Beyond the End of the Road: POLIHALE

Beyond the End of the Road: POLIHALE

CONTINUATION OFBeyond the End of the Road: CANYON – Part 2


We had been let out in Waimea town and gravitated immediately to the nearest place to eat. At a little taqueria, we indulged in some delicious burritos. They were such a shock to our malnourished systems, but there was no way I wasn’t going to finish it. I inhaled every scrap piece of lettuce and rogue piece of chicken that had fallen out. After restocking our food supply at a supermarket, we walked to the edge of town and got a lift with a local in the bed of his truck in an effort to make it to our destination by nightfall. Riding along the coast with the warm wind whipping our faces, the cold nights of the canyon seemed like a world away. Our driver dropped us off at Kekaha Beach Park, which was the first region in the 15 mile uninterrupted sand beach constituting Polihale. Our plan was to make it all the way to the end.

This was probably our longest wait for a ride in the entire three weeks. We joked while waiting on the side of the road saying we should be carrying a number of placards with a series of sayings depending on the type of car that was approaching such as: “We love dogs!” or, “C’mon tourists! Don’t you want an adventure?” or, “We’re small! We’ll fit!” or, “This could be your kids!” We waited and waited until a guy called out from the other side of the road “C’mon over! Hop in. We’ll take you to where you need to go!” Another pity ride! Success! They were a nice couple from Alaska, concerned about some corn conspiracy of which I only half understood. They took us to the end of the line where the rugged dirt road began its potholed dusty track 4.5 miles to the end.

Polihale dirt road

“Well, this is as far as we can go, you kids take care.” He waved out the window and drove off in a cloud of dust. We readjusted our packs and were left standing in the blazing sun with this great dirt road ahead of us, the fields of corn and other crops stretching off towards the hills. We started walking down the road, with fried toads dotting the earth and dry wiry trees lining the dirt. With no one around, it felt like a brand new adventure, back out into the unknown.

We walked for a while before we heard a car pull up behind us. “Ya’ll wanna ride?” It was a hippie couple from Philadelphia who now lived on the Big Island. The woman had long hair and her legs were tucked up like a schoolgirl in the front seat. The guy, skinny with a wide brimmed hat, glasses and a big grey handlebar moustache began telling us about the Rainbow Festival on the Big Island, where everyone prayed for world peace. Acoustic guitar plucked away on the stereo as we pulled up to a huge monkeypod tree. The path to the left would take us directly to the beach. To the right, the dirt road continued to the campsite. We were eager to get to the beach after 5 days in the canyon, so we took the right on a pretty little dirt path that cut in around dry scrub and leafy trees to the signposts warning of dangerous currents and giants swells.

Polihale Beach

We walked past the signs, up over the huge sand dunes and down onto Polihale Beach. The beach seemed as endless as the canyon, and it was being pounded by some serious swell. We started down to the northern end where the Na Pali coast began with its huge rippling cliff faces. On our left, the ocean never ceased in pounding the shore with a mountain of whitewash. On our right, the sand dunes stretched out like a miniature version of the Kalalau. Although I say miniature, it’s only comparatively, as they reached up to 100 feet each.

I had camped out here a number of years ago on a rough-ish, surfing/hitching misadventure with a friend of mine, and I could remember a nice little spot where a few other tents had been put up in and around some pretty little trees in the sand dunes. It must have been after 4 o’clock, but the sun was still blazing as we trudged down the beach in the deep soft sand, our packs weighing us down. I felt a little bad for Leigh Anne – I had been doing the, “Just a little bit further matey! I definitely recognize that tree, we’re almost there!” routine for quite some time now, as we practically waded through the sand, sweat pouring off us. As hot as it was, I was happy to be on the beach, with soft white sand under foot as I sunk off towards those hazy cliffs in the distance.

By the time I reached the little shelter, which was the start of the trail inland that would take us to our camp, I was panting and dripping throughout with about equal force. Poor old Leigh Anne came trudging along like the little soldier she is a bit later.

This is it!” I cried triumphantly and she gave a vague smile, shaking her head and laughing.

Polihale sunset

We walked along the dirt trail, which cut in behind the dunes, until a few tents started to appear. We took a sandy path towards the sea and there she was – the exact same little spot I had camped at all those years ago! There was the very same sun-dappled shade under a twiggy umbrella of branches which opened up to a sandy trail up over the sand dune and onto the wild beach. We set up camp, including stringing up some rope between the trees to dry out everything that had gotten so damp up in the canyon. I threw on my boardies and ran up over the sand dune and bluff with an old fire pit on it overlooking the beach. I continued running down the dunes onto the wild stretch of sand. I was tossed around and pounded by the shore break but so happy to be back in the ocean. I would run out of the water, then do a big loop back and dive under like a dog that had been kept in the car all day.

