Live, Laugh, Adventure

……and take lots of photos along the way!

Kauai’s Waimea Canyon vs Arizona’s Grand Canyon

Kauai’s Waimea Canyon has often been called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and having stood on its rim overlooking its beauty I can certainly see why.  But how does it actually compare to the real Grand Canyon in Arizona?  Well, I visited Kauai in 2010 and recently returned from a trip to the Grand Canyon so I thought I would have a go at comparing them.

Waimea Canyon (WC) is 10 miles /16km long while the Grand Canyon (GC) is 277 miles/433 km long.

WC is 3000 feet / 900 m deep compared to 5200 feet / 1600 m for GC.

WC is 1 mile / 1.6 km wide while GC is 18 miles / 28 km at its widest.

Okay, clearly GC is longer, deeper and wider but how do they compare visually?  How about I show you some photos of both canyons and let you judge?

Waimea Canyon

Grand Canyon

Which one is more spectacular?  I’ll leave that up to you.  However, I do know that both are so big and so beautiful that its very tough to make images that do them justice.  Even when I was standing beside them gazing out they somehow didn’t seem ‘real’.

Kauai: Mahaulepu Trail and Beach

The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail on Kauai’s South Shore is a striking coastal hike that takes you from the end of Shipwreck Beach along sand-dune cliffs, Kiawe trees, limestone formations and rocky bluffs and inlets to Mahaulepu Beach and beyond.  It is the last stretch of accessible coastline on the south shore that remains undeveloped.

Mahaulepu’s name (MA-HA OO-LAY-POO) comes from a legendary battle that took place in the 1300’s when Kalaunuio Hua, a Big Island ruler, tried to conquer all the islands.  Legend has it that Kukona, the 7th Alii Aimoku (King or Chief) of Kauai at that time, met the invaders on Mahaulepu Beach, led them on a merry chase inland and then conquered them when they were all tuckered out.  This gave Kauai the historical distinction as an island that was never conquered.

Hiking on the trail is fairly easy with no great elevation gains or losses and you can walk for as little or as long as you want before turning back.  The scenery is stunning.  Some of my favorite photos from the whole island were taken on this hike.

There is no shortage of interesting things to look at and photograph on this trail.  We stopped to watch a local getting into the water (spearfishing?) at a location that I wouldn’t have thought possible.  I was quite sure he was going to get pounded into the rocks by the large waves but evidently he was experienced at it.  You can see him at the base of the cliffs in the photo below.

Towards the end of the first section of bluffs on the trail there are interesting pillar formations.

We found some carvings on some of pillars but somehow I don’t think its from the ancient Hawaiians.

As you continue along the cliffs you begin to get views of the emerald green mountains which lie along the coast between Poipu and Lihue.  At the base of the mountain you can see a little bit of the Poipu Bay Golf Course.

The trail continues past the golf course to Mahaulepu Beach.  We were getting hot and thirsty so we decided to head back to Shipwreck beach and go up to the Hyatt for cold drinks (highly recommended by the way, a cold beer never tasted quite so good!).

A few days later we had the opportunity to visit some of the farther sections of the trail.  My wife had booked a horseback ride at CJM Stables (highly recommended, she had a great time) which is just beyond the golf course.  I’ve long since learned that back problems and horses don’t mix well so while she was on the ride I took my camera for a hike on the trail and beach.  It worked out well since the path taken by the trail riders comes down onto the beach so I got some shots of them there.

If you drive past the Hyatt you pass a gate and enter a dirt road.  This road takes you CJM Stables (turn off to right) and also allows you to drive down and park very close to Mahaulepu Beach.   This is a very good access point for the farther sections of trail but the road is a little rough.  There is a lot to explore in this area including Gillin’s Beach, limestone cave, the lovely Mahaulepu Beach itself and the striking area of trail beyond the beach.  Make sure you get back out past the gate before 6pm, however, since they seem to close it for the night.

The beach area is very scenic with views of sand, water and mountains broken up by very colorful green plants which seem to thrive on the sand. Not a lot of people seem to go there and at one point we had the beach all to ourselves.

I spent some time watching a local spearfisherman getting ready to go out.

Continuing past Mahaulepu Beach, there is another area of rugged coast and gorgeous views.

I didn’t have time to fully explore this area when we were there.  I’m definitely going to spend more time here the next time we visit.  If you love hiking and gorgeous coastal scenery I highly recommend this hike.

Kauai: Shipwreck Beach

Shipwreck Beach is a small beach located in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel on the South Shore of Kauai.  It has plenty of sand for relaxing in the sun and lots of great scenery to keep your eyes occupied.

The cliffs at far end of the beach are a focal point for visitors.  They are famed for the Harrison Ford and Anne Heche plunge from the cliff in ‘6 days and 7 Nights’.  Clearly some of the locals watched that movie.

The cliffs are also popular spots for weddings and photo sessions.

