Troop 451's Kauai Adventure
By Alex Salkever
An Arizona troop explores the rain forests and coral reefs of Hawai's Garden Isle.
On the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Scouts from Troop 451 moved in single file along a red dirt trail that snaked across an eroded volcanic ridge, thousands of feet above the island's northern Na Pali Coast.
To the right, sheer cliffs dropped off to the blue Pacific Ocean; the view to the left contained more cliffs, plus a steep ravine filled with thousands of rare, red-blossomed ohia trees.
The scene was a beautiful photograph waiting to be taken, and the hikers reached for their cameras. Well, maybe not everyone, and especially not assistant Scoutmaster Keith Kingston, who was trying to avoid looking down at the seemingly bottomless drop-offs on both sides of the trail.
"Don't get too close to the sides!" he cautioned. "And if you fall, fall on the side with the softer landing."
The Scouts from Mesa, Ariz., in the Grand Canyon Council, chuckled as they snapped their pictures. "Do you think Mr. Kingston is afraid of heights?" deadpanned Scout Doug Toperzer.
Fortunately for those who were uneasy trekking on trails flanked by thousand-foot drop-offs, Troop 451's 10-day visit covered the Garden Isle of Hawaii from top to bottom.
The 37 Scouts and 15 leaders not only hiked along cliff-top vistas on the island's western end, but they also snorkeled near shy moray eels in the coral reefs of Haena on the North Shore, saw waterfalls plummeting to the floor of a rain forest, biked along the coastline, visited a sacred hula school, and feasted at a traditional luau.
Into the rain forest
The trek along the ridge above the Na Pali Coast was just the first part of the day's hike on a route known as the Awaawapuhi-Nualolo Loop. The trail system starts at elevations just below 3,000 feet, wanders along the ridge overlooking the ocean and coast, plunges into the rain forest, and then swings back for a steep ascent to the trailhead.
The hike began in the parking lot of Kokee State Park in the island's western uplands. The Scouts had slept at the nearby Aloha Council's Camp Alan Faye (their base for the first half of the trip), and many were shaking off the effects of the previous day's trek - an 11-mile slog through the Alakai Swamp.
The swamp, a vast rain forest bog set in the bowl of an extinct volcano, is often compared to Degobah, home planet of Jedi Master Yoda in the movie "The Empire Strikes Back." Soaking up as much as 500 inches of rain each year, this part of the island is considered to be "the world's wettest spot."
"I did this hike back in 1991," said Kingston, as he divided the Scouts and adults into two hiking groups. "Going down is no problem. It's coming back up that's the hard part."
The trail's swift downward leg passed huge groves of ohias (a native Hawaiian tree and slow-growing relative of the myrtle). The hikers entered the jungle, where the surrounding vegetation was dripping wet and a musty smell permeated the air.
Then the trail disappeared.
"We probably took a wrong turn," said Kingston, as the path faded into a crumbling stretch of cliffs. "The trail must be around here somewhere."
Moments later the Scouts relocated the route, just a few feet up the slope from the false trail (which was probably a path used by wild boars, common in the jungles of Kauai).
Back on track, the Scouts trekked through rain clouds and under tall, spindly guava trees. As they passed the seven-mile marker, however, their legs were turning to jelly and they had squeezed their water bottles dry. A few miles later, everyone staggered to the trailhead, muddy but unbowed.
Heading out to sea
The next day, the troop gladly traded its hiking boots for swimsuits and snorkeling masks. Hopping aboard high-speed boats, the Scouts set out to see Na Pali at sea level.
Along the way to the snorkeling spots, they observed the tiny island of Niihau to the west and, toward shore, Kauai's bone-dry West Coast, with rows of green sugarcane fields beyond.
The boats also passed several of the Na Pali's many "hanging valleys." Created where streams have not yet carved a path all the way to the ocean, these valleys appear to hang in thin air, suspended on the cliffs above the ocean.
While the two larger boats anchored at the snorkeling site, a group of older Scouts and parents who made the trip in a 26-foot inflatable Zodiak craft continued down the coast.
Their raft had provided a faster, but bouncier (and wetter), ride. "The ocean swells were the biggest coming out of the harbor," reported Scout Jay Abbott. "We really had to hold on tight."
They stopped at Nualolo Kai, a small valley that is the site of a restricted state park that includes excavated remains of an old fishing village.
Photographer Sabra Kauka, who is a native Hawaiian and had helped excavate and document the site, gave an impromptu lecture on the village. She described its life style, how plants were used, and what the buildings were like. As part of the effort to maintain the site in its original state, the Scouts joined with Kauka in removing coconuts and other nonnative foliage that had been brought to the valley in more recent years.
