About Waiahuakua Falls, Hoolea Falls, and the Na Pali Coast Waterfalls
The Na Pali Coast Waterfalls page was created to essentially showcase the less-accessible waterfalls visible primarily by water transport.
In particular with our experience, we did one of the popular Na Pali Coast Cruises as this had been on Julie’s bucket list for many years.
Indeed, this scenic coast in Kaua’i’s rugged northwestern shore combined with the Alaka’i Swamp further inland were probably the main reasons why there wasn’t a road that went all the way around the island (at least in my mind).
Perhaps that’s a good thing because Kaua’i managed to stay more like a rural and laid back “Garden Island” compared to its extremely developed and busy neighbor in the island of O’ahu.
Anyways, during our cruise, we spotted at least a half-dozen waterfalls that may have some permanence to them.
There Could Have Been More Na Pali Coast Waterfalls
There probably could have been countless more waterfalls along the Na Pali Coast, but further up the cliffs to the west of Waimea Canyon and Alaka’i Swamp were a series of irrigation ditches (including the Koke’e Ditch) built to divert water for sugar.
This took place at a time when sugar was the primary cash crop throughout Hawaii (during and shortly after the Civil War when sugar grown in the south was not accessible, and resulting trade laws made Hawaii even more favorable).
In fact, the largest landowner of Kaua’i, the Robinsons, made their fortune as sugar barrons.
They did this before leveraging their wealth to move on to other means of fortune building when sugar became less profitable as a result of the Civil War-era laws being phased out after World War II and land value became more important in Hawaii.
Come to think of it, this was not unlike what happened in East Maui where the waterfalls along the Road to Hana were robbed of their perennial flow due to EMI (East Maui Irrigation) diversion ditches siphoning water to that island’s central valley’s sugar fields.
As a result, we did spot numerous grooves and streaks where waterfalls should have dropped down the nooks of the Na Pali Coast.
What Were Some Of The Highlights Of The Na Pali Coast Waterfalls?
Of the many waterfalls that we spotted on our Na Pali Coast tour, I’d have to say the following waterfalls were the highlights…
Waiahuakua Falls – this was the waterfall flowing into a sea cave (called Waiahuakua Sea Cave) through a hole in its ceiling.
I have to believe that there aren’t many sea caves (or any cave for that matter) with this kind of characteristic, and that’s what really stood out to me about this waterfall.
On our most recent trip to Kaua’i in November 2021, we saw numerous art galleries showcasing this waterfall but looking from the inside of the cave out towards the ocean.
This was something we hadn’t noticed before on our December 2006 trip to Kaua’i when social media and the internet in general hadn’t really taken off at the time.
That said, I have to believe that Waiahuakua Falls had gained in notoriety over the years as social media tends to push people more towards ‘never-before-seen’ features to build more of that social capital.
Anyways, I believe that within-the-cave shot can only be possible with a small craft (not the catamarans they use on Na Pali Coast cruises), and under benign conditions (likely during the Dry Season in the summer).
During the Wet Season, the swells dramatically increase along the open ocean of the Na Pali Coast such that they can easily inundate the cave.
Ho’ole’a Falls – if you’re looking for that quintessential shot of the fluted cliffs of the Na Pali Coast with a beach and waterfall all in one place, then this is the waterfall that’s involved.
Basically, it sits at the far western end of Kalalau Beach, which is the destination of the famed 11-mile (22 miles round-trip) Kalalau Trail.
Finishing that hike is on my bucket list, and I might augment this write-up with my experiences if I’m fortunate enough to have the opportunity (I’ll need at least 2 days with health to do this) and the luck (very difficult to score permits) to complete it.
Unfortunately, because the Na Pali Coast faces to the northwest, as you can see in this picture taken from our cruise, morning is not the best time to view the Na Pali Coast from the ocean.
Obviously, the afternoon is best for lighting and photographs, but nothing is guaranteed with the weather and the swells, which can easily whip up towards the latter part of the day.
‘Awa’awapuhi Falls – this was the first of the more ‘permanent’ waterfalls that we saw on the Na Pali Coast when coming from around the west side.
As mentioned before, that story could have been different if irrigation ditches hadn’t robbed most of the waterfalls further to the west of their flow.
Nevertheless, its location beneath a rugged and seemingly drier part of the Na Pali Coast made it stand out to me.
This is the last of the waterfalls I’ll single out in this part of the write-up, but it certainly wasn’t the least.
How Did We Partake In A Na Pali Coast Cruise?
First of all, it’s worth noting that visits to the Na Pali Coast by water can start from the North Shore by Princeville or from the South Shore by Port Allen.
We knew that our trip took place in late November, but we also were well aware that this put us in the Wet Season, which meant we could be subject to Winter swells.
So we opted to start out of Port Allen knowing that we first had to spend probably a solid hour just getting to the Na Pali Coast.
This had the effect of us not going as far along the famed coast (we turned around somewhere west of Hanakapi’ai Beach, which is still not bad), but we were afraid of getting seasick as we anticipated bigger swells.
Had we taken off from Princeville, which was way closer to the Na Pali Coast, we might have even had the option of doing a small boat tour, which would have enabled us to explore some of the sea caves.
That said, I’ve personally witnessed the violence of the waves of Kaua’i’s North Shore in the Wet Season so rolling the dice with Princeville-based tours wasn’t really an option for us.
After paying for the booking to reserve our spot, it was pretty much a waiting game on the day of the tour to see if the conditions would allow for the tour to move forward.
This kind of uncertainty is not nice for a well-planned out itinerary, especially since most things in Hawaii require pre-booking these days.
Once we’re checked in (our check-in was at 7am on the day of the tour), it was a waiting game until about 7:30am when everyone was organized and the morning tour groups went to their respective boats.
From there, the cruise began, and it pretty much went until around 1:30pm, which was why I put the time commitment as such in the sidebar.
Our cruise included a snorkel on the calmer western side of Na Pali Coast not far north of Polihale State Park so time commitments can vary.
Granted, we’ve had better snorkeling experiences, but personally, I cared more about the scenery while Julie and Tahia cared more about the snorkeling.
The Na Pali Coast Waterfalls were spread out along the northwestern shore of Kaua’i Island. For information or inquiries about the general area as well as current conditions, you may want to try visiting the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) website.
There are several companies that do various flavors of the Na Pali Coast Boat Tours that range from large catamarans to smaller craft that can get even more intimate with the sea caves and waterfalls there.
We went with a tour that started in Port Allen, so I’ll just describe how we went there from Po’ipu.
Basically from say the Sheraton Kaua’i, we drove west about 0.6-mile to the roundabout and kept straight (2nd exit) to continue on Po’ipu Road for another 1.5 miles to the Koloa Road (State Highway 530).
We then turned left onto Hwy 530 and continued for nearly 3.5 miles to the Hwy 50 (Kaumualii Hwy), where we turned left at the light.
Then, we drove 5.5 miles on Kaumualii Hwy before turning left onto Eleele Rd, where we then drove the remaining 1/4-mile or so to the unpaved parking lot on the right for the various tour operators.
Overall, this drive took us about 30 minutes.
For geographical context, Port Allen was about 7 miles (under 15 minutes drive) east of Waimea, about 11 miles (Google says 20 minutes drive) west of Koloa / Po’ipu, 17 miles (about 30 minutes drive) west of Lihu’e, 25 miles (about 45 minutes drive) southwest of Kapa’a, and 46 miles (about 75 minutes drive) southwest of Princeville.
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