The steep shore break on Shipwreck Beach make it a local favorite for body surfing but result in challenging conditions for swimming. Fair warning given that the waves can slam you around pretty good on this beach if you aren’t a strong swimmer or know how to time your entrance and exit.

I watched this lady after she jumped off the cliff and then swam around to get out on the beach.  I was actually a little concerned (the former lifeguard in me) when she got caught between some rocks on shore and a large incoming wave but she got out okay.  I latter zoomed in on the photo and got quite a chuckle out of the look on her face as she watched that big incoming wave starting to pile up.

During one visit to Shipwreck Beach, my wife and I went swimming to cool off after sitting in the sun.  We were looking behind us at incoming waves to time our exit and to my delight (and my wife’s great concern) we could see the image of a green sea turtle riding the wave in.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen my wife get out of the water so fast.  We had a good laugh later about it.  That image was so cool it will remain in my mind forever.

The frequency of waves on this beach make it a good location if you are interested in shooting some longer exposure wave photos.  You will need a tripod, polarizing filter and at least a 3 stop ND filter to cut down the light enough to shoot at 1/4 to 1/2 second shutter speed required to give the waves the impression of motion.  Shoot at the lowest ISO your camera offers.

Public access to the beach is between Poipu Bay Resort Golf Course & the Hyatt.  Also, the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail starts here and is a great hike to explore the otherwise inaccessible coastline.  This is a spectacular trail and will be the subject of my next post.

Kauai: The Kalalau Trail

The  Kalalau Trail is a stunning 11 mile trail winding its way along the rugged Na Pali coast of Kauai.  National Geographic called this the ‘finest coastal hike in the world‘ and I’m certainly not going to argue with that.

Most people (like us) only hike the first 2 miles into Hanakapiai Beach.  Some folks venture a further 2 miles up to Hanakapia Falls while others continue on to hike the whole trail.

The trail starts at Ke’e Beach which is as far as you can drive on the North Shore.  The area past Ke’e Beach south west to Polihale Beach is so rugged and deeply cut by valleys and knife edged pali (cliffs) that building a road is impossible.  Arrive early if you want to park close to the trail head.

The trail is very well marked and well travelled. From the trail head you steadily climb along a trail mostly in the trees.

About half a mile in you come to the highest point between the trail head and Hanakapiai Beach, about 500 feel above sea level.  This is the first real lookout and you get a nice view down onto Ke’e Beach.

The trail winds its way along the coast sometimes traversing hillsides on switchbacks.

The views back up the valleys are stunning.

As you make your way farther along the trail the views of the Na Pali coast and its azure blue waters begin to tantalize you.

As you approach Hanakapiai Beach you begin to get a taste of what’s in store.

Rounding the corner and heading down to the beach you get some spectacular views of the beach and the Na Pali coast beyond.

Descending down to the beach there is a sign warning of the dangers of swimming here.  The currents are far too dangerous to go in the water and more than a few people have died (check out the hash marks at the bottom of the sign – I counted 82).

To get onto the beach you need to cross a stream.  When we were there it had been pretty dry and so crossing was easy but apparently it can get more challenging after its been raining.

Most people were crossing right where the trail met the stream and had to get their feet wet.  We went downstream a little ways and were able to hop from rock to rock.

Hanakapiai Beach has a wide sandy bar capturing a small pond where you splash around if you like.

For a bit of added interest check out the caves just around the corner to the left.

If you have a thirst for adventure you can continue on the trail another 9 miles, traversing 5 valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach.  I hate heights and exposure so there was no way I was continuing on past Hanakapia Beach.  Check out this youtube video for a view of some of the ‘sketchy’ sections you encounter at about mile 7 (and no that’s not me in the video):

On your way back to Ke’e Beach make sure you take in the views walking the other way.  They are just as spectacular!

Its safe to say that the Kalalau Trail was one of the highlights of our trip.  To fully enjoy it make sure you bring the proper gear and are aware of the risks:

  • Bring lots of water.  The trail is mostly open to the sun and it gets hot.  There is no where to get water on the trail and you don’t want to run out.
  • Bring food.  You will be on the trail for several hours so bring something to eat.
  • Wear appropriate footwear.  Although we did see people in flip flops I don’t think that’s a very good idea.  Runners or light trail shoes will do the trick.  Be warned though, the mud on the trail is very red and will badly stain any shoes.  I brought an old pair of light trail shoes that were ready for the garbage anyway.  Also beware that after rain the trail can get very slippery.
  • Bring a hat.  This trail is mostly open to the sun and gets very hot.
  • Don’t go swimming at the beach.  Many have tried and some have paid for it with their lives.

One final tip: Ke’e Beach makes a wonderful place to go for a swim and cool off after your hike!

More trail information:  http://www.kalalautrail.com/ or http://www.hawaii-guide.com/kauai/spot/kalalau-trail