*** Check out the first post of our trip to Kauai and read them in order! ***

We began Saturday with a quick breakfast at the condo and left at 8:40am to head north around the east side of the island. Our ultimate destination was the Kilauea Point Refuge, but we decided to stop first at Opaeka Falls since it was more or less on the route.


Opaeka Falls as seen from the viewing area.

We parked at the small parking area and then walked the short distance to a viewing area atop a bridge spanning the Wailua River. On the right side of the bridge, we could see the Opaeka Falls off in the distance. After crossing the road to the other side of the bridge and another small viewing area, we had an amazing view of the wide Wailua River making its way to the ocean. As we watched, a group of standup paddleboarders disappeared from view around a bend downstream.


The serene Waimea River meandering down to the ocean..if you look close, you can see some stand-up paddleboarders down stream.

After a few minutes, we returned to the car and got back on the road heading around the island. In the small hamlet of Kilauea, we stopped at a coffee shop and loaded up on coffee and delicious pastries (lemon bar, cinnamon roll, rum ball). A mile or so further and we arrived at the upper parking lot for the Kilauea Point Refuge.

General driver incompetence led to a minor traffic jam at the entrance to the small parking lot but Philip craftily weaved his way around and found a place to park. We walked over to the railing at the edge of the cliff and were met with an outstanding view of a steep canyon descending to the beautiful water below.


Two happy travelers enjoying our trip to Kauai.

Technically, we were not even inside the refuge yet but Betsy could have spent all day standing at this one spot watching the different types of birds. The most prominent by far were the red-footed boobies and the great frigate birds. The latter were easy to distinguish because they are quite large and boast a prominent forked tail. Rose and Robin took a quick walk down the road toward the true refuge entrance but returned soon after since it was clear that driving was the best method for getting down there.

As Rose returned, she asked Philip from a distance what he was looking at through the binoculars. He had almost shouted back, “I’m looking at boobies!” before thinking better of it. After a while at the top, we finally decided to go down into the actual refuge and returned to the car to do just that.


Two Ne Ne’s (Hawaiian geese) at the Kilauea Point Wildlife Refuge.

When we got to the lower parking lot, one of the first things we noticed were the Ne Ne birds (essentially rare Hawaiian geese) walking nearby. As geese go, these ones are fairly beautiful and have an interesting vertical stripe pattern on their necks. We also saw the burrows of young wedge-tailed shearwaters in the brush next to the lot and could see the adorable fluffball-like inhabitants nestled inside.


A young wedge-tailed shearwater in its burrow.

At the ranger’s station, we elected to buy the $20 annual National Parks pass for Betsy. It would have cost us the same price total for the four of us to enter the refuge just today anyway and the pass allows her to bring at least three guests with her for no cost.

The refuge actually has seemingly little land area and consists mainly of a narrow peninsula of land with a lighthouse at the edge. However, the peninsula has sheer cliffs down to the water on all three sides and these make a perfect nesting place for all kinds of seabirds. A small island just off the end of the peninsula also serves as a safe haven for the birds.


The Kilauea Point light house at the edge of the peninsula.

We walked out to the end of the peninsula and spent another 30 minutes or so checking out the different birds. Beyond what we mentioned already, we were also able to see both white-tailed and red-tailed tropicbirds riding the thermals along the cliffs. We kept an eye out for whales in the water below but it was the wrong season for them so we did not expect much.

By 11:30, it was time to head back around the island for our afternoon boating activity. Phil drove while everyone else ate their packed lunches and took Dramamine to prevent (hopefully) any motion sickness issues in the hours to come. We made fantastic time and got to the Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor about 30 minutes earlier than we had expected.


Even the parking areas on Kauai are beautiful. This is the Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor where we would depart for our catamaran tour.


To kill the time, we found a small patch of beach and Philip finally got a chance to eat his lunch. Robin sunned on a small section of beach there while Rose and Betsy…er…shaded. It wasn’t the finest beach we’ve seen on Kauai (super silty due to very fine sand) but certainly adequate for what we needed.

