on July 17, 2008
Well now, we’ve seen the Na Pali Coast by helicopter, by hiking trail, and now by boat; and honestly I can’t say that one method is better than the other. The views from the helicopter are spectacular, as is the price. And not everyone likes to stride down a dirt trail, even if the view alongside it is stunning. But a catamaran, now that introduces a couple new elements. Air… land… or sea? You have to try each one, otherwise you'll miss out on something. And when you go looking for a boat, look no further than Na Pali Catamaran. We did a lot of reading up on the various charter cruises that are available on Kauai, and Na Pali Catamaran has one, very basic advantage. They are just closer to Na Pali than the other guys. Don't believe me? Click here and take a look at their web site. The Na Pali guys (along with only one or two others) leave from Hanalei Bay, the other guys (for permit reasons) all ship out of Port Allen on the south side of the island. Simply put, they have to motor up the coast for at least 40 minutes before they even see the Na Pali. The Hanalei guys are there in less than 10.They usually have two cruises a day, both with snorkeling and a deli-style lunch. The morning cruise leaves at 7:30, that’s an ouch if you’re driving up from Lihue. Trouble is, that’s when you’re more likely to see some active marine life. But the afternoon cruise departs at 1:30 and you’ll still have plenty to see (in our case that meant a Hawaiian monk seal and a lot of sea turtles). Report to their office on the Kuhio Highway in Hanalei, well prior to cruise time, that will give you a little extra time to sip a fresh smoothie from the fruit stand next door or to browse the shops at Ching Young Village. When you check in, you’ll get your snorkel and fins, plus a dry bag for your camera and other valuables (just be careful with aerosols, we sun blocked our towels something fierce). Then you’ll be shuttled in a large van, over to the park by Hanalei Bay. But you’re not there quite yet. Next you’ll need a short ride in a powered outrigger out to the catamaran. Now you can get comfortable.The boat is 34 feet long, with twin 200hp motors. In another difference that appealed to us, it only accommodates 16 passengers. That means that you won’t be stepping all over each other during the cruise. Some catamarans are built for entertaining and lounging. This one is built to be a sightseeing and dive boat! While it might look a little dull next to some of the more showy vessels, I can promise that the quality of your experience will far surpass some of the more elegant cats with masts. Why? Two words… sea caves! And yes, they do have a rest room on board. It took two trips to ferry our group out to the boat, but no one had to bemoan their position as the deck arrangement gives you excellent visibility from either side. So once we were fully loaded and had our safety orientation (yes, they’re serious about that), we sailed out of Hanalei Bay, past Tunnels and Ke’e beaches and around the point where the road stops and Na Pali begins.The basic rule of thumb is that if someone sees something they should just sing out, the boat will slow or do whatever they need to do for you all to see the whale, dolphin or monk seal. And usually, the guy that sees something worthwhile will not be one of that passengers, it will be the cap’n or mate. Note the picture of Cap’n Nick steering the boat with his feet, while looking out the hole in the cabin roof.We made a lot of side trips into sea caves that amazed us. One of the accompanying pictures with this review was taken inside a cave that had a hole at the top, with the sunlight boring through the hole and making the water below glow in an iridescent blue! It’s so vivid that you’d almost swear there was something glowing down below.Cap’n Nick and Cap’n Chris were excellent guides. They were the first to spot the monk seal as well as a lot of other wildlife. And they pointed out sites that had been used in various movies, like Six Days/Seven Nights (with Harrison Ford and Anne Heche). And most importantly, they graciously answered every question that was thrown at them; some insightful and some that were beyond dumb (personally, I appreciated their patience with my dumb question).Once we reached the snorkel cove, we tied off on a mooring buoy and after a brief orientation we started to slip into the 30 foot water. Now that’s cool. I set off and explored a few different types of coral, while Sue swam among some colorful schools of fish. But the most memorable moment came when we were swimming together. I saw him first. Gesturing toward the sea turtle, I didn’t get her attention until he was only about 20 feet away. She took in a little sea water when she gasped, but trooper that she is she cleared her snorkel and got her face back down in time to watch the turtle (with a shell that was about 3 feet long) just slide under us. Way cool!
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