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On Hawaii's island of Kauai, the rugged Na Pali Coast is drama central

The steep, mountainous coast along the ocean means no roads, so getting a good look at this rugged beauty becomes an adventure by foot, by water or by helicopter, fixed-wing or other aircraft.

April 20, 2014|By Christopher Reynolds

Kauai's Na Pali Coast is too rugged for roads, but it can be admired by land, sea and air. For some travelers, it is the most compelling part of the North Shore.

Land options: The Kalalau Trail begins in Haena State Park, next to Kee Beach, at the end of Kuhio Highway. It's 11 miles each way, muddy and steep. The path, full of rocks and wayward roots, climbs slopes, dips to the beach and crosses five valleys.

If you want to hike six or more miles of it, you'll need enough food and gear to camp at least one night, perhaps two or three. And you'll need a permit ($20 a person per night for non-islanders), which entitles you to camp for up to five nights at Hanakoa (six miles in) or Kalalau (at the trail's far end). Info: http://www.lat.ms/1gWtEv1.

Start your hike early. The first part is often crowded by midday. Fortunately, many people turn around at the two-mile point, Hanakapiai Beach. (If you're really pressed for time, you can do the first half-mile, which climbs about 500 feet to a lofty viewpoint, then turn around.)

Sea options: Many companies offer half-day Na Pali trips by catamaran or raft, sometimes including beach landings, snorkeling or dinner. Seasickness can be an issue, especially on smaller rafts, especially in winter months. (Then again, that's when the chances of seeing a humpback whale are better.) The half-day tours typically cost $100-$160 per adult; the Hawaii Tourism Authority maintains a list of companies at http://www.gohawaii.com/kauai. Six companies have permission to land passengers at Na Pali: http://www.lat.ms/1gx5oAi.

For hardier adventurers, in spring and summer some companies (www.kayakkauai.com, http://www.napalikayak.com and http://www.outfitterskauai.com, for instance) offer guided Na Pali kayak day trips, typically priced at $225-$250 a person. The trip is strenuous; seasickness is an issue too.

Air options: Several helicopter and fixed-wing tour companies typically offer grand tours that include the Na Pali Coast along with the Hanapepe Valley, waterfalls in Waialeale crater and other attractions. For a 45-70-minute helicopter flight, prices often run $160-$320 a person. For about $125 more, Island Helicopters offers a slightly longer tour that includes a landing at the base of Manawaiopuna Falls (seen in "Jurassic Park").

Most tours start at Lihue Airport, but Sunshine Helicopters offers tours from Princeville Airport on the North Shore. When comparing prices, note that some companies add airport or fuel surcharges to their quoted rates.

Among the helicopter companies flying over Kauai: http://www.bluehawaiian.com, http://www.safarihelicopters.com, http://www.helicoptertourskauaihawaii.net, http://www.interislandhelicopters.com, http://www.sunshinehelicopters.com, http://www.helicopters-kauai.com, http://www.maunaloahelicopters.com and http://www.helicopter-tours-kauai.com.

Fixed-wing tours typically cost less, from about $125 an hour. Fixed-wing tour companies include http://www.airventureshawaii.com and http://www.wingsoverkauai.com. Some companies (www.birdsinparadise.com ) also offer powered hang-glider tours.

Whether you choose land, sea or air, remember you are at the mercy of the weather, and there are always risks. On March 11, a powered hang-glider pilot and his passenger were killed in a crash near Polihale Beach at the west end of the Na Pali Coast.

chris.reynolds@latimes.com

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