Snorkeling tours include instruction with gear, beverages and breakfast/lunch or dinner. Most operators offer the same basic excursions. Below is a sampling of the variety.
Blue Dolphin Charters
Capt. Andy’s Sailing Adventures
Deluxe Na Pali Coast Tour
5½ hours. Adults, $139; scuba diver, $35
additional; children 2 to 11, $99
from 15 percent
Holo Holo Charters
Kauai Sea Tours
Morning & Afternoon Na Pali Coast Tours
5 hours. Adults, $129, children 4 to 12, $99
Commission: 10 percent
Morning Na Pali Coast Tour
5 hours, Departs Port Allen
Adults, $135; children 4 to 11, $85
Commission: 10-15 percent
Na Pali and Niihau Super Tour
7 hours. Adults, $175; children 6 to 12, $125
Commission: 20 percent
Na Pali Sunset Dinner Cruise
4 hours, Departs Port Allen
Adults, $105; children 2 to 12, $80
Commission: 15 percent
Nualolo Kai Combo Day Tour
6½ hours, includes beach landing at Nualolo
Kai with cultural walking tour.
Adults, $159; children 5 to 12, $125
Commission: 15 percent
On a recent visit to Kauai, deciding to cruise the magnificent Na Pali Coast was a no-brainer for me. Yet, I wondered how this experience could top my last, when dolphins were spinning in sync, sea turtles surfaced in curiosity and flying fish skimmed the surf — each performing aquatic acts with majestic cliffs and deeply etched valleys as a stunning backdrop.
I was certain nothing could outshine that show. As a pleasant surprise so typical in Hawaii, Mother Nature proved me wrong.
Few who have witnessed Kauai’s Na Pali Coast — on the northwestern side of the island — can deny that this remote, pristine area is one of the most breathtaking in the Hawaiian chain. Operators have tweaked their itineraries and fleets to accommodate a range of adventure-lovers, from thrill-seeking souls wanting it wet and wild to those preferring to soak up the splendor in spacious comfort.
I fell into the latter category this time around. Trading more intimate, close-up action aboard the Zodiac rafts of companies like Na Pali Riders www.napaliriders.com and Na Pali Explorer www.napaliexplorer.com, I opted for a larger catamaran with a marine “head,” post-snorkeling shower and shaded cabin.
It’s a trade-off, as the Zodiacs (conditions allowing) are permitted for landing at secluded beaches and for hiking into the ancient Nualolo Kai archaeological village, an approach that definitely has eco-appeal.
So on this glorious late-spring morning, I boarded a catamaran for Blue Dolphin Charter’s Deluxe Na Pali Coast Tour. Blue Dolphin is among a half-dozen operators at Port Allen, a small south-shore harbor with pleasant shops geared to visitors. Most Zodiacs head out from Waimea’s Kikiaola Harbor, to the west.
Captain Roy Shepard and crew made our trip aboard the 63-foot craft a pleasure on every level. Comfort is key, as the vessel is Coast Guard certified to haul over 100 passengers. But Blue Dolphin never takes more than 49 passengers along the 15-mile stretch of rugged coastline, as tends to be the case with all the larger cats since the 6,175-acre area is a designated state park. This meant we were able to spread out on the dual-decked vessel.
Our well-informed navigator filled us in on Na Pali’s historical significance and explained how Hawaiians had named it for its jagged 3,500-foot pinnacles.
“Over hundreds of years, Polynesians, and eventually the Tahitians, migrated to Na Pali by canoe, bringing influences that became the basis of Hawaiian culture,” Captain Roy said.
Residents of each valley honed in on a specific skill — whether it was hunting, fishing or farming taro, breadfruit or sweet potatoes — rather than going broad-based. What upped the adrenaline on this special day wasn’t so much what we saw — it was how much we saw. We stumbled into a spinner dolphin fest, with pod upon pod surfing at the bow of our cat. Sea turtles joined in the action, with the flying fish out in full force as well. But it was a late-season whale spouting on the horizon that put the icing on the cake.
“The whales are staying around late this year,” said Shepard.
And, since the ocean was somewhat mellow, it was easy to spot the spouts. The conditions also allowed us to travel up close to the cliffs to view Na Pali’s sea caves, lava tubes, waterfalls and legendary white-sand beaches.
After dropping anchor for snorkeling and a hearty buffet-style lunch, we headed back to Port Allen — escorted, naturally, by a swarm of spinners.
On this day of aquatic overload, I knew I’d witnessed something remarkable. While it’s hard to imagine how another Na Pali experience could be any better, I’m certain I’ll be pleasantly surprised again.