How to see the Na Pali Coast Kauai: Holo Holo Charters

Wondering how to see the Na Pali Coast Kauai? There are four ways to see the famous (and roadless) Na Pali Coast along Kauai’s west shore. Families can take a helicopter tour, kayak tour, hike the Kalalau Trail, or take a chartered sailing tour.

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We opted for two of the four: we hiked several miles of the trail (the entire 11 miles requires a permit), and saw more of the coastline via catamaran with Holo Holo Charters.  ‘Holo’ means adventure in Hawaiian; if someone says they’re going to ‘go holo’, they’re going adventuring. ‘Holo holo’ means a big adventure. Our excursion with Holo Holo Charters was just that: an exciting adventure.

We took their Napali Snorkel Sail, which took us from Port Allen to the Na Pali Coast on the Leila, a 50’ sailing catamaran that sailed at up to 18 knots. Our sailing was in March, and we experienced a mixed bag of winter and summer sailing conditions: the water was choppy and waves were quite large (in the opinion of this non-sailor).

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Our tour began at 8 am (which required an early wake up for us on the North Shore, in order to complete the 1.5 hour commute to the South Shore in time to depart). After a brief safety talk, we were off to find an ideal snorkel spot along the South coast, where we were issued snorkel gear and spent about an hour in the water. While we had snorkeled off the shore several times already in Kauai, we saw more varieties of fish here than anywhere else, even in slightly murky water (due to waves). If you plan to focus on finding the best snorkeling beaches on Kauai, you may not ‘need’ this snorkel cruise, but if you want to be sure to find at least one good spot, this is your best bet.

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Next, we set sail (literally) for the Na Pali, while the crew set out a continental breakfast. During the entire day, the coolers were self-serve for juice, water, and soda, and crew members were on-hand to assist with the open bar of wine and beer. Our captain even opened a bottle of champagne to make ‘Hawaiian mimosas’ with guava juice. We past empty beaches near the western end of the Na Pali (also where the Kalalau Trail ends), and saw its famed rugged cliffs and sea caves. It was fun for us to see this side of the Na Pali, since we’d hiked a bit on the eastern end. Now we’d seen both ends of the trail and coastline.

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While our kids enjoyed the snorkeling, the most memorable part of the trip for them was laying flat on the mesh fabric at the front of the catamaran, allowing waves to rock them and soak them with spray as we sailed. If your kids like this sort of thing, they’ll have a blast!

On the return journey, we ate a nice deli lunch of sandwich fixings, pasta salad, and cookies, and along the way, we stopped to see humpback whales and spinner dolphins. Tours such as this one can never guarantee to see such wildlife, of course, so this was a very special treat: for the first time, our family saw whales fully breach, and we were close enough to note the calf—baby whale—jumping and playing while his/her mother swam beside. The dolphins surrounded our boat, playing in the waves and talking amongst themselves…a beautiful sight. We were indeed lucky.

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A note about seasickness:

I get seasick easily, so I was concerned about this trip. I was right to be: several people did succumb to seasickness. I believe the only reason I did not was the Bonine I took beforehand. The crew also had ginger candies to suck on, and ginger ale. We may have sailed at a particularly choppy time, but the crew said they’d seen worse…and our boat was really rocking over the waves. While you can see shoreline at all times, you are on open ocean. It helps to sit at the back of the boat where there’s less movement, and it’s easy to be outside in the fresh air, but once sick, there’s little you can do. Take something for seasickness if you think it will be a problem. The crew was very helpful to those who did get sick.

What you’ll need to bring:

  • waterproof camera
  • sunscreen
  • sunglasses
  • sun-protective clothing
  • an extra long-sleeved shirt or sweatshirt for everyone (it does get chilly in the wind)
  • towels (at least 2-3)
  • wear any shoes…you’ll take them off before boarding

Safety onboard:

We had a crew of four for our tour (with approximately 20 people), and we felt safety was a priority. There are rules onboard the catamaran, such as how to hold on and walk on the decks, and crew members let people know when it’s best to stay seated. However, it’s a catamaran, so there are no railings along the edges of the boat. Children absolutely must be able (and willing) to listen to instructions and follow rules.

Cost:

The snorkel sail costs $134 for adults and $94 for kids (up to age 12), if you pre-order online. You pay when you arrive. Once you make your reservation, you cannot cancel for a full refund (only a half-refund). The only exception: if the tour is cancelled due to weather, you get a full refund. Please plan on tipping your guides.

Directions:

Holo Holo is located in the marina shopping center in Port Allen, at 4353 Waialo Road. After passing Lihue from the North Shore, take 50 until you reach 541, then turn at the McDonalds at Waialo Road.

Want a preview of additional excursions and activities to try on Kauai? Check out our video:

As we disclose whenever applicable, we toured with Holo Holo at a media rate, for the purpose of review. 

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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