Six Days, Seven Nights (or thereabouts) on Kauai, pt. 4

What a long day; but it was not yet over. Upon returning to the hotel, we geared up for a dip in the hot tub and, much to our surprise, ran into Jason from two days earlier.

“So,” I inquired, “how has filming been going?”

“Yeesh, what can I say? For the most part things went well, but we have been having some trouble with extras. One of them, who was supposed to be one of the prisoners, was just not cooperating with the director, so they finally told him to leave, but not until he returned his costume. So what did he do? He took off all his clothes and started walking off the set.”

“Completely naked?” Julia asked.

“Well, not quite. As he was heading out, one of the costume people yelled: ‘Excuse me… sir… yeah you… the boots!’ So, after that point, yes, he was completely naked.”

We had a good laugh.

“I should report to you also that Keifer Sutherland IS in the movie, playing a captured American.  It’s funny how his name never came up before.”

The conversation then moved to discussing the intricacies of surfing, a sport which he learned at young age and practiced almost daily. He had surfed in competitions before, too, but didn’t like them:

“The only thing spectators want in competitions is spills and that’s why they go out to these ridiculous locations where the waves are twenty feet high and you can never get a good ride. Most surfers don’t like those big waves and it’s not uncommon for surfers to show up and, upon seeing the waves, drop out of the competition.”

We learned that the goal of surfing, for every surfer, is to catch the ‘perfect wave,’ that is, to get on a wave and ride it through the tunnel of water right to the beach. Unfortunately, that rarely happens:

“Getting a perfect ride is so rare, that when it happens, you are mobbed by all the other surfers asking what it was like. I caught one once, while I was alone, and I tell you, when that wave is breaking in around you, and all you can see is the hole at the end, it’s an eerie feeling. There is a strange but peaceful echo, and all you have in your mind is getting out through that opening before a ton of water comes crashing in on you.”

“Wow,” I said, “that really sounds cool, but I could never learn how to surf in such a short time; I can’t snowboard and I’ve never even been on a skateboard. Of course, I guess if you grow up by the ocean, that’s all you do.”

“Yeah, pretty much,” he responded. “I certainly can’t skate and I do not know what you Canadians see in ice hockey. What a stupid sport.”

“Hey, hey, hey,” Julia interrupted, “Don’t you be dissin’ hockey. We thought surfing was stupid too until we learned what it was all about; maybe you just don’t understand the game.”

“Yeah, that’s probably true, but whenever I see it on ESPN, I can’t figure it out. No one I know gets it; it is just referred to as ‘that other playoffs opposite the NBA,’ he laughed. “As far as I’m concerned, the only reason anyone watches hockey is for the fights.”

Again we sat out in the tub until close to midnight, well past its ‘official’ closing at 10:00pm. The breeze was always cool, and acted as a soothing counterbalance to the hot water. We vowed to meet again at the tub before our trip was over, and that day loomed ever closer.

We awoke the next morning to bright sun and hot air circulating in our room, while the waterfall outside the window kept gushing.

“Whoop, whoop, gang way, gotta go!”

We went out for a hearty breakfast because we planned another trip to the North Shore and the two mile hike along Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai Beach (please don’t ask for a pronunciation). The trail started at Ke’e Beach, the furthest point we could travel heading north then west. When we arrived at Ke’e, the parking lot was considerably busier than the misty cool day from two days before, but it was a rare sunny day at the North Shore. We bought sandwiches along the way, packed our water, bug repellent (rumour had it mosquitos haunted the bush here) and cameras for the hike. The first ten minutes was up, over treacherous rocks, and hard tangled tree roots. Boy did I get winded fast.  Julia kept up a vigorous pace as I started fading back.

“Are you coming dear?” She asked, still fresh as the moment she stepped from the shower.

“Yes… hooo…. hooo… I am… hah… hah… coming right (gulp) behind you.”

“Good.” she said, turning back and dancing up the side of the cliff singing gleefully: “Gonna wash that man right outa’ my hair… de, da, de-de-de-d-de, de, da, de, de…”

I sweated and panted for breath.  My Tilley Hat was now damp and my skin glistened with perspiration. I too, must sing for strength:

“Gonna… hah… hah… wash… that… hah… hah… that man… hah… hah… ah screw it, I need a rest.”

“I… hah… hah… think we… hah… should slow down.” I called out, barely summoning enough air speak beyond a whisper.

Another lady, near the top of this first ascent was sitting on the side of the path pleading with her husband:

“You go on without me,” he said, panting heavily. “I am fine… I’ll wait here until you get back… I don’t care if it takes an hour.”

I sucked in my fatigue and trotted past the couple offering a friendly salutation:

“Lovely day, isn’t it?” Hmm… hmm… okay, they can’t see us, let’s take a breather.”

The Na Pali coast mountains stretch out to the Pacific Ocean like dozens of fingers stretching from a giant hand. We made it up the side of the first finger and perched ourselves at its tip overlooking the azure waters and white sand of Ke’e beach. It was yet another beautiful sight. Looking the other way, the second finger stretched forward past another bay and in the distance a third, forth and fifth, the colour of each successive tip a little more washed out from the humid air. We turned from the tip and headed inland, through the dense brush and started descending closer to the ocean. By the time we reached the end of the first finger, we saw a spring oozing from the rocks and dropping down a steep cliff into jungle. The rocks were wet and slick and we were extra careful walking across.

We continued across treacherous looking rocks and between dense tropical forest on our left and a cliff that dropped several hundred metres to what looked like a calm ocean, but at this height, it was difficult to judge the severity of the waves. By the time we arrived at the tip of the second finger, we noticed a wooden marker beside the path denoting one mile. Thank goodness, we were half way, but I was drenched with sweat and looking forward to our unknown destination. I hoped the trail end would live up to its billing because the air was hot and the weather was clear; it was a perfect day for hiking, but I also needed a good rest before turning back.

