, as they come to the area to mate and give birth each winter. If you’re adventurous, hop onto the netting at the front on the catamaran for a wild ride – but hold on tight and be prepared to come away with sore elbows from bouncing and sore cheeks from laughing.
If conditions are right, those looking for a challenge can take a guided kayak tour of the coast. Be warned, though, this is a tough paddle and should not be attempted on your own. Book a tour with an experienced local company to stay safe.
By sky: Hop a chopper
Flying over the Napali cliffs gives a real sense of their impressive scale. But the best part of a helicopter tour is the chance to see the deep green valleys behind the shoreline, complete with waterfalls at practically every turn. Rainbows, too, are a common sight, including double and even triple arches best seen, of course, on cloudy days.
“I’ve flown helicopters in every state west of Mississippi,” said Paul Mateo, chief pilot at Safari Helicopters. “Places people dream about. This is the best. If I didn’t have to concentrate on what I’m doing, I’d be crying like a baby.”
By sole: Hike the Kalalau Trail
Ninety per cent of Kauai’s land is inaccessible by road, making hiking a prime activity for view-seekers across the island. Only one trail winds its way along the Napali Coast: the challenging 18-kilometre Kalalau Trail. It’s too much to hike in one day, so those dedicated enough to tackle the whole thing camp on the beach for at least one night. (Note: You’ll need a permit to hike past Hanakapiai Valley or to camp.)
Those who want to sample the trail without having to carry camping gear can explore the first three kilometres, from Kee Beach to Hanakapiai Beach. You’ll hit the first viewpoint after about half an hour of hiking. If you want support and guidance along the trail, connect with a local guide.
“All guides love showing off what we get to experience on a daily basis,” said Kelly Corbett, lead guide with Kayak Kauai, adding that guides ensure the trail is respected and minimize visitors’ impact on the land.
WestJet offers non-stop service from YVR to Lihue, Kauai’s main airport. Multiple airlines offer connecting service through Honolulu.
The writer travelled as a guest of the Kauai Visitors Bureau. A version of this article originally appeared at FlightNetwork.com.