"I had never been to a place like that; it felt like walking through history," observed Jay Abbott. "The fact that it was 200 or 300 years old and still there was amazing."
The Scouts had experienced the Na Pali Coast from above and from the ocean. The only perspective left was a hike along the coast.
This meant trekking part of the Kalalau Trail, a route once used by native Hawaiians to reach their villages in the valleys. The full 11-mile trail is difficult; in some sections the path is less than a meter wide, and footing can be treacherous in wet weather.
Troop 451 opted for the milder two-mile section, from the trailhead to Hanakapiai Valley. Even then, the experience of hiking the Kalalau Trail would be the highlight of the trip.
Laundry and a luau
But first, a few days of rest were in order. Troop 451 bid farewell to the eucalyptus groves of Camp Alan Faye and settled into an oceanfront campsite at Haena Beach Park on the North Shore. They got some laundry done - shelling out $90 in quarters in the process.
One night the group attended an authentic Hawaiian luau - a combination cookout, songfest, and dance performance. They tasted local foods like poi (paste made from taro, a tuber related to potatoes) and kalua pig (a whole pig cooked in an underground, rock-heated oven). The roasted pig got a thumbs-up, but the poi was a bit harder to stomach.
"I had never had anything like poi; it was like tasteless gray paste," observed Doug Toperzer. "I was one of the only ones who actually liked it."
Visiting an ancient hula school
On the next to last day of the trip, the Scouts set out on their Kalalau Trail hike. The steep path led to an ancient hula halau (hula school), and photographer Sabra Kauka told them about the history of the sacred place.
Her account struck a chord among the Scouts. "She told us how the hula students had to go barefoot and chant all the way up the trail. They had to chant loud enough so that the teacher at the top of the trail could hear them the whole way of the hike," said Sean DeRoon, who admitted that he "wouldn't have gone barefoot on that trail."
In the footsteps of the hula dancers, the troop hiked past stands of fragrant ginger, derelict banana trees, and thick groves of hala (pandanus trees).
From the halau, the troop made a steady descent alongside a rushing stream to Hanakapiai Beach. "We stopped by some pools and waterfalls as we came down," assistant Scoutmaster Kingston recalled.
He told how the arrival of a band of showers provided the troop with a rare sight, the genesis of waterfalls.
"Watching the rain in the background and the waterfalls start to trickle down the mountain was just amazing."
It was a fitting finale to a tropical journey.
Alex Salkever is a freelance writer who lives in Honolulu.
Hiking and Camping on the Na Pali Coast
Kauai's Na Pali Coast stretches for 22 rugged miles from Kele Beach in the north to Polihale State Park beach in the west. The name Na Pali simply means "The Cliffs" in the Hawaiian language, but these are no ordinary cliffs.
So rugged is the passage through them that a road could never be built to circumnavigate the island. The only way in or out of the cliff area is by air or sea.
The steep, fluted cliffs are broken up by five major valleys. Centuries ago hundreds of native Hawaiians made their homes in these valleys. They fished and grew taro. But by the end of the 19th century, the introduction of diseases and the attraction of cities elsewhere led to the valleys being abandoned.
Today the Na Pali Coast has no permanent inhabitants, although thousands of people annually hike the 11-mile Kalalau Trail along its northern portion.
The trail, which runs along jagged cliff-tops and dips into waterfall-fed valleys cut by rushing streams, is considered one of the world's most beautiful.
Troop 451 hiked the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail, the only portion that does not require a state permit. Due to the fragile nature of the Na Pali Coast and the valleys along it, the state of Hawaii stringently restricts camping.
For a map of the 11-mile Kalalau Trail (which is rated "difficult") and information on camping permits, contact the Division of State Parks at (808) 274-3445. For a map of all the trails on Kauai, contact the Division of Forestry and Wildlife at (808) 274-3433.
Ten Days in Paradise for $750
This was a return trip to the Garden Isle for Troop 451 of Arizona's Grand Canyon Council.
"We first visited Kauai in 1991," said Assistant Scoutmaster Keith Kingston. "That helped us a lot in planning this trip. We got to know the Scouting district executive, and he gave us lots of contacts for where to stay and what to do on the island."
Planning for last summer's high adventure began two years in advance.
"We organized plenty of money-earning opportunities," said Kingston. "They included weekly car washes, collecting aluminum cans, concession sales at a basketball tournament, and spaghetti dinners."
Proceeds from the money-earning projects were shared by the Scouts who then paid $750 for the 10-day trip. The fee included round-trip airfare from Phoenix and all meals.
May-June 1999 Table of Contents
Copyright © 1999 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.
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