When Ronnie Sue Grover, general manager of Kauai Sea Tours, first saw Na Pali in 1987, she felt she had been transported to a dreamland.
Meet at: Kauai Sea Tours office: 4353 Waialo Road, Port Allen, Eleele, Kauai
Time: Check in at 6:15 a.m. daily from May through October, weather permitting
Cost: $135 per person, $105 for children 5 through 12. Kamaaina receive $10 off the adult rate. Price includes use of a dry bag, snorkeling gear and swim vests; continental breakfast; and a deli lunch of turkey-and-ham sandwiches, fruit, chips, cookies, soft drinks and bottled water. Veggie wraps are available with 24 hours' advance notice.
Call: 808-826-7254 or 808-335-5309 on Kauai; toll-free 800-733-7997 from the other islands
Web site: www.kauaiseatours.com
Notes: Dress in casual, comfortable clothing you won't mind getting wet. Bring a towel, camera and change of clothes. This tour is not recommended for pregnant women; the physically weak; those with heart conditions, spinal, hip, back or neck problems; and those who have recently undergone serious surgery. The captain might not allow individuals to participate if he feels their safety is an issue. Those prone to motion sickness should take appropriate medication prior to boarding. On select days from June through August, when conditions are ideal, Kauai Sea Tours offers a Combo Tour for up to 15 participants on a Na Pali cruise aboard its catamaran Lucky Lady. A raft picks adventurers up for the guided hike at Nualolo Kai, then returns them to the catamaran for the sail back to Port Allen. Call for details.
Admiring verdant mountains soaring over 3,000 feet high, waterfalls spilling down craggy cliffs to the sea and brilliant blue waves rushing up to beaches unmarred by footprints took her breath away.
"I thought, 'This is how Dorothy must've felt when she first laid eyes on Oz,'" she recalls. "Each time I've been to Na Pali, it's been a thrilling sight and never the same as the time before."
Kauai Sea Tours pumps up the adrenaline factor with its six-hour Nualolo Kai Morning Beach Land Day Raft Tour, which Grover describes as "the ultimate ocean adventure." A 24-foot, 14-passenger Willard raft brings you eye to eye with dolphins, turtles, flying fish and stingrays along the Na Pali Coast. During the winter months, humpback whales take center stage.
The rafts have custom-made Wing pontoons and Rigid Deep V hulls similar to those used by the Coast Guard and Navy Seals.
Equipped with quiet, powerful, low-emission engines, they can attain speeds of up to 30 miles per hour and glide into sea caves, under waterfalls and to other secluded nooks and crannies of Na Pali.
Although the rafts aren't moving all the time (frequent breaks are taken so you can listen to narratives by the guide and take advantage of photo opportunities), Grover points out most of the trip is on the ocean, which makes it physically demanding and advisable only for those who are fit.
"Our rafts are far superior to the old-style flat-bottom rafts," she says. "The pontoons provide more stability and a smoother ride. Because of the rafts' maneuverability and small size, guests experience an up-close encounter with nature that they wouldn't enjoy on a larger vessel. The time we spend at Nualolo Kai definitely is a highlight."
NUALOLO KAI, comprising a small beach, narrow valley and reef flat, is part of the Na Pali Archaeological District, listed on both the National and Hawaii Registers of Historic Places. It is the only place along the Na Pali Coast where commercial vessels are permitted to land, and recreational activities here are strictly controlled by the State Parks Division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
A special permit from State Parks allows Kauai Sea Tours to take 45 passengers to Nualolo Kai per day.
Visits are conducted on staggered morning landings; for example, while some participants snorkel by the reef among tangs, wrasses, triggerfish, parrotfish and other amazing marine life, no more then 15 people at a time learn about the area's history on a 30-minute cultural walking tour.
Over the past 50 years, significant archaeological finds have been made at Nualolo Kai during projects supervised by archaeologists and anthropologists from Bishop Museum, the University of Hawaii and State Parks. These include remnants of trails, heiau (temples), burial complexes, walled pools, canoe sheds, house sites and ceremonial platforms.
According to Alan Carpenter, archaeologist for the State Parks Division, Nualolo Kai was populated as early as the 1300s through the late 1800s.
"It is one of the least disturbed ancient village sites in the entire Hawaiian archipelago," Carpenter said. "One reason its cultural features have been so well preserved is that it is isolated on the leeward side of Na Pali, protected from tradewinds, rains and human intrusion by steep cliffs."
Carpenter believes Nualolo Kai was important in ancient times for public celebrations and rituals.
"The central ceremonial complex there dwarfs any other in the district and is out of scale with its small land area," he said.
In addition, the towering cliffs that surround Nualolo Kai were ideal for fireworks displays called oahi, which observed special occasions such as visits by kings and high chiefs, Carpenter said.
From a peak called Kamaile, rising 2,500 feet above Nualolo Kai, men would hurl flaming sticks of hau and papala wood that, fanned by the tradewinds, would blaze brighter and brighter as they flew down to the sea.
Because they are still being studied, not all the sites are accessible to the public. But, Carpenter said, "What's great about a raft excursion to Nualolo Kai is that it combines fun and education. It takes visitors to a place where Hawaiians actually lived, worked, played and worshipped long ago. Because of that, the impact is far greater than any exhibit they'd see in a glass case at a museum."
The nonprofit Na Pali Coast Ohana was founded by a handful of Kauai residents in 1995 to preserve the natural and cultural resources of the 6,175-acre Na Pali Coast State Park.
Within this 12-mile coastal wilderness are hundreds of cultural and archaeological features, threatened native ecosystems and many endangered species of flora and fauna.
Working with the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Ohana's members have focused in recent years on Nualolo Kai. DLNR has designated the organization as the voluntary curator for the site.
During the summer months, as part of the Nualolo Kai Archaeological Resource Management Project, work crews have been clearing invasive plants, stabilizing eroding sites and documenting archaeological features to preserve them. Plans also call for restoring damaged sites and re-establishing native and Polynesian-introduced plants.
The Ohana's efforts are supported through tax-deductible contributions. To help, write a check to Na Pali Coast Ohana and mail it to P.O. Box 452, Lihue, HI 96766. For more information, call 241-7254, e-mail
Reservations Toll Free: 800-733-7997Tel: 808-826-PALI | Fax: 808 335 3422