At the appropriate time, we moved over to the pavilion near the boat docks where people were gathering. While we waited for two stragglers, the captain gave us a safety briefing and a somewhat confusing monologue about our plans for the trip. We had booked a catamaran ride around the Na Pali coast with a stop along the way to snorkel. As the captain talked, he essentially said that we might stop to snorkel, we might not; we might go all the way up the coast, we might not. He would feel out the “mood of the boat” and decide at the right time.


Robin enjoying our catamaran cruise around the Na Pali coast.

Hoping that snorkeling would actually be part of our trip, we boarded the boat (minus the two people who never made it) and settled into the front bench seat for the ride out. During the journey, we talked at various times with both of the deckhands. Adam, the younger of the two, is actually from Fort Collins, Colorado (only an hour away from us), but has lived on Kauai for several years now. The other deck hand (unfortunately don’t remember his name) is a native of the island and has spent most of his life on a boat in the waters around Kauai.

It was cool to talk to them and we learned many interesting details about the scenery around us. One item of note is the island of Nihau, which sits off the west side of Kauai and is also known as the Forbidden Island. We had heard some of the details about why Nihau is generally off limits to most tourists but it was neat to hear the more personal stories from our deck hands. The older deck hand has many friends on Nihau and he was able to explain a lot about Hawaiian customs in general and the specifics of life on the Forbidden Island.

He also told us about another interesting Hawaiian custom as we passed by some white cliffs. When a king died, a single soldier had the task to scale down the cliff face and choose a spot in which to place the royal bones. This act complete, the soldier would leap to his death so that nobody living would know which bones were from the former king and thus nobody could steal them and perhaps cause harm to the king’s spirit.

This cliff is located at the westernmost point of Kauai because the Hawaiians believed that spirits travel to the west when a person dies. In fact, Hawaiians would never have an east-facing door in their home for fear of accidentally trapping a spirit inside.

Just before reaching those white cliffs on the western edge of Kauai, we passed by the Pacific Missile Firing Range, the premier Navy installation for missile and interceptor testing. Interestingly, the Navy purchased this large swath of land (a dozen or so miles of beach) for very little money because the king thought he was outsmarting the Navy. He assumed that the Navy would come for a while and then, when they left, all of the spirits would leave with them. The problem, though, is that the Navy has never left the island and they just got a great deal on some oceanfront property.

The missile range is also home to a very unique section of beach known as Barking Sands. In addition to being a refuge for seabirds, Barking Sands is also known for the auditory experience it provides. The sand granules on this particular beach are shaped as tiny, hollow spheres and when they rub together from the wind or from footsteps, they make a noise that sounds roughly like the muffled bark of a dog. We didn’t visit the beach itself on this trip (takes some planning since you need to gain access to the missile range) but we certainly will attempt it next time we are on Kauai.


The view from our catamaran as we cruised up the Na Pali coast.

After passing the missile range, we rounded a point on the island and got our first view of the famous Na Pali Coast. This is Kauai at its most magnificent with beautiful cliffs and tree-covered canyons rising dramatically from the ocean. Before long, the captain stopped the boat at the base of one of the cliffs and announced that we would indeed be snorkeling here today! Since the two of us had brought our own snorkeling gear, we grabbed some fins and were among the first in the water.


Snorkeling at the Na Pali coast.

As might be expected, the water here was much deeper than our previous beach snorkeling. We saw a lot of fish, but they weren’t as plentiful as we had hoped. After about 30 minutes, most people had made it back to the boat. Philip was about to do the same when he saw an enormous sea turtle directly below him and so he instead followed it around for a few minutes. It’s hard to explain exactly why but sea turtles are fascinating creatures to observe in the wild. We noticed the same thing when we snorkeled in Belize. Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of their ridiculous looking bodies with the incredible ease of how they move through the water that makes them so interesting.

