Kauai Underground Guide

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Kayak Kauai’s Rivers
Kayaking Kauai’s Rivers

Exploring Kauai’s rivers by kayak can be fun, but increasingly controversial as the rivers become more crowded. The problem is most acute at the Wailua River, which as Kauai’s only navigable river, offers a variety of other water sports. On a summer day, you may see powerboats zipping along towing water-skiers, dodging the wide tour barges lumbering along in the center on their way to the Fern Grotto (at present these boats are prevented from taking tours while a falling rock problem at Fern Grotto is being solved), while clusters of kayaks hug the banks trying to avoid the wakes! Now there is even a ‘kayak lane’ on the north side of the river (though motorcraft have the ‘right of way’).

Rainbow Kayaks has an excellent trip upriver to the waterfall, (about a mile) in two person kayaks. Knowledgeable guides describe local wildlife, history, and legends). After hiking another mile, you reach the waterfall for a swim and excellent picnic lunch. Since the trail can get muddy, shoes with some sort of sole are recommended (not slippers). Tour guides will take family photos (826-9983).

Outfitters Kauai also offers a Wailua River tour ($94 with lunch) and waterfall hike. Or rent your own kayak (about $30/day/single; $45/day/double) from Outfitters Kauai or Kauai Water Ski & Surf Co. (822-3574).

For river tours of the Hule‘ia River, where Indiana Jones was filmed, contact Island Adventures (245-9662; www.kauaifun.com). A one-way guided paddle ($89) follows the river through the Hule‘ia National Wildlife Refuge and the State of Hawaii Conservation District, to the ancient Alakoko ‘Menehune’ Fish Pond, made, according to legend, by the ‘Menehune,’ Kauai’s magical ‘little people.’ After a short hike, where you can observe many birds, waterfowl, and beautiful exotic plants, you reach Papakolea Falls for a swim, then a picnic nearby before a van takes you to your car. Hule‘ia River tours are also offered by Outfitters Kauai, and can take you to Kipu Falls, a beautiful spot on private land. This is the only safe and legal way to visit Kipu Falls. A group of up to 20 proceeds at a leisurely pace, a two-mile paddle upriver, then a hike along trails (often muddy). After a brief wagon tour of Kipu Ranch and lunch, you spend an hour at the rock pool and falls for swimming, and trying out the 25-ft rope swing. This tour is a great way for recreational hikers and kayakers to enjoy inaccessible places (not for those who like to push ahead), though a new 275-ft zipline ride across a waterfall is an adventure! www.outfitterskauai.com; 742-9667/888-742-9887.

On the north shore, Princeville Ranch Hike & Kayak offers a wonderful hike (45 min) combined with kayaking a secluded stream (1/2 hour), picnic lunch at a hidden waterfall before the return trip (4 hrs total). Great views, peaceful scenery, and healthful lunch (826-7669 or 888-955-7669; www.kauai-hiking.com).


Contact Mirah Horowitz for more info on the best kayak tours.

Between May and mid-September, guided ocean kayak tours of the north shore and Na Pali can be spectacular, but you must be ready for a strenuous workout. Kayak Kauai Outfittersoffers a day-long kayak excursion between Ha‘ena and Polihale State Beach on the westside. Paradise Outdoor Adventures offers sea kayak tours along the eastern shore from Kapa‘a to Hanam‘aulu (808-822-1112).

Remember the sun! A hat, sunscreen, and drinking water are a must! Bring a towel and spare shirt for an emergency cover up.

If you paddle up river, don’t drink the river water, and if you have an open cut you must be particularly cautious. The bacterium leptospirosis has been detected in all of Kauai’s rivers, and can cause serious, even fatal, flu-like symptoms. Explore the beautiful Hanalei River with Luana of Hawaii (826-9069), or rent a kayak from Pedal & Paddle and tour on your own. Go early for the best selection.

Kayak Kauai Outbound (800-437-3507 or 826-9844; www.kayakkauai.com) offers tours and also rents 2-person and 1-person kayaks (2-hour minimum). From its convenient riverside location, you can travel upriver, or venture downriver to Hanