Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

A group of at least a dozen hikers and backpackers spent an unplanned extra night camping in the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park along Kauai’s Kalalau Trail earlier this month after the Hanakapiai Stream flooded.

The decision to remain overnight was reinforced after one couple tried to cross the turbulent, flood-swollen stream, using a makeshift rope line, and nearly drowned.

Valeria Gracheva and Martin Guski, a pair of German hikers cited in a recent Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) statement, said they watched in “horror” as the couple clung to the rope in the rushing, chest-deep water.

Gracheva reported that at one point the woman lost her grip, went into the stream and was grabbed by the man at the last second.

“We thought it was over for her,” Gracheva said.

By the next day, the Hanakapiai flood conditions had subsided, and the stranded hikers were able to make it back to their cars, according to the Hawaii DLNR.

But not everyone has been so lucky. The Hanakapiai Stream at flood stage has “claimed numerous lives over the years, when people attempting to cross it are swept out to sea,” the DLNR statement said.

Sue Kanoho, the executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, said it’s crucial that people planning to hike along the Kalalau Trail, which is renowned for its stunning access to the Garden Isle’s jaw-dropping Napali Coast, check weather conditions and forecasts.

“Interior rain is a big deal,” she explained. “It can be sunny on the south shore and storming on the interior of the island, and that fills everything up that flows to ocean. Before you know it, what started out seeming like a good day for hiking turns into flash flooding.”

Hanakapiai, and other streams across the Aloha State, are incredibly dangerous during periods of heavy rain, in part, because flooding can occur so suddenly, but also because visitors don’t realize just how deadly crossing these waterways can be.

“Some people get into the thinking of ‘Oh, I need to catch a flight’ or whatever it might be that they think they need to do,” Kanoho said. “But it’s just not worth losing your life over. It just takes one wrong step. The problem with that area is there are so many rocks. So if you‘re swept down, the chances of you getting knocked unconscious, or worse, are pretty high. So you just don’t want to put yourself in harm’s way.”

Kanoho recommended travelers visit the County of Kauai Facebook page for the latest weather news regarding flash flood warnings, high surf advisories and even Kalalau Trail closings.

Visitors considering the popular Kalalau hike, which requires a permit for overnight outings, should also be sure to stop by the DLNR’s dedicated website and check out a new Kalalau Trail safety video released by the state agency late last year. 

Kanoho also said that travel agents looking to teach clients about the danger of flash flooding in Hawaii may find the following drone footage of a rapidly rising stream on Maui helpful.


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