Kauai’s Napali Coast needs no introduction. The 6175-acre Napali Coast State Park, located in northwestern Kauai, is decorated with towering sea cliffs, narrow valleys, streams, and cascading waterfalls.
Napali Coast comprises five major valleys along with several other smaller ones. One of these deeply embedded valleys is Nualolo Aina; home to a now secluded ancient Hawaiian fishing village, Nualolo Kai, that is only accessible to visitors via authorized boat landing.
Nualolo Aina is an inland valley separated from Nualolo Kai and the Pacific Ocean by sheer cliffs. This area is cut off from the rest of the island by high impassible ridges, leaving no land access to this secret garden.
Being one of the most archaeologically researched sites in Hawaii, Nualolo Kai poses intriguing findings to this day. Study of Carbon Dating reveals that this small fishing village was home to an ancient Hawaiian civilization, estimated to have thrived on the island since 600 A.D.
History of Nualolo Kai
Like most early Napali residents, the people of Nualolo Kai survived mainly by fishing and cultivating taro along the fertile banks of the valley. With a large valley behind, the steep cliffs of Nu’alolo provided protection for the people who lived here.
Even today at Nualolo, you can see remnants of old taro plots on the hillside. If you notice some of the stone outcroppings to look a bit unnatural, that is because these are actually old terraces where Taro and other plants would grow.
With such a steep landscape to deal with, the ancient Nualolo people were ingenious in turning difficult terrain into the fertile growing territory. Remains of these terraces, canoe houses, and Heiaus (places of worship) are an indication that residents of Nualolo Kai lived a simple, industrious, and spiritual life.
A freshwater spring gave them the much-needed water source for farming and survival. Due to isolation, the spring has now turned brackish and restoration efforts are underway.
In those days, a rope ladder called the ‘ladder of Nualolo’ was built at Alapi point to take locals from the lower fishing area to the neighboring farming settlement on the valley above. The rope ladder has disappeared since the departure of the last of Nualolo Kai’s residents.
This ladder was also used by the locals to climb atop Mount Kamaile to celebrate the famous ‘fire-throwing ceremony’. This is a unique island tradition in which fire sticks are thrown up into the skies, towards the ocean, to mark the celebration of meaningful events.
Owing to external influences and the outbreak of western disease, the last of Nualolo Kai’s people vacated the island sometime in the 20th century, leaving behind plenty of cultural and archaeological treasures to be uncovered. The beautiful village is now frequented by caretakers and volunteering groups who are giving their best to restore its lost glory.
Nualolo Kai Today
Today, this secluded paradise on the Napali Coast is on high tourist demand for its geographic peculiarity and historic significance. Geographically speaking, Nualolo Kai resembles a narrow concave pit resting between massive a perpendicular cliff and the ocean. The base of the tapered sea cliff rests in the shape of a semi-circle with its edges kissing the ocean on either side.
The beach at the front is surrounded by a shallow reef that acts as a protective barrier against violent waves crashing onshore. This reef is a huge feeding ground for Honu (turtles) who love to eat the seaweed coming off the reef. The area is also frequently visited by Hawaiian Monk Seals, who are often seen resting on the shore.
The presence of a large barrier reef and rich marine life make Nualolo Kai one of the best snorkeling spots on the island. The 2000 ft high cliffs above water and variety of marine life below deliver a rewarding snorkeling experience in this undisturbed paradise.
In order to protect the endangered reef that is easily susceptible to damage, the Department of Land and Natural Resources has passed regulations that allow only small hard bottom inflatables to land on the shores of Nualolo Kai.
Unlike the neighboring Kalalau Valley, landing on Nualolo Kai requires a permit. The latter stands in stark contrast to its neighbor in terms of accessibility as Kayaks and camping are not allowed in the area.
Hiking Nualolo Trail
When there is no land access leading to Nualolo, the next best thing is to glance at it from the many vantage points over the Napali cliffs. One of many ancient hiking trails inside Kokee State Park, Nualolo Trail has lookouts that provide epic views of the Napali Coast and Nualolo Valley.
The trailhead is located near the Kokee campground and has a parking lot. This 7.6 mile out and back trail steadily descends through dense rainforest, eventually skirting over the narrow rims of Nualolo Valley. Epic panoramic views of the Napali coast and Nualolo Valley from the lookouts more than compensate for the strenuous uphill return hike to the trailhead.
Nualolo Loop Trail is an intersection of three hiking trails. The 3.8-mile Nualolo Trail splits into the recently reinstated Nualolo Cliff Trail on the right which then leads to the Awaawapuhi Trail. Nualolo trail hikers can either return from the final lookout or follow the longer loop trail ending at Awaawapuhi trailhead.
If you want to find out more about Nu’alolo and the rest of the wonders of the Na Pali Coast, we invite you to join us on one of our Napali boat tours. We have a variety of boats you can choose from to suit your style. People are right when they say the Napali Coast is a must-do on Kauai.
We hope to see you soon! Aloha.