Kauai - Napali: Nualolo and Awaawawpuhi Trail
This amazing hike out to the edge of Napali Coast on Kauai, Hawaii, offers lush forests with tropical plants and unforgettable vistas. The total distance is about 10 miles with a change in altitude of 1900 feed (630 m). The weather can be unpredictable. After all, here you are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, not far from the wettest point of Earth. Even during a sunny day, clouds can form very quickly and discharge in the form of pounding rain. Shoes with a solid grip and rain gear are highly recommended.
Kokee Lodge (left) and impression near the trailhead (right)
There are two trail heads, one at Kokee Lodge (3660 feed, 1200 m) and one about one mile up the road at a parking lot (4120 feed, 1370 m). The starting point at Kokee lodge is definitely easier to find. At the end of this quite demanding hike, you will have to walk about a mile on the road and it is certainly nicer to do this downhill towards the lodge. The Nualolo section of the trail can be very steep in certain sections with drops of 30 feed or more at a 45 degree incline. Everybody we met on the tail commented that it is easier to go these steps down (from the lodge to the coast) rather than up. Hence, we concluded that it is the better choice to take the Nualolo – Awaawapuhi trial clockwise starting from Kokee Lodge with the Nualolo section of the trail loop.
Peruvian Guave: Lemon Guava (left) and Strawberry Guava (right)
Flowers and fruits of the Banana Passion Fruit or Banana Poka
The distance from the Nualolo trail head to Lolo point 2 vista is 3.8 miles (6.1 km). It starts with a narrow path through a dense trees and bushes. The trail widens after about half a mile. Moss covered fallen tree trunks on both sides of the trail add the Jurassic Parc feeling. When we hiked in June, the air was filled with the sweet scent of Peruvian Guava (Psidium cattleianum or waiawi in Hawaiian). The fruits were littered all over the trail. The red variety is called strawberry while the yellow fruits are known as lemon guava. The plant is native in Brazil, forms very dense stands that prevent regrowth of native species. As such, Peruvian Guava is highly invasive in Hawaii. The beginning of the Nualolo trail has certainly been completely overtaken by this plant. Occasionally, banana passion fruits can be spotted. In Hawaii, the fruit is called banana poka. The plant is also native to South America, it can be found in the Andean valleys of Peru.
Wide open spaces and flowers about 1 mile into the hike
After about 1 mile, the scenery changes, at times the dense forest gives way to open spaces inhabited by ferns and beautiful flowers. Soon the first rim of the Nualolo valley is reached. The trail now follows a ridge. After about 2,5 miles, you will reach a spot which looks like a fork. Don’t assume that the path to the right is the Nualolo cliff trail, the path gets lost after about hundred yards in the bushes.
Nihau (left) and Lolo point 2 in the distance
From here, it is still over one mile to the Lolo point 2 and the most scenic and strenuous part of the hike is still ahead. Soon you will see the ocean and Nihau Island to the right. In the distance you can see a plateau made of the red dirt which Kauai is famous for. This is your destination, Lolo point 2. Soon, the trail resembles a dry creek that is cut several feed into the ground. In places, the slope is extremely steep. Switchbacks provide some relieve. Finally, you reach the sign for the Nualolo cliff trail. From here, it is only a few hundred yards to the end of he trail.
In certain spots, the trail resembles a dry creek (left). Trail end at Lolo Point 2 (right)
The view from Lolo point 2 is absolutely breathtaking. You can see the famous Napali coastline from a birds view. Over 2200 feed (730 m) below is the Pacific Ocean and Nualolo valley. Occasionally, helicopters fly overhead only to scoop down into the valley. Congratulations are in order, you just saved several hundred dollars on a helicopter ride to enjoy this spectacular view.
Vistas from Lolo point 2.
The hike back first leads to the Nualolo cliff trail sign:
As the name suggest, this trail leads long the cliff high above Nualolo valley. The views are stunning and the character of the trail changes from what feels like tropical forest to dry grassland depending on whether you are in an exposed or sheltered area tucked away in the folds of the giant cliff.
Nualolo valley from Nualolo Cliff Trail.
You will see lots of flowers, small waterfalls and banana passion fruit pants. After 2.1 miles (3.4 km) you reach the Awaawapuhi trail. From here is less then 3 miles to the road. These final miles are going nothing but up, albeit with a reasonable incline.
View to Nualolo cliffs from Awaawapuhi trail (left) and up the mountians towards the road (right).
The forest will grow denser and finally you reach stands of really big and old trees. Larger numbers of banana passion fruit plants are a sure sign that you are in the vicinity of the road. When you are at the parking lot, you have reached the highest point of the hike with 4120 feed (1370 m). The final mile on the road to Kokee lodge is all gently downhill and literally a walk in the park.
View towards Nihau on the way from Kokee lodge to Waimea.