The Na Pali Coast by Zodiac: Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.A.

The Na Pali Coast by Zodiac: Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.A.

A Raft Ride on Steroids

Flying along the Na Pali Coast of Kauai in a Zodiac is like riding a river raft on steroids. The rigid inflatable rafts, originally used by the military, are powered by large outboard motors. They bounce through the surf like a demented bronco when the sea is choppy and like a raft through Class IV rapids when it’s calm. Depending upon which craft you end up on, you will either be sitting on an inflatable seat or sitting on a pontoon holding onto strategically placed ropes. The options of ways see the island’s famed Na Pali Coast cliffs—with spectacular faces rising over 1,000 feet (300m)—are limited. The only year-round options are by helicopter ride or boat: There are no roads that tour this part of Kauai. In the summer months, you can also kayak or charter a sailboat around the northwest coast of the island. Seeing these cliffs from the waters below is an unparalleled sight—a breathtaking view that will have your heart pounding.

Depending upon the weather and seas, your captain may take you on a hair-raising ride through sea caves, stop at beaches for swimming and snorkeling (the aquatic life is fantastic), or to visit the 800-year-old fishing village, Nu`alolo Kai. During the ride you may encounter dolphins swimming alongside your craft or whales breeching during the months of December through April. You’re so close to the water it gives you a special connection when you do come face to face with these incredible creatures. Because of the trade winds, early morning rides are preferable because they provide the best opportunity to see dolphins and visit the caves.

Kauai is my favorite of the Hawaiian Islands. Though seeing if from the sea-level viewpoint has its advantages, the hiking opportunities are also exceptional. Hiking along the Na Pali Coast Trail and seeing this landscape from a different point of view is an adrenaline charge all its own. The trail is fairly difficult, with significant elevation changes and potentially slippery conditions. But the payoff is worth it. The scenery—especially the waterfalls and Kalalau Beach—is spectacular.

Scuba diving in Kauai is also a thrill, though not along the Na Pali Coast. There are frequent, dangerous rip tides there. Makau Beach is a better choice. The reefs are full of creatures including reef and nurse sharks, eels, dolphins, and sea turtles, not to mention a huge variety of fish. It’s periodically possible to see a Monk seal. And of course, being Hawaii, beaches for relaxing and surfing for every level are everywhere. —LF

Captain Andy’s Sailing Adventures ( 800/535-0830 or 808/335-6833; Napali Riders ( 808/742-6331; Kauai Explorer (

When to Go: Dec–Apr.

Lihue Airport, Kauai.

$$ Hanalei Colony Resort, 5-7130 Kuhio Hwy. ( 808/826-6235; $$$ St. Regis Princeville Resort, 5520 Ka Haku Rd. ( 808/826-9644;

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