Seeking Kauai’s Green Flash
Spinner dolphins bumped the side of the zodiac as Kalalau’s white sand beach came into view. With my hand stretched out over the side one slick dolphin slid through my fingers, splashing water into the raft.
Sharp jagged cliffs that were shaped by millions of years of erosion, raised claw like, from the sea. Incredible greens, scarred with red lava soil streaks, contrasted against the awesome blues of ocean and cloudless sky.
There were five us in the zodiac heading toward the beach with powerful ocean swells lifting us then dropping the raft into troughs several feet deep abruptly raising again throwing off everyone’s equilibrium. We squatted lower in the raft, hanging onto straps trying to stabilize ourselves.
Napali Coast panorama
Like Hawaiians of ancient times a dozen sun tanned campers ran out of the jungle half naked, waving and cheering down to the ocean’s edge. This wilderness fantasy had begun.
Because of the swells we were told by the captain we would have to swim the last thirty yards while he would surf our gear onto the beach. I quickly repacked my camera and with my heart pounding jumped over the side a little frightened and very excited by this unexpected event.
Pulling myself onto the beach I grabbed my pack from the zodiac and traversed the hot sand into the tropical heaven. People evaporated from the beach as quickly as they had come out to greet us retreating into the vegetation canopy for shade relief.
Unable to find a private location to pitch my tent I walked out along the beach along the headwall. Under an eroded overhang I found a protected area high enough so that the next tide wouldn’t swamp the site nor would falling rocks bonk me on the head during the night. I set up camp.
Roaring ocean waves crashing on the sand seized my attention. I couldn’t hear anything else. The humid air curled my hair and the hot mid afternoon sun was like a focused lens baking my skin.
The only shade was my tent and being a bit over heated, salty and covered with ever clinging sand, I crawled in leaving both ends open to suck up the trade winds that swirled alongside the cliffs.
Not realizing it I slipped into unconsciousness and awoke an hour later refreshed and ready to do some exploring.
Unless you are touring via helicopter there are only two ways to experience the Na Pali coast of Kauai. The easiest is by boat the way I came to Kalalau Beach. The other was the way I wanted to leave and that was to hike the 11 mile coastline trail.
The late afternoon air was cooler. I photographed the shoreline including two sea caves before heading up the valley. Ho’ole’a falls is at the west end of the beach. Its’ cool water was refreshing. I dipped into a cool pool to clean off the salt and sand before climbing to the falls.
Already the pounding surf was muffled by laughter and the splashing waterfall. A young couple playfully showered in the falling waters. They asked me to photograph them. In the viewfinder I noticed the deep tanned female had big feet for such a small woman. We shared a sip of wine and I moved on.
Most people camp in the jungle at the entrance of the valley. Over the years spaces were cleared under Java Plum and kukui trees. Many trees are covered with passion fruit and a morning glory type vine called koali ‘awa. The jungle setting provides protection from the hot sun, rain and savage wind that can blow stinging sand at the beach.
A hundred yards inland you are surrounded by Papaya and Noni trees. The trail climbed up a red dirt streaked hill and into a shaded Milo tree grove. The thick vegetation set a magnificent tropical atmosphere as I hiked, “up valley”, toward Big Pool, an unspoiled fresh water sanctuary.
From Kalalau stream the pool is two miles makua, toward the mountains. Heavy vegetation continued as I passed several rock walls and terraces that once were used for agriculture by native Hawaiians.
Serenity filled the jungle. My heated breath, a few song birds and the rushing stream were the only sounds on my solitary venture.
Reaching Big Pool I felt fried. I striped and waded into the cool, clear waters. What a relief it was to my sun baked sweaty body.
I thought of the many books I had read about the tropics including Hawaii and Typee. I relaxed, drifting, fantasizing my life as a character having jumped a trade schooner and made his way to some lost village in this ideal paradise setting.
Lost in thought a sudden crack in the trees startled me. A feral goat circled the pool keeping a safe distance. I assumed it wanted to get at the water and acquiesced to its wishes.
The scent of wild guava filled the air on the hike back down the valley. One of the most beautiful vistas in the world opened through the forest as I hit the shoreline.
Relaxing at trails end
Sheer volcanic cliffs fell 700 feet and more into the frothy blue ocean and jungle greens so intense it almost hurt my eyes. At the red hill I lay down on what I thought to be an ancient heiau or temple site to view the sunset. I was simply awe struck.
People at the beach were gathering for the evening ritual. Evening winds had calmed but the sea echoed like thunder rolling in from the mountains. As the bright orange sun dipped below the horizon a momentary green flash erupted from the ocean froth ending a spectacular day.
A green flash is an atmospheric phenomenon where the sunlight is refracted like a prism when the sun sets. This mirage magnifies the green spectrum. The bright green flash itself can last anywhere from a fraction of a second to several seconds in length. It was something I’ll never forget.
There were cheers and drumming at the beach. A few hula dancers around the campfires and lots of laughter added to the magic of the sultry evening.
A crescent moon and shimmering stars danced across the Pacific. With the black of night there was the constant timing of waves. It penetrated my being like a meditative mantra. This soul was at peace with the world.
My camping permit allowed me only two nights in this wilderness area. Sunrise was clear but when I prepared to cross Kalalau stream the once passive waters were roaring to a depth above my waist. Dark ominous clouds poured rained up country making the stream impassable.
I spent the morning lost in thought absorbing the power of the Palis. Leaving on the zodiac that brought in the next set of travelers was a bit distressing. Why would anyone want to leave?
Today, dynamic photographs adorn my walls and thoughts of this Polynesian paradise linger with my spirit. I can still smell the tropical scents and feel the essence of the wild Na Pali coast of Kauai.
All photographs used in this entry are copyrighted by Wayne Scherr, 2009, All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in any manner is prohibited without the written permission of Wayne Scherr, Range of Vision Photos. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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