Cornforth Images

Kauai

Kauai is the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands. It is the fourth largest of the main islands in the Hawaiian archipelago. Known also as the “Garden Isle”, Kauai lies 105 miles (170 km) across the Kauai Channel, northwest of Oahu. Of volcanic origin, the highest peak on this mountainous island is Kawaikini at 5,243 ft (1,598 m). The second highest peak is Mount Wai’ale’ale near the center of the island, 5,148 ft (1,569 m) above sea level. One of the wettest spots on Earth, with an annual average rainfall of 460 inches (1,170 cm), is located on the east side of Mount Wai’ale’ale. The high annual rainfall has eroded deep valleys in the central mountains, carving out canyons with many scenic waterfalls.

Na Pali Coast State Park is located in the center of the rugged 16 miles (26 km) along the northwest side of Kauai. The Na Pali Coast itself extends southwest starting at Kee Beach extending all the way to Polihale State Park. The pali, or “cliffs”, rise as high as 4,000 ft (1,200 m) above the Pacific Ocean. The Na Pali Coast State Park was formed to protect the Kalalau Valley.

The Kalalau Valley is renowned for its natural beauty. It is inaccessible to automobiles. The only legal ways to access the valley are by kayak or by hiking the Kalalau Trail. It is surrounded by lush cliffs more than 2000 ft (600 m) high. The valley bottom is broad and relatively flat, with an accessible region about 2 miles long and 0.5 mile wide. The abundant sun and rain provides an ideal environment for flaura and fauna. Many native Hawaiians lived in the valley into the 20th century farming taro.

Encircled by waterfall-draped mountains, the picturesque Hanalei Valley on Kauai’s north shore harbors the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge. The 917-acre refuge was established in 1972 to provide habitat for endangered Hawaiian waterbirds, including the Hawaiian stilt (ae’o), coot (‘alae ke’oke’o), moorhen (‘alae ‘ula), and duck (koloa). Forty-nine species of birds use this refuge, 18 of which are introduced. In order to protect the endangered wildlife, the refuge is closed to the public but it can be viewed from the Hanalei Valley Overlook.

The best locations for photography on Kauai include Kee Beach and Polihale Beach at sunset, the Hanalei Valley, and the blow hole near Poipu. Most visitors photograph the Na Pali Coast from a helicopter or airplane, but this is not as rewarding as photographing the sunset from Kalalau Beach itself on a multi-day backpacking trip.