Seeing It From the Sea

Blue Dolphin delivers Na Pali with “in your face” adventure

By: Dawna Robertson

NA PALI, Kauai It’s ironic when you think about it. The Hawaiian tourism industry was built around the incredible natural beauty found here, yet the Na Pali Coast, one of the most stunning displays of nature in all of the Islands, is also one of the most difficult to experience.

Unreachable by road, this 17-mile stretch of Kauai’s north shore has been etched over millions of years into high mountains and lush green valleys, ribbons of waterfalls and haunting sea caves. Extensive stone-wall terraces can still be found on the valley floor where ancient Hawaiians once lived and cultivated taro. Its coastline is in constant change, from the blue hues of early morning to the tropical tones of sunset.

Sure, visitors can grab an aerial glimpse of this secluded setting via helicopter tours. And for the toughest test, seasoned hikers can troop along the zigzagging Kalalau Trail that drops 1,000 feet to the Na Pali coast below.

Yet when seen from the sea, this accordion of seamounts takes on its most dramatic perspective. Kayaks and Zodiacs can cruise along the coast during calm summer months, and then there’s Blue Dolphin Charters.

Departing from Port Allen Harbor on Kauai’s south shore, Blue Dolphin operates four Na Pali coast motor-sailing excursions aboard the 63-foot Blue Dolphin and 65-foot Blue Dolphin II. Both catamarans were custom built by owner Terry Donnelly for the specific conditions encountered on Blue Dolphin’s tours.

“People who have traveled the world over tell me there’s no other place that matches the splendor of the Na Pali coast,” said Ray Frechette, sales manager for Blue Dolphin. “We share it all with them in a fun, scenic way.” What sets Blue Dolphin apart, according to Frechette, is the size and comfort of its cats.

“We don’t sacrifice comfort for speed,” explained Frechette. “Since tours from Port Allen up the Na Pali coast cover 63 miles roundtrip in anywhere from 3½ to five hours, most sailboats don’t really sail for long distances. We do it all just right.”

Frechette said Blue Dolphin’s cats are heavier for a better ride.

“The tours we operate are really more about cruising than about speed,” he noted.

With all the beauty of the Na Pali coast, passengers tend to appreciate a slower cruising journey.

Adding to the experience, Frechette said that Blue Dolphin’s crew is quick to ask passengers to join in with hoisting the sails or tossing out a fishing line.

“We also love to share our knowledge of Hawaiian legends, and we’ve got a great collection of stories and jokes to tell,” he added.

Blue Dolphin’s venues tend to define the difference in seeing and doing. While both cats have capacities of 120 passengers, the company limits tours to 49 people per trip. So there’s plenty of time and room for adventure lovers to cruise, snorkel, dive, dine and soak in the Na Pali coast in a single adventure.

Frechette noted Blue Dolphin’s five-hour Na Pali Coast Tour as the company’s most popular.

“People enjoy it because they can snorkel and even add on an introductory scuba dive,” he said. “Since we offer diving instruction, we take additional crew. We always have more crew aboard than required.”

The five-hour journey cruises along Kauai’s southern shore past Barking Sands Beach, then up the west coast past 3,000-foot sea cliffs, lush valleys, waterfalls and sea caves all as spinner dolphins put on a show.

“Especially in the summer or when conditions permit, we can take the boat up to waterfalls and sea caves,” Frechette said. “Passengers can literally stand on the bow and take a freshwater shower from the falls.”

Winter cruises have a different payoff.

“Winter is more of a weather-permitting situation for all operators,” explained Frechette. “But our boats are designed to help us generally get the job done more often.”

While the waterfall shower may have to wait, there’s always the bonus of whale watching.

“It was like watching a choreographed show,” said Heidi Aylen, a San Diego visitor who enjoyed Blue Dolphin’s Deluxe Na Pali Coast tour last February. “We had spinner dolphins surfing off the bow and so many more whales than I ever imagined I’d see.”

Frechette’s personal recommendation is the seven-hour Deluxe Niihau Island Tour because “it’s more trip.” The outing cruises the Na Pali coast and then to the “Forbidden Island” of Niihau for snorkeling and optional scuba instruction.

“You have 200 feet of visibility off Niihau,” Frechette explained. “It’s just a great place for snorkeling and diving.”

Blue Dolphin provides introductory diving instruction with equipment for an additional $35, and no experience is necessary.

“In early June, I had a customer who had taken a helicopter tour, kayaked and gone horseback riding,” Frechette said. “They told me that it was all great, but our cruise was the only thing they’d do again.”

While Frechette attributed this response in part to Blue Dolphin serving up the best mai tais on the island, it was likely much more than that.

Departing from Port Allen in Ele’ele, all Blue Dolphin tours include oceangoing water slides, freshwater showers, continental breakfast with fresh baked cinnamon rolls, complete deli sandwich buffet, beer, wine and Blue Dolphin’s famous mai tais.

877-511-1311, 808-335-5553


Deluxe Na Pali Coast Tour (5 hours, $129)
Blue Dolphin’s most popular cruise travels far up the Na Pali coast for snorkeling and diving among sea turtles and tropical fish. This tour also includes a continental breakfast and a full deli buffet lunch. Introductory diving instruction with equipment is an additional $35.

Deluxe Niihau Island Tour (7 hours, $175)
The company’s most adventurous tour includes everything in the Deluxe Na Pali Coast Tour plus snorkeling in the clear waters off the “Forbidden Island” of Niihau. Intro diving instruction with equipment is an additional $35.

Na Pali Sunset Cruise (3½ hours, $99)
This sunset at sea cruise (non-diving) includes appetizers and beverages.

Romantic Poipu Sunset Sail (2 hours, $60)
Great appetizers, beverages and live entertainment set the mood for this special time of the day. This non-diving cruise is not available June to September.