If you’re going to Kauai, you likely know that the #1 thing to do there is see the Napali Coast. If you’re done any research at all, you probably know that tis’ not just something you can drive up and see. Kauai’s Napali Coast is so isolated and rugged that it can only be seen by air, from sea, or on foot.
On my quest to complete the Napali Coast trifecta, I knew I had to see this beauty from the water. I love being out on the water, so I was pretty excited about this boat trip. I booked with Holoholo on their Napali Snorkel Adventure out of Hanalei, which is a four-hour tour. Our tour check in was at 7:30 AM behind the Tahiti Nui restaurant in Hanalei (it took us about 45 minutes to get from Kapa’a to Hanalei at this time of day). We checked in, signed our waivers, and loaded up our gear in waterproof bags (they provide them if you don’t have your own).
There were about 24 of us on this excursion, so it took two van rides to transport us down to the loading area near the mouth of the Hanalei River but it was less than a five minute ride so it didn’t take too long. Once we were there, our group loaded on to a small boat and we ferried out to the Zodiac waiting in Hanalei Bay. A Zodiac is kind of an ocean raft/boat so the sides are soft (you can sit on the sides and hold on to a strap) but there are also plenty of seats for everybody.
The neat thing about leaving out of Hanalei (instead of Port Allen on the south side) is that as soon as you clear Hanalei Bay, you’re pretty much on the Napali Coast! As we started down the north shore, our captain pointed out Tunnels and Ke’e Beach and helped us spot the famed Kalalau Trail up above us. This stretch of Kauai is my absolute favorite because it’s so lush and green.
On the journey down the coast, the boat would slow down so we could hear our captain’s stories and have time to take pictures. The views were so stunning that I don’t think the pictures do it justice at all. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen the Napali Coast and I was still blown away by how gorgeous it is!
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The benefit of doing this trip on a Zodiac or ocean raft (as opposed to one of the big catamarans) is that you can zip in and out of sea caves! Conditions were good the day we went so we were able to go into several including one with an open ceiling.
Every single part of this trip is amazing but the highlight is probably seeing Kalalau. You can see it from an overlook at the Waimea Canyon but seeing it from the bottom makes you realize how big it really is. Kalalau beach is a beautiful beach at the end of the 11-mile hike along the Napali Coast. This hike is a two-day minimum but you can hike the first two miles on a day hike.
Our tour down the coast took almost two hours including all of our stops. We went almost all the way down to Polihale Beach before we stopped at our snorkel spot. We had 45 minutes there, which I thought was PLENTY of time. I’ve done quite a bit of snorkeling in Hawaii and the Caribbean and I really wasn’t impressed with this spot at all. I’ve done another Napali boat tour, which stopped at a different spot and I didn’t think it was all that great either. After we finished snorkeling, we had lunch on the boat (premade sandwiches, chips, cookies, and a soda) and then started the trip back to Hanalei. The trip back took about an hour but during the second half it started to rain. I was sooooo glad the rain held off during the trip down the coast, and on the way back we just kind of hunkered down and rode it out. The ride back is also into the wind so it’s much rougher. Not the perfect ending to our trip but we made the most of it and even got to hide out from the rain in a sea cave on the way back. Thankfully the rain had stopped by the time we made it back to Hanalei Bay and started the disembarkation process. We celebrated with mai tais at Tahiti Nui’s!
If you want to see the Napali Coast (and you should!) a boat tour is definitely something I recommend.
What You Should Know Before You Go
- The best time to do a boat tour down the Napali Coast is during the summer months (April to October). This is when ocean conditions are calmest. Tours are frequently cancelled during the winter months.
- When you have an option, always go out on a smaller boat. The big catamarans (although cheaper) can’t venture into the sea caves.
- Pick a tour operator that leaves out of Hanalei instead of Port Allen. When you leave out of Hanalei, your whole tour is up and down the Napali Coast. When you leave out of Port Allen, you have to sail for almost an hour before you even get to the Napali Coast, and to make it back within the four hour allotted tour time, the boats turn back at Kalalau and you don’t even get to see the entire coast.
- Tours only leave out of Hanalei during the summer months. We went in the middle of October and we were on the second to the last tour of the season.
- Put on your sunscreen before you get on the boat but wait to reapply until AFTER the snorkeling spot. Hawaii’s reef as slowly dying and it’s in large part due to their exposure to toxic sunscreens.
- If you’re prone to motion sickness, definitely take it before you get out onto the water!
- Most tour companies provide dry bags for you to use. I recommend getting a waterproof case for your phone or camera though so you can keep it out.
- These are definitely not “snorkel cruises.” Although sometimes advertised that way, this is definitely a boat tour of the Napali Coast with a (sub par) snorkeling spot thrown in.
- Bring a towel or dry clothes for the ride back. It gets pretty windy and it was nice having a long sleeve shirt to put on.
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