One of the suggestions that came highly recommended by our travel agent for our Kauai trip was that we see the Na Pali coast during our stay. The Na Pali coast is located on the Northwest coast of Kauai and is quite a beautiful sight with its beautiful waterfalls, rugged caves, sun-kissed beaches, and towering cliffs.
There are many tour companies that can take you to the coast with boat tours, but after extensive research, we decided on Captain Andy’s Raft & Snorkel Tour of the Na Pali Coast. They seemed to have the most positive reviews and offered the type of adventurous rafting tour we were looking for.
Booking was really simple on Captain Andy’s website. You can filter by dates, time of day, and number of guests. From there, you can browse the tours that fit your criteria. They offer everything from easy-going sunset boat tours, dinner cruises, snorkel tours, and picnic sails on catamarans, and for the adventurous type, rafting tours.
The tours can vary from 2 to 6 hours, with some including meals and snacks. After browsing the options, we decided to do the Na Pali Raft Snorkel Adventure 4-hour tour. This expedition lets you get the closest to the cliffs (including going inside cliff sea caves), snorkeling, and high-speed adventure. This is not your mother’s tour but for thrill-seeking travelers! Since we were technically in the winter season (before May 15th), the price was $149 vs. $224 for summer pricing.
After booking, you receive an email confirmation and later additional information via email about the tour. They include the time of your tour, date, departure location with directions, a link to the waiver, ideas of what to bring, and a link to their FAQs.
They also send a 2-minute video overview that has views from the tours, check-in location and timing, a reminder to sign the waiver, suggestions on what to bring/wear, and a reminder that they provide dry bags to store your belongings.
They were also upfront in the video about how seriously they take safety. Weather may affect your trip, so they monitor the weather and may change the route or activities based on the conditions. If they do have to change the tour location due to weather, you are given the option to drop out.
What To Wear
Captain Andy’s recommends that you wear a swimsuit and bring a towel, a cover-up, and sunscreen. You will be swimming at times during this tour, so you definitely want a towel, but you can air dry pretty quickly too since it’s windy out there!
There are a couple of areas of your body that will rub on the rope handles or rafts, so if you have sensitive skin, I’d recommend also wearing additional clothing over your normal swimsuit. There are no shoes allowed on the boat. Shoes are stored before the boat leaves.
It’s extremely windy so I brought a water-resistant rain jacket and was really happy to have it for warmth since I’m someone who’s prone to being cold. If you want to take pictures, you can bring a camera or cell phone.
I have a loop on my phone case, so I felt comfortable taking it out of the dry bag for pictures despite the bumpy ride. I also saw people with those plastic phone cases connected to a lanyard around their necks which would be a great idea too.
Check-in begins 30 minutes prior to your departure at the Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor in Kekahana. There is a large dirt parking lot, and folks will start to gather under the pavilion for the tour. We were greeted right away by our captain (Shoutout to Captain Chase!) who checked us in and gave us a dry bag for our belongings.
While we waited for the rest of the group to arrive, we loaded our dry bag with our things and used the nearby restroom. When loading your dry bag, I recommend putting things you will want access to first on top and stuff you won’t need at all at the bottom.
For example, put wallets and car keys at the bottom, then towels and cell phones since you may want to use the phones often for pictures. After the entire group gathered, we were given a weather update, tour overview, and safety overview. As we headed to the boat, we were reminded that this tour was rough.
You reach speeds of over 30mph and hit huge waves straight on in a small raft. There were 12 of us in the group, plus the captain and a deckhand. The front is a bumpier ride, and the back is a bit smoother so choose your seat wisely. We sat 6 on each side “sidesaddle” on the raft.
Sidesaddle means you have one leg up on the side of the raft and your inside leg on the ground of the raft. Your inside foot is tucked under a rope for safety, though our captain assured us he’s never had anyone fall off. There are parallel ropes on either side that you can hold on to. Hold on tight because it’s a bumpy ride!
Start of The Tour
We got situated as we left the harbor, and as soon as we hit open water, we were off! Our captain hit the gas as we passed over a huge wave that lifted us out of our seats. The soundtrack our captain played was a great mix of upbeat jams and hard rock that really pumped us up.
I had Blur- Song 2 (Woohoo) stuck in my head for days after. We flew by Polihale beach at high speed, with music blaring and wind pelting our faces. The captain was making sure we had a great experience, hitting waves, doing donuts, and at one point racing a flock of birds that was traveling along the coastline.
We learned that the Hawaiian word “Na Pali” translates to “The Cliffs”. And wow, the cliffs in the Na Pali Coast did not disappoint. Towering hundreds of feet above our heads, the massive cliffs and valleys were beautifully illuminated by the rising sun.
The rafting expedition offers much more than just rafting along the coastline. You pass by beautiful waterfalls that begin hundreds of feet up in the mountains and pour down the cliffs until they hit the water right beside the boat. I was holding my breath as the talented captain maneuvered our raft inside small sea caves despite the massive crashing waves pushing our boat around. There is simply no other way to see these majestic caves.
The other boats are too big to fit, and you would never be able to swim against the current. It was incredible. We stopped every so often to rest our hands which were holding on tight during the ride. My knuckles got a bit beat up, and we were incredibly sore all over during and after the expedition. My husband and I are in our early 30s and are fairly athletic, so this adventure is no joke!
You are white-knuckling that rope handle the entire way. During our stops, the captain would turn the boat so we could get great pictures. Sometimes we jumped in and swam in the crystal-clear water of the Na Pali Coast. It was warmer than expected and you can see down all the way to the sandy bottom of the ocean.
Snacks and drinks are provided as part of it. The staff gave us some delicious homemade granola bars, bags of chips, water, and soda. We were unable to go snorkeling at the designated location due to the water conditions. Although this was disappointing, I appreciated our captain putting our safety first, and the rest of the tour was incredibly fun regardless.
We were also able to see a variety of wildlife. We saw turtles swimming alongside our boat as well as resting on the beaches that we passed by. We spotted a monk seal resting ashore as well. At one point, we encountered a pod of spinner dolphins. The captain told us a lot about these native dolphins that live in Kauai. They are a smaller breed of dolphins, and many of the ones we saw were actually sleeping.
We learned that they sleep in shifts. So while some of the sleeping dolphins swam by us, passing only a few feet from our idling boat, we could see others about 30 feet away jumping and playing. We were extremely lucky to see whales on our journey as well.
Being early May, the whale watching season is at its end and most whales have left Kauai already.
However, the captain spotted a large breech from a distance, and we rode over to get a closer look. We stopped the boat and watched the gigantic mama whale and her young calf for a while. The mother did not breach again, but the baby put on a little show for us, coming about 100 feet from our raft and practicing its breaching a few times.
Other Tours By Capt Andy’s
We had an absolute blast on Captain Andy’s Na Pali Raft Snorkel Adventure. However, keep in mind this tour is not for everyone. I would not recommend this tour to the elderly or anyone with physical conditions, and it may be a little intense for small children. But don’t worry, if this is not the tour for you, Captain Andy’s offers several other boat tours that will fit your needs.
The Dinner Sunset Sail is a good choice for those looking to enjoy an unforgettable dinner with views in a relaxing setting. You can also choose their Na Pali Snorkel Picnic Sail if you just want to go snorkeling without the hard conditions of being on a raft.
However, for the thrill-seeking adventurers who don’t mind getting a little banged up in order to see the absolute best views of the Na Pali coast, this tour will be the highlight of your trip to Kauai!
Written by: Kylee Bailey