Epic Kauai Hikes

The stars were aligned in perfect formation for me when The Kauai Adventure Club announced a hike beyond Mahaulepu Beach to Kipu Kai. Of all the epic Kauai hikes, this is a trek beyond the well traveled scenic south shore trail and it was held on a week day when most responsible people are working. The Kauai Adventure Club is a group of residents who have an affinity for hiking and Aloha and the members today ranged from 13 to 60 years young.

The start to the Mahaulepu trail

The Stalwart Members of the Kauai Adventure Club

Shipwrecks beach, adjacent to the Grand Hyatt Kauai, is a convenient starting point. There is ample parking, clean restrooms and water, all important elements to a great Kauai hike. It’s also an opportunity to meetup, share an introduction which is usually framed like, ‘Oh I have seen you around the island for years….” Manfred, who was leading the group is a cautious guide who leaned towards the cold reality check of what the hike entailed. “Better to be honest about the trail than to gloss it over as a cake walk”, he warned.

We decided to drive to the end of the beach and begin our journey. All of us had hiked the Mahaulepu Trail on a number of occasions and if we were to include an additional three miles of albeit epic coastline views. We may smack up against the dreaded 6pm gate closure. Warning, be aware that Grove Farm Company controls the land surrounding the beach and closes the only access gate promptly at 6pm and will not reopen until 6 am. You do not want to get your car corralled for the evening, it could be a long walk back to the hotel.

Brisk trade winds greeted us when we left the shady protection of the ironwoods. The heat of the sun was hardly noticeable as cool winds pushed us along and we could see Pu’u Pihakapu in the distance. Walking along horse trails and then goat trails we pushed on each at a pace that reflected our own inner thoughts.

Hiking through the kiawe on our trek to Kipu Kai

Bushwhacking Through Kiawe and Koa Haole (Acacia) to the Kipu Kai Overlook

Hiking Trails
Horse trails are wide and well trampled, sprinkled with vegetative gifts to keep you from straying off course. Their shear weight over time pulverizes the soil creating a cushioned path ideal for walking. Goat trails however, meander in fickle paths, purposefully misleading. They course around angry shrubs that poke and slice unprotected legs. A brief deceptive sojourn that leads to nowhere, and only when the trail disappears do you realize the betrayal. I learned quickly, never trust a goat.

We stopped occasionally to adjust our bearings, take photos, and gingerly sidestep the dagger like thorns of the kiawe bush. Kiawe, or Prosopis pallida is a legume tree more commonly known as mesquite, a native of Colombia, it is considered a noxious weed through out Hawaii.

Our goal was to look down upon the seldom accessible part of the island, the seaward side of Mt. Haupu where the coastal valley known as Kipu Kai sits nestled between Lihue and Poipu. With over two miles of beach this area was privately owned by John T. Waterhouse and prior to his death in 1984 had bequeathed the area to the State of Hawaii. It is currently a working cattle ranch and Mr. Waterhouse’s bequest was that the State would leave it as a nature and wild life preserve. Its most recent claim to fame is in the recent film, The Descendants. I fielded many calls from well traveled Kauai friends who asked where on the island was that scene shot.

Atop Pu'u Pihakapu Looking Down into Kipu Kai

We reached the saddle of Pu’u Pihakapu by 12.30 and had a friendly lunch just gazing at the verdant valley with its many shades of olive green. They contrasted soothingly with the blues and aquas of the ocean against the white sand border of the beach.

It was difficult tearing ourselves away from a view that presented us with changing perspectives of Kipu Kai. Initiated by cotton like clouds pushed by trade winds. Bullying them against the mountain range blocking the suns rays that resulted in deeper shades of green in the valley at our feet.

The journey back was eventful… but more later.

Kauai hikes are a great way to spend the day. Let us know how you plan to spend your time here on the island.

About Joe Sylvester

Aloha! I have lived on Kauai for 33 years where I have worked as an Agronomist for 17 years, owned an art gallery for 11 years and own a vacation rental for 17 years in the town of Poipu. I am a former Peace Corps volunteer and have been married since 1985.
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  1. What a great hike to one special beach. Good tip about following goat trails….also long pants might be the way to go on this hike. Sounds like a fun day – when is the next group hike there?

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