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Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

By Alita Byrd

I’m on a quest: not for the fountain of youth or the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or even the world’s best pizza. I’m looking for the most spectacular beach on earth. Many factors must be measured carefully, including quality of sand, relative peace and quiet, surrounding scenery, size of waves, cleanliness of water and overall beauty.

But as I round the last bend in the trail, my knees buckling from a grueling 11-mile hike, I know that my quest is over. A wide crescent of golden sand stretches below dramatic green spires and peaks, calmly taking the beating of monstrous waves crashing at regular intervals. A foamy white waterfall spirals down to pool behind large boulders at one end of the beach. Green jungle creeps down to meet the sand—mango and guava and myriads of tangled vines.

But best of all, the wide stretch of sand is empty. No back-to-back bodies scrambling for towel space, no warring stereos, no half-buried glass bottles and no used band-aids floating in the swells. Just sea, sand and sun. The perfect beach.

Reaching Kalalau Beach on Kauai’s nearly impassable Na Pali Coast is not for the faint-hearted. In the winter, the only way is to slog 11 miles through sticky red mud, clinging to the sides of precipitous cliffs, forcing yourself not to look at the angry waves crashing against the jagged rocks far below. In between these stretches of intense concentration, the trail ducks into peaceful green valleys traversed by splashing streams. At Hanakapi'ai, just two miles in, I was forced to wade a foaming river that reached past my waist. My feet, encased in sturdy hiking boots, stayed wet the rest of the journey as I forded other streams every few miles. Clambering up and down the 4,000-foot ridges, I was passed by a silent trail runner carrying nothing but water, a group of surfer-dudes somehow managing to lug a 12-foot board along the steep passes and a deeply tanned nearly-naked man with a scraggly beard who darted away into the green foliage when he spotted me.

There are no roads to Kalalau and there never will be. The original trail was built long ago by native Hawaiians who fished and raised crops in Na Pali’s remote coastal valleys. The more modern trail is maintained by the Park Service and agreed to be one of the most spectacular walks in the world. In fact, some hippies and backpackers have been so enthralled by the dramatic beauty of the Kalalau Valley that they have disappeared into the forest where they grow hash to trade for staples from incoming backpackers.

With my first glimpse of the sand at the end of the trail, I know how they must feel. After the jaw-dropping, muscle-stretching ordeal to reach Kalalau Beach, I know I deserve to be there. And how could it be anything but the best beach on earth?

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