The beach at Nualolo Kai was the portal to the sea and its bounty for the people of the adjoining Nualolo ‘Aina valley. A trail and ladder down the separating cliff led to this small valley with its freshwater spring, broad beach and coral reef. A premier Na Pali Coast fishing village long stood here, though only traces of it now remain. Plantings behind the beach provided some foods and medicines, but it was the reef that was most important for its supply of multicolored fishes, seaweeds, and shellfish, like opihi limpets and pipipi snails.
Even sharks were taken, like the reef white tips that, if not steadfastly patrolling the reef, sleep in the crevices bordering the white sandy bottoms. Fish and turtle pens were probably set up too on the reef to hold live catches until needed. Outrigger canoes likely lined the beach, ready for offshore fishing when schools of oceanic fishes like aku tuna and akule jacks came near. The reef, of the fringing type, is shallow and extends out from the sandy beach like a natural jetty.
Besides providing seafoods, Nualolo Kai also buffered the persistent onslaught of trade wind swell that rolls in nearly 80 percent of the year. At the lowest tides half the reef top will go virtually dry, the summer sun toasting its crop of golden brown seaweed. This weed, a kind of Sargassum (as in the Sargasso Sea) is a favorite food of resident green sea turtles. The turtles, in fact, are now the main attraction here. Imagine the excitement of a close underwater encounter with one of these incredible creatures, gentle and graceful green angels that, swimming away, leave you in a state of natural peace. More common is the unexpected turtle’s head popping up from the sea surface close to the raft bringing you here. Most say its face looks like that of Kermit the Frog’s—a magical connection to a childhood Sesame Street memory. During low tide the turtles gather and patiently wait just outside the reef. Then they glide in as the tide slowly swells, trying to be first to sample their favorite seaweeds.