The sailing catamaran tour of the Na Pali coast will forever be one of my most treasured travel memories. There are few better ways to spend a day than on a breathtaking and exciting boat trip, taking in the majestic beauty of the green velvet cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, snorkeling with sea turtles, tropical fish and dolphins, and being out on the open sea. If you aren’t up to hike the 18 mile Kalalau Trail to see Na Pali on foot, a boat trip is great option, and there are several choices for tourists leaving from both shores of Kauai. Different tour companies offer everything from high intensity zodiac tours that jump waves and venture into sea caves to more relaxing sailing tours. While both types of boat tours will allow you to see the rugged beauty of the coast from the sea, I prefer the sailing tour, mostly because you feel a little more at peace and like a true sea explorer when you have sails powering your journey.
If you are staying in Lihue or on the south shore of the island, it is probably smarter to take one of the boat tours from the drier side of the island, as many of the tours leave early in the morning and it can take over 2 hours to drive from one shore to the other. However, if you are staying near, or want to venture to, the North Shore, there are a few companies that leave right from Hanalei Bay. The huge advantage to leaving from the North Shore is the proximity to the Na Pali Coast. You get to the good stuff a lot faster and spend more of your tour looking at the scenery and snorkeling as opposed to getting to and from the destination by sea.
From the North Shore/Hanalei
I had one of my favorite days out on Captain Sundown’s sailing catamaran 6 hour snorkeling tour, which leaves from Hanalei Bay. Captain Bob has been giving these sailing tours off the Na Pali coast for 30 years and has many stories and facts to tell along the journey on his 40 ft., 16-passenger catamaran. You will see sea caves (though the mast of the ship prevents the catamaran from actually entering any caves), the awe-inspiring cliffs and enjoy the sunshine and the sea. You will also probably see dolphins swimming off the side of the boat and enjoy a snorkeling stop and a lunch of deli sandwiches, chips and fresh fruit (pineapple in my case). The boat stops at a popular snorkeling location, where for about 45 minutes you will get to snorkel among tropical fish and sea turtles. If you have your own snorkel gear you should definitely bring it along, but they can provide equipment if you don’t have your own.
If you can’t make it on the all-day, 6 hour trip, Captain Sundown’s also offers a shorter 3 hour sunset sail. While the sailing/snorkeling tour is only offered in the summer months (May 1-December 30) due to sea conditions, Captain Sundown’s does now offer winter whale watching tours (though these are weather and surf permitting, so make sure you call beforehand). Beware though, because even in the summer months, the surf can still be rather rough, especially heading back to Hanalei from Na Pali. During my sailing trip, as the boat rounded a horn of the island, the ride suddenly got a whole lot bumpier (due to currents and wind direction). While I loved this more thrilling part of the trip, my poor, sea-sick prone father spent the last 45 minutes feeding the fish off the back of catamaran. So, if you have a tendency to get sea sick, be prepared.
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Make Sure you BRING:
- Sun block
- Wear swimwear
- Beach Towel
- Camera (though you may want to bring a disposable and not risk having your digital camera end up in the bottom of the ocean)
**Please arrive 10-15 minutes early for check-in. There is a minimum age of 7 and get ready for a wet and wild adventure.
Captain Sundown’s Tours
Na Pali Deluxe Snorkeling/Sailing Trip
May 1-Dec. 30, Mon.-Sat.
Check-in: 8 a.m.
Return: 3-3:30 p.m.
Adults: $162 per person
Kids under 12: $138 per person
Lunch served, BYOB (no glass please)
3 hour Sunset Sail
(By private charter only)
Winter Whale Watch Tour
Select Days Mon.-Fri. (depending on calm seas)
Mandatory Weather Check at 7 a.m.
Check-in: 9 a.m.
Return: 2:30 p.m.
Adults: $120 per person
Kids Under 12: $99 per person
Lunch served, BYOB (no glass please)
Please reserve your trip in advance here
Estimated Driving Times From…
Hanalei/Haena/Tunnels/Ke’e: 5-20 mins.
Princeville: 7-10 mins.
Kilauea: 15 mins.
Wailua/Kapa’a: 30-40 mins.
Lihu’e: 45-60 mins.
Hanapepe/Waimea: 2-2.5 hours