A Day on the Sea – The Ultimate Boat Tour of the Na Pali Coast

As the alarm rang at 6 am on our vacation, I really questioned the decision to go on this boat tour. Why did it have to be so early? And such a long drive away? But finding a tour that would do snorkeling and sailing around the Na Pali Coast AND welcomed children turned out to be harder than I expected. So when I found one in our price range, I had to bite the bullet and accept the 8 AM tour start time.

In Bali, we were able to go snorkeling twice. My son loved being able to swim in the ocean and see the fish in the water. So snorkeling was high on his list of wants for his birthday trip. But my husband doesn’t swim, and refuses to get in the ocean, even with a life vest. So we needed a tour that also included sailing around to see the island landscape, appealing to my photographer husband’s interests. We had heard of the beautiful Na Pali Coast, so we started to specifically look for tours that would encompass all our needs. We were lucky to find Liko Cruises’ “Ultimate Na Pali Snorkel Tour”. It was four hours long, allowed children, and provided lunch. It was more of a speed boat with shaded areas. But it did take off from Waimea, on the south side of the island. We were staying in Lihue, a 45 minute drive away. When I called to book the 2pm tour they let me know in the off season (this was February), they usually don’t have a 2pm launch time, only 8 am. So that’s how on our vacation, we found ourselves waking up early to get a quick breakfast of cereal and oatmeal, and then drive to our destination.

They are excited for having been woken up at dawn on vacation

Taking off from Waimea dock, it’s nothing but some picnic tables where we met up. There we met the amazing Captain Andy. He was very laid back and set the tone for the trip. He told us the important basics, that there was lunch and drinks on board, but no snacks. (I made sure to bring some of our own). He talked through safety measures, what we would do on the cruise, and then had us all sign our life away on the liability forms before we boarded. As we all lined up to board, we were a bit slow gathering our stuff and getting to the dock, and we were the last ones on board. Unfortunately that meant there were not four seats together in the shade. My husband took one seat in the back, and I ended up in the sun up front with my kids who wanted to be at the head of the boat.

Soon we were off, and we saw the difference quickly in the motorized boat vs a sailboat. As we rode the waves breaking as we exited the harbor, the front of the boat was going up and down. The kids were having a blast and screaming in delight. I was scared I’d lose one overboard. But, as promised by our captain, no one flew and we safely made it out of the harbor.

Excited to be up front and not at all afraid to be launched off

We were not far along before the captain spotted some dolphins playing in the water and took us closer. Soon we were seeing dolphins playing and whales breaching. The captain was great at looking at the water to see the animals, and bringing us as close as he could. They even had an underwater microphone they dropped in the water, so we could hear the whales singing to each other underwater. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard.

Dolphins played in the water near us most of the ride*

Of course one of the great features of this tour was the landscape. The Na Pali Coast is the west Coast of Kauai and is inaccessible by car. You can only access it on foot due to the steep mountains. So the boat tours are popular because they are one of the few ways you can see the landscape. It did not disappoint. We were able to see the mountains, the hills, the hidden coves and the caves. Being a smaller boat, we were able to get in closer to the caves. The conditions were pretty choppy the day we were sailing, so we weren’t able to get all the way in, but when the water is calmer, the boat can get even closer.

The beautiful Na Pali Coast
We had amazing views of waterfalls and caves, and were able to get up close thanks to the size of the boat*

We set up anchor in a calmer part of the ocean, with a view of the coast to eat lunch. We had placed our order ahead, so I was able to go and collect the sandwiches we each liked. They were pretty good deli sandwiches, and they served them with chips and drinks. There were some sodas, some soft drinks, some great juices, and of course plenty of water. At this point the sun was tiring me so we all devoured our food and drinks. The guides came round with cookies and the kids were able to look cute and get extras. Lucky kids.

About three hours into our tour, the captain let us know that the good snorkeling spots had choppy water. So he gave us a choice. Did we want to anchor here and go for a swim in the ocean, but know there wasn’t’ going to be good snorkeling? Or just continue sailing on and seeing more sights. My son really wanted to snorkel. I was about to be really disappointed, I had booked a snorkeling tour. I asked him “Are you ok just swimming in the ocean?” “Yeah!” He yelled. So we were vocal about swimming and the captain dropped anchor.

I got a mask, and the kids thankfully brought their googles. We took a float belt and all three of us jumped into the water. My kids were so excited to be swimming in the ocean, and having a great time. I was immediately tired, realizing that the boat was further and further away and I was not a strong swimmer. At some point, my son saw some people jumping off the front of the boat and wanted to do it. I was terrified, but he was able to get to the boat before I could stop him (darn him and his strong swimming). My husband was a little terrified, but the captain and guides assured him it was safe, and my son quickly got on the head of the boat and jumped off. Then he swam all the way around the boat to me and said “Wow, that was a long jump and I got a lot of water up my nose. Maybe not such a good idea…”. That’s my boy! (In all honestly,I was really proud that he did it, and overcame the fear my husband and I had. He really is a strong swimmer).

We all got into the ocean and splashed around, though we didn’t really snorkel*

After a little bit, we all swam back to the boat and started to dry off. The boat pulled up the anchor and we headed back to the harbor. The rest of the ride was relaxing as we all sat and watched the coast line go by, as we dried off and got ready to get back on shore. Soon we were back in Waimea, and the boat was tied to the port. We slowly gathered our stuff and walked off the boat, finding that we had a case of sea legs, and were a bit wobbly as we wandered to the restroom and car. The kids slept as we drove back toward Lihue, but we were all awash in the glow of a good day on the ocean, with the sun, the sights, and the beauty of Kauai. Was it more of a boat tour with some snorkeling than a snorkeling tour? Yes. But was it kid friendly, and allow us to all enjoy the day on the ocean? Yes. Would we do it again? In a heartbeat.

This trip was part of our series The Best Adventure – Milestone Birthdays in Kauai

*Starred photos taken by Atma Photography

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