Likely the most popular of the four backcountry campsites along Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s remote Kau District coast, Halape is a transfixing destination. It offers an opportunity to backpack to a far-flung stretch of Big Island oceanfront, far from a road and rich in wilderness scenery.
Halape isn’t a good day hiking destination unless you’re a bit masochistic and in great shape. There are some 3,000 feet of elevation gain involved, and the shortest hike there—the one we’re profiling here—is 16 miles round-trip. Obtain a backcountry permit from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and you can camp here. Even if Halape sites aren’t available, you may be able to camp at Keauhou or Kaaha and hike over to explore Halape.
Reachable by a number of different (long) hikes, Halape is most directly accessed from the Hilina Pali Overlook Trailhead. This lies at the end of Hilani Pali Road, nine miles from the turnoff on Chain of Craters Road. Use caution driving to the trailhead, as Hilani Pali Road is narrow and one-lane.
The trailhead affords a nice view from the brow of the Hilina Pali (“windy cliff”). This is a long, roughly 1,500-foot-tall escarpment belonging to the Hilina Fault System on the southern slopes of Kilauea Volcano.
You’ll be descending the great Hilina Pali via numerous switchbacks: two dozen or so. The views from the escarpment can be stunning. Sometimes, though, Kilauea’s south flanks are socked in by volcanic fog (“vog”).
Clear views, by contrast, also likely come with scorching, intense sunshine. It’s essential to wear sunscreen, hats, and other sun protection on this hike. You definitely want to avoid being on the trail between late morning and mid-afternoon, if at all possible, at least on sunny days. It mostly crosses open grassy hillsides with widely scattered ohia trees. The wind can be intense as well. (“Windy cliff,” remember?)
You also want to bring plenty of water. The National Park Service recommends a minimum daily intake of three to four quarts per person. You also should inquire ahead with the park as to the availability of water at Halape Shelter. There’s a catchment tank there that accumulates rainwater off the shelter’s roof, but it’s not guaranteed to be full. This water, by the way, should be treated before you drink it.
Below the Hilina Pali, you’ll cross a gentler coastal slope to reach Halape. You’ll come to the 1.6-mile Halape access trail after 6.4 miles on the Hilina Pali Trail.
Halape offers some of the rare shade on this mostly open seacoast. There are coconut palms and milo trees marking the area, with the three-sided shelter providing a shady hangout as well. Halape also boasts a rare swath of pretty sand on a predominantly rocky coastline.
Up to 16 campers can bed down at Halape per night. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park allows stays of a maximum of three consecutive nights here. There’s a composting toilet available on-site.
You can snorkel in the fairly sheltered nearshore waters and explore brackish coastal pools around Halape. Keep your eyes peeled for sea turtles, which are abundant off this quiet coastline.
You’ve got lots of options for different hiking circuits that incorporate Halape. Besides the Hilina Pali and Halape trails, it can be reached via an 8.5-mile hike on the Keauhou Trail or an 11.3-mile foray on the Puna Coast Trail. If you can arrange a shuttle, hiking out via the Puna Coast Trail helps you avoid the grueling climb back up the pali.
Halape’s coastal groves and oasis-like sands, overhung by pristine night skies, make an enchanting backcountry destination. Consider trying for a camping permit here (or hiking in from the Keauhou campsite) to experience that magic firsthand!
When inquiring about water (and/or getting your camping permit), ask a ranger about current conditions on the Halape Trail. It’s often pretty overgrown. A good map and solid route-finding skills are important.