As the huge, hazy orange sun sank down turning all the salty mist yellow, I collected rocks and wood for a small fire on the bluff. The sun was low now and we could see the island of Ni’ihau silhouetted against the dark sky. I sat on the bluff, still in my boardies, gazing out at the vast ocean smiling to myself.

Polihale to Kapa’a

I slept in! The sun was out! It wasn’t 6.30! I woke up and noticed something else was different too – I was warm and dry, well-rested and not aching. I sat upright in a slight panic, as if I had missed my bus. It took me a moment to realize that it was okay, I was allowed to sleep in today. I smiled and lay back down.

Polihale bonfire

Last night, we had lit a bonfire on the bluff and watched as millions of stars emerged one by one until the sky was littered with them. It’s those moments in which I am unabashedly happy, simply stargazing to the soundtrack of the crackling fire and pounding surf.

I stumbled out of the tent in my shorts and jogged lazily down the beach, which turned into a pretty hard work out in the deep sand. I swam and spotted Leigh Anne who had woken up earlier for a jog and some stretches. We had breakfast on the sand dune by our camp. We looked out to sea to first spot a pod of dolphins and then whales who would throw themselves out of the water, causing their entire bodies to be suspended in mid air before crashing back down, sending out a massive fan of white water.

We discussed our plans for the next few days, packed up camp and then hit the road along the sandy path that joined onto the dirt road, leading back to the monkey pod tree. It was still relatively early and there were little to no cars passing us, but we enjoyed the flat walk on a hard surface (after the intense climbs up and slippery descents of the canyon and then the incredibly soft sand we had hiked along on Polihale.) The sun was out now and it was hot. Dead toads littered the road and had been caked by days of hot sun after the rains that had bought them out. After a few miles, we were beginning to think that we would have to walk the full 4.5 miles out to the main road. It was nice though, walking along that endless dirt road with corn fields and almost desert-like terrain stretching out to the hills in the distance, but it was getting hot and we had already began streaming in sweat.

Not long after, a black jeep rattled to a stop. The driver, shaggy hair, shirtless, wearing sunglasses, told us to jump on in, as he cleared trash from the front seat and tried to make room in the back moving fishing poles, coolers and bags to make room. He said he was going to Kalaheo, which was a big chunk of the trip to Kapa’a where we hoped to camp that night. He was from Kentucky but had been in Kauai for a year now, “enjoying the pace” as he told us in his southern surfers drawl. He was working for a four wheel ATV tour company.

He introduced himself as Jason and pretty soon we were all laughing and swapping stories as he drove on. He would tell us about small towns and roads as we passed them and inform us of local legends and folklore of certain spots, like a bridge that you can’t drive across with fresh pork if you want to avoid the wrath of the goddess Pele. At one point, he turned around to me grinning, “Hey, you guys like coffee?” In fact, I had been craving coffee for days now and I said as much. Turns out that the Kauai coffee plantation had about three tables with five canisters on each for free coffee tasting. So we pulled in and spent the next 20 minutes joking around as we tried the different blends. Notable brews were “Blue Mountain Kauai,” “Kauai sunset,” and “Big Bruddah,” which was the strongest of the three.

Menehune fishpond

With the caffeine pumping in our veins we hit the road, all becoming noticeably chattier. Jason then offered to take us all the way to Kapa’a, as this was his day off and he had nothing else planned. Many times he would say “Oh! We should take this back road, it’s super nice.” I think he was enjoying himself as much as we were. We stopped at the Menehune fish ponds, which according to myth had been built by the Menehune (ancient, magical Hawaiian midgets) as contracted by the royals. The Menehune agreed to do it on the condition that they were not to be watched. On the second day, the royals were surprised to see that the job had already been half completed with materials that were impossible to haul to this part of the island, such as large stones from the north shore. That night, the roals snuck out to watch the Menehune and determine how they were making progress so fast. They were spotted and turned to stone. Today, up to the left are two stone pillars, the royals, still standing where they were spotted overlooking the ponds.

It had been an excellent ride, and Leigh Anne and I were in high spirits as we shook Jason’s hand and took off to Safeway grocery store to shop. We didn’t know it then, but what was to come would be that start of a new chapter, a chapter without the structure and planned nature of the canyon hikes and without the comfort and ease of Polihale. What was to come was chaos.

CONTINUE THE JOURNEYBeyond the End of the Road: CHAOS – Part 1