Eventually, the turtle swam away and Philip climbed out of the water to find that lunch had been served (pre-made sandwiches and chips) and that Rose was not feeling well. It turns out that riding at the bow of the boat for the bouncy outbound journey may not have been the best decision after all. Thus, the two of us spent the remainder of the trip at the very back of the boat where the ride is the smoothest. Rose also did not talk much for the next few hours for fear of more than words coming out of her mouth if she opened it.


The Na Pali coast with rugged mountains and numerous waterfalls. You can see two in this picture (one on either side of the center ridge).

For everyone but Rose, the remainder of the journey was magnificent. We continued around the Na Pali Coast until we could see Ke’e Beach at the eastern end. The afternoon sun did not disappoint as it bathed the steep, rugged cliffs in light and we consequently took way too many pictures. We also saw a few waterfalls, including another one that was featured in Jurassic Park.

As we passed Kalalau Canyon (same canyon we had seen from above yesterday at the end of Waimea Canyon), we saw the stunning Kalalau Beach at the base. The captain explained that the only way to access the beach legally is by hiking 11 miles from Ke’e Beach down the Kalalau Trail. He also indicated that there are people on Kauai who will drop you off by boat but this is against the law. We got glimpses of the trail at various points and we have added hiking its full length to our travel bucket list.


Kalalau Beach in front of the “Cathedral” on the Na Pali Coast. The only legal way to get to this beach is to hike 11 miles, which we will certainly be doing the next time we come to Kauai!


The “Cathedral” cliffs on the Na Pali coast with the beach at the base. Kalalau Canyon is just to the left.

At the turnaround point, the captain took the boat closer into the cliffs and we stopped several times on the return journey to check out some caves. In the summer months, the water around Na Pali is much calmer and boats can actually go into the caves but that was not an option for us on this trip.


A waterfall emptying into the ocean in front of a small cave.

We did get very close to the cave openings at times and the captain even pulled the boat right next to a waterfall. As he maneuvered to exit, he slid the rear of the boat directly under the path of the waterfall…the rear of the boat where Rose was sitting. In less than a second, she was wetter than if she had fallen in the ocean. Thankfully, she was an amazing sport about it and dried off in the warm wind before too long.


One of the many caves along the base of the Na Pali coast. This one has a small waterfall cascading down in front of it, a waterfall in which Rose took an impromptu shower.

The two other highlights of the return journey were a pod of five or so dolphins that played alongside the boat for a few minutes and the delicious brownies for dessert! When we finally made it back to the dock, Rose spent a few minutes happily reacquainting herself with firm ground and then we hopped in the car to head back to the condo. We did make a quick stop at a grocery store for some more supplies and were pleasantly surprised that the prices were not as egregious as we had been warned.


The Na Pali coast bathed in evening light.

Once home, we showered and fairly quickly headed for bed. It was a very big day but we got to see virtually the entire island. Tomorrow is looking to be another big day as we are planning on a long hike to the base of a waterfall and need to get up early. Kauai has not disappointed thus far and we hope it continues to deliver for the rest of our trip!


Our path for the day. A->B (white): Driving to Opaeka Falls. B->C (white): Driving to Kilauea Point Refuge. C->C (green): Exploring the refuge. C->D (red): Driving to Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor. D->D (yellow): Riding a catamaran up and down the Na Pali coast. D->A (purple): Driving back to the condo after a long day.


  • A quick stop at Opaeka Falls
  • Bird watching at the Kilauea Point Refuge
  • A long drive around the island
  • Cruising around the Na Pali Coast on a catamaran
  • Snorkeling with a sea turtle
  • Rose and choppy seas are not friends


  • Distance on Foot: 5.93 miles| 10,119 steps
  • Distance Swimming: 0.9 miles
  • Distance in Car: 112.8 miles
  • Distance in Boat: 58.3 miles