We hiked around the tip of the second finger and again started heading inland, this time descending steeply towards the ocean. Many fatigued hikers passed us on their way back, shirts off, drenched in sweat, and breathing heavily.

“It’s all downhill from here,” One hiker offered as his party struggled past us heading back towards Ke’e, “but you are not going to like this climb back up.”

I looked at Julia with concern, but we continued our climb down then saw a narrow beach where about a dozen people lay on alabaster coloured sand watching the waves.

“That must be where we end up.” I said.

“Oh my god, that looks incredible!” Julia replied.

I suddenly felt a second wind, transfixed by the beach that awaited, but near the base we were confronted by signs warning us of the dangerous currents ahead: there would be no swimming here. We hiked around another sharp bend and came upon a boulder strewn stream.

“How the hell do we get across this?”

A hiker emerged from the bush on the other side and danced across a series of rocks like a child playing hopscotch.

“Let’s follow him.” I said, but we soon realized that a few boulders were significant leaps and, with Julia’s length-challenged legs, felt she had to take a different route. We each made it without getting wet and on the other side of a small hill, saw the beach open before us.

We walked across a bed of rocks and noticed that the stream cut right in front of us and flowed to the ocean on the far end of the beach. We took off our boots and waded through the cold, crystalline water that parted the sand at the back of the beach. We made it and was it ever worth it.

The first thing we did was admire the surroundings. To our right, heading east, was a thick jungle and trail that hugged the side of a steep cliff. To our left, heading west, was a massive rock structure that rose straight up from the ocean. Large waves broke into a nook at the base of the rocks and exploded, heaving a blast of water into the air. Behind us was a deep green forest that rose gently up to a wall of jagged, black mountains, where ruler straight waterfalls marked the sides of the distant cliffs like vertical chalk lines on a blackboard. In front of us, the ocean, with killer waves and strong rip currents. A few brave–or stupid–people waded into the water and I expected a drowning at any minute.

Rip currents are extremely dangerous, because they carry you parallel to the beach and out to sea instead of pushing you towards shore. Surfers often get caught in rip currents but know how to react; tourists, on the other hand, panic and drown. Jason, our hot tub friend, explained that rip currents happen when too many waves start flooding a particular shore area. The water is constantly pushed forward by successive waves but will only get so high until water spills out one side. The water then flows across the beach and back out to sea, carrying whatever or whomever with it. If you have ever tried to squeegee a wet floor, much of the water you push forward ends up flowing out either side of the squeegee and back almost to where you started. This is basically the same phenomenon.

According to Jason, the way to survive a rip current is to swim gently with the current until either the force subsides or you end up where the current dissipates, which is often several hundred meters from shore. Swimming against the rip current is fruitless, only causing panic and fatigue. By waiting until the rip takes you off shore, you then know the current is pushing you back towards shore. Surfers respect rip currents and recognize them before entering the water. These idiots at Hanakapiai Beach probably never recognized the potential danger they faced.

We sat on some rocks by the edge of the beach and pulled out our sandwiches. A took a large bite just as the wind blew a swirling tornado right through us.

“Mmm, ham, cheese and grit. What do you have? Roast beef, cheese and grit.” I said glumly.

“Just pretend it’s chunky multi grain bread and not bread with miniature stones,” Julia replied.

We sat on the sand at Hanakapiai Beach for about 45 minutes. People came and went but there was never more than a couple dozen at the beach at one time. It was past noon, however, and it starting getting really hot; we dreamt about swimming in water.

“Let’s go back to Kalihiwai Beach and go for a swim.” Julia suggested.

It sounded good to me, we had vowed to return to Kalihiwai and the heat and sweat from the arduous hike made a swim very appealing.

We started back and, just like that hiker suggested an hour earlier, the first couple kilometres were absolutely brutal. My shirt was off and even though I had drenched my Tilley Hat in the stream before leaving, the cold cotton was now a warm band of sweat. An hour later, we arrived back at Ke’e and I ran from the trail opening with arms extended like a marathon runner piercing the finishing ribbon.

We jumped in the Tracker, cranked on the A/C then headed back from Ke’e, east towards Kalihiwai Beach. At Hanalei, we stopped and took a picture of Waioli Hui’ia Church, a picturesque, simple, green wooden church by the side of the road. The doors were all open so we walked in. We admired the stained glass, signed a visitor’s book and read some of the ‘events’ on the cork board. Everything about Kauai seemed to invite intimacy with the island: we felt like guests, not tourists.

We arrived back at Kalihiwai Beach and this time were determined to stay. We parked ourselves on the wide crescent of sand, about a hundred metres from anyone else and I started my ritual ‘sand chair’ dig.

“Um, can you, perhaps, make me one of those too?” Julia asked meekly.

“Ah ha! I knew it.” I gloated. “You have been a sand chair admirer all along.”

After we were comfortable in our chairs, I headed for the shallow water of the bay. It felt so good to feel the cool Pacific water on my skin. Julia soon joined me and we frolicked (swam–get your minds out of the gutter people) in the water for a half hour then sunned for the rest of the afternoon. By 5:00 we were spent and drove back to the hotel for dinner. We turned in early, still feeling fatigued from our unforgettable hike along the Kalalau Trail. Lying in bed, I was overcome with grief; we had only one more full day on Kauai, then it was back to reality. We had to make the last day special, but what could we possibly do for an encore? We debated canoeing up the Wailua River to Wailua Falls, but did not know if we would have the energy for 20 kilometres of paddling. Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, was also on our agenda, but it required another hike and didn’t know if I had the legs. After much deliberation we decided; we would seek our coveted Secret Beach.