Polihale State Park in Hawaii offers views, camping off the beaten path.
Locals always want to know two things when they find out someone has been to Polihale State Park: the condition of the road and the state of the sunset.
I decided to camp out at Polihale over the second weekend in May, and both surpassed expectations.
Patches of fresh gravel filled in the daunting potholes that deter smaller vehicles and the ride down the dirt road was relatively smooth, which isn’t always the case.
Sometimes that road is impassable without a four-wheel drive and people with rental cars should check with their companies before taking the vehicles out to the end of the line on the West side.
But once you get out there, Kauai’s longest stretch of beach offers stunning views of the
Na Pali cliffs, sand dunes that can reach 100 feet in height, and occasional waves for experienced surfers.
It’s a place for sunrise shell hunting, campfire-cooked eats, and lazy sun-filled afternoons.
Polihale is the westernmost point of Kauai and encompasses about 13 miles all together, though part of it is on the Pacific Missile Range Facility and is off-limits to civilians.
Camping is allowed at the state park with a permit that can be secured online or at one of the neighborhood centers around the island. There are no lifeguards at this location.
My fellow campers and I managed to roll up to one of the pavilions stacked at the back of the beach just as another group was vacating the premises, and we got prime access to the bathroom and shower facilities.
Unfortunately, the water wasn’t working in any of those facilities when we were there, so all we had was the unfulfilled promise of a shower until we got home from the trip.
Swimming in the ocean at Polihale is usually a dangerous proposition with unpredictable rip currents and sharp drops in the ocean floor; but the sea was glass that weekend.
Ultralight rain mixed with the ocean as I swam in the gentle waves and ou
r group played in the water until the first hints of the sunset started showing in the sky.
Watching the sunset is a akin to a cinematic experience at Polihale and beachgoers line
up their chairs along the sand dunes as soon as the sky starts changing colors.
A mystical stillness overtakes Polihale as the sun nears the edge of the water, and that weekend was the first time I’ve ever seen the legendary green flash kiss the horizon at the last second of the sunset.
The magic of Polihale continues after the sun disappears with an immense night sky and our party counted at least three shooting stars before the three-quarters moon rose and lit up the sky.
A Westside camping trip isn’t complete until you’ve realized you’ve forgotten something, and for us it was a strainer for coffee in the morning — a misstep quickly corrected using the mesh bag from a folding chair.
But, that’s all part of the fun of exploring at the edges of rainbow country; it’s a chance to infuse adventure and a little bit of something unexpected into the daily routine of life.
Written for The Garden Island Newspaper, published May 31, 2017. Photos by Jessica