Hi Doug-Just a note to thank you for your response to my question about renting equipment on Kauai. Got a note from another hiker who recommended we take our own gear because the stuff they rent is often pretty grungy and they don't always have what they say they do. Also, their idea of a backpacking tent weighs 30 pounds! We took our own stuff and were very happy.
Right now, the trail from Hanakoa to Kalaulau is still closed. The official line is that they're repairing the trail, but the locals say the rangers are trying to remove the squatters in the Kalaulau valley.
You asked about getting a permit. I must have gotten really lucky, because I only requested a permit about six weeks in advance of our travel. Of course, I was only asking for one night at Hanakoa for two people. The important thing is to send a copy of a picture ID for everyone in the group. State driver's licenses are fine if they have a picture. Also, you can only stay at each location for one night, with a total of five nights on the trail. That would be one night at Hanakapiaia, one at Hanakoa, one at Kalaulau, and the same in reverse. I would assume that the earlier you can send the request the better. It would also depend on the time of year and how busy they are. Personally, I would recommend this time of year. The rainy season is just about over in mid to late April and it is still reasonably cool. There's a lot of up and down hiking into and out of valleys and when you get into that rainy forest, it's pretty hot and humid. I sure wouldn't want to do it in the middle of summer, although I guess the temp doesn't change all that much.
Although Hanakoa is known for rain and mosquitoes, we had neither (except for a few mosquitoes after dark, but by that time we were ready to crash in the tent.) A few other notes in case you want to add them to your interesting info.
If you're looking for a beautiful beach at Hanakapiaia, you won't find it in April. Apparently, the winter storms wash away all the sand and it doesn't return until summer. Right now, there are only rocks, a smelly outhouse, and overflowing garbage cans. Of course, a lot of day hikers go in there, so that probably accounts for most of the unpleasantness.
Don't wear anything you ever want to use again in polite company. You're almost guaranteed to create your own "Red Dirt" clothes as you slip and slide over the slimy, brown, muddy trails. We saw lots of people sliding down the trail into Hanakapiaia on their tushes. I really had to laugh at people in their pristine white vacation Nikes. As you know, that stuff just doesn't wash, bleach, or dynamite out.
The campsites at Hanakoa are described in several sources as "terraces". I don't know about you, but when I hear the word "terrace", I see a fairly large, grassy flat space. The "terraces" at Hanakoa are barely large enough to accomodate a two-man tent and are heavily sheltered by trees (a plus when it rains). They're very pleasant, if you can ignore the roots that are inevitably in the middle of where you are lying. You can claim a section of the stream which runs nearby for your own private spa. Each "terrace" has a campfire ring.
We found that, at this time of year, you really don't need to haul along sleeping bags. We just took pads and wore sweats and socks to sleep in. I slipped on my nylon rain/windbreaker toward morning, but otherwise was comfortable. And as any backpacker knows, the lighter the load the better.
Snorkeling at Tunnels was great, better than any other north coast beach, although there were some high surf warnings and lots of wind. If people plan to feed the fish to attract them, it might be good to advise them to lift the hand holding the food out of the water after each release. Both my son and I got bitten by some overeager denizens of the deep.
I know that your page is devoted to the north coast, but if anyone wants info on Kokee and Waimea Canyon, we also spent four days in a cabin there. I won't bore you with the details.
Thanks again for your response and your very interesting info.