Planet Haolewood

A toolbox, a change of underwear, and a surfboard.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Am I Off the Beaten Path Yet?

Ancient Kauains believed that when a chief died his bones should be hidden so that enemies of their tribe would not be able to use the power stored in these remains against them. There are probably a lot of hiding places on Kauai where one might place such remains and one particularly inaccessible spot is Honopu beach. Overhanging cliffs up to 1200 feet high completely surround Honopu so the only access is by sea. I wouldn’t even know how to get to the top of the cliffs surrounding Honopu by land since they are located at the bottom of and extremely steep and dangerous canyon. There must have been a way down, however, because when a chief died a warrior would descend using a rope and place the bones inside holes in the cliff. No one except for the warrior knew where the bones were and once he had accomplished his task he would cut the rope and fall to his death, the secret knowledge of the bones’ location dying with him.

These days no one gets there that way. For nine months out of the year rough seas and a dangerous shore break make landing a boat impossible. Even anchoring a boat offshore and swimming in would be foolhardy. Nearby Kalalau beach, which is accessible by land, gets partially washed away in the winter by the pounding surf making it impossible to walk to the end from where one could theoretically swim to Honopu if it weren’t for the dangerous surf and currents.

Summer’s calmer seas make boat landings possible, but they are prohibited. So the only safe and legal way to get to Honopu is to swim there from Kalalau beach during the summer. But you can’t get to Kalalau by car. The only way to get there is by boat or by hiking a challenging (even for a seasoned hiker like myself) 11 miles along the crumbling cliffs of Kauai’s northwest side.

So after hiking all day to Kalalau I walked to the end of the beach which is the “jumping off point” for the swim to Honopu and contemplated the situation. The beach ends at a sheer cliff. You can’t see Honopu. You can’t see what’s beyond the cliff at all. According to maps and what I had been told Honopu was just around the corner but to actually jump in and just start swimming off along this stretch of coastline demanded a lot of faith in what I had been told. I had also been told that the current flows with you as you swim to Honopu and against you as you return. Not knowing precisely how long a swim it was the possibility of becoming exhausted on the way back, getting marooned at Honopu and sharing the fate of the warriors who cut their ropes did not excite me.

When I said that the sea is calmer is the summer I was speaking relatively. It can still be pretty rough. I stood and watched the waves pound against the cliff and decided I’d come back in the morning.

The wind eased during the night and the oceans was calmer the next day so I walked to the end of the beach again put on my goggles and swam into the unknown. After a short distance I went around a corner and Honopu came into view. It was about a 200 yard swim and not difficult for a strong swimmer accustomed to swimming in rough seas. I walked along the sand and appreciated what is certainly the most unique and pristine beach I have ever visited. A massive rock arch separates one part of Honopu from the other. Nearby a waterfall pours out a fissure in the cliff into a stream that flows through the arch and into the sea.

When I got to the far end of the beach I suddenly felt tired so I lay on my back and stared up at the overhanging cliffs. From hundreds of feet above little drops of water were dripping and I watched them become larger as they fell and landed on the sand next to me. It was the end of the road and there are no more beaches you can swim to. I did have to swim against a slight current on the way back but it wasn’t too difficult.

I’d love to post a picture of Honopu but my camera’s not waterproof so you’ll just have to use your imagination. Actually I have no doubt that there are dozens of photos of me at Honopu. Tour boats favor the early morning for cruising by Honopu and I saw at least a half a dozen go by just off shore, some with as many as 40 people standing on deck starring at me. If they didn’t take my picture then I’m sure someone on one of the many helicopter tours flying by must have got one.


At 7/12/2011, Blogger Fjodor Mulcahy said...

That is absolutely amazing! Thank you very much for sharing your experiences of Honopu Beach! Fascinating!

Tell me, do you know why it's actually illegal to land a boat on Honopu beach? Is it because it's too dangerous/difficult and a swimmer might have better luck? Is that place sacred? I was wondering what would become of people who made the swim, but could not fight the current and kept being forced back to Honopu? Would they have to swim out to passing boats or something?

Thanks for sharing your experience, I truly enjoyed reading about it.

At 7/13/2011, Blogger BOR-ee-us said...

You're welcome.

It's not dangerous to land a boat on Honopu during the summer. The reason it's illegal is because it is sacred.

If someone got stuck and couldn't swim back they would probably be able to get the attention of one of the tour boats that come by.


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