Kauai’s Awaawapuhi Valley is the narrowest and deepest of Na Pali’s remote, isolated valleys.

Some say the name refers to the valley’s sinuous curves and twists that wind between its three thousand foot walls, like a slithering eel, or puhi. But the more accurate translation is more romantic, for ‘awapuhi is the native word for the wild ginger that grows in its shady depths. Revered for its decorative and fragrant flowers, it also had many practical uses— for food and fiber, and especially for the natural shampoo that oozes from its flowering stalk.

Nowadays this valley (Awa) of the wild ginger looks much less lush than it must have been in ancient times, for the irrigated terraces for cultivating the life-giving taro have long since fallen away. By sea, the valley itself is hidden from view except for its towering cliffs, for it hangs above a low sea cliff, with the valley’s stream ending in a waterfall to the sea. At the base there is now a tall natural screen of dark green hau, a native Hawaiian bush of the hibiscus family, whose bark was once used for rope-making. But there can still be seen a multitude of half-washed- away rock dams that at one time went completely through the stream to create perfect terraces for growing taro.


    Adults $135 | Children $99 | 4.0 Hours


    Adults $135 | Children $99 | 4.0 Hours

Imagine those terraced gardens in their heyday, like those of Bali except for growing taro, not rice. Farming must have been challenging then because the dark shadows of the sheer cliffs limited the sunlight, and a combination of red, clay-like rocky debris from the cliffs and the rocky valley soil meant much work to hand separate out the soil to fill into the terraces. There were also episodic heavy rains and powerful flash flooding, the valley stream becoming a swollen red river that washed away everything in its path. Then the process of rebuilding the terraces and the replanting had to begin all over again.

On its western side, on the point overlooking the ocean, is a rock wall heiau, or temple platform. It could be where gods of the sea and fishing were once supplicated, or, on the dark side, perhaps a dedication site to the god Ku, the god of war, to whom human sacrifice with cannibalism was sometimes offered. Sadly, cruelty was part of most of mankind’s religions of those long ago times.

Facing south, the cliff wall trail can still be seen, while to the east calcium minerals have stained the cliff with splotches of white. Above are the hau bushes, and to the bottom left is a sea cave, home to noddy terns that live entirely off the sea’s bounty. Lastly, to the right, are remains of the once hanging gardens of ti whose great leaves have a hundred uses, noni trees of powerful medicinal value, and scattered wild taro. The last are descendants of the same taro once cultivated by those ancient Polynesians who lived out their lives in this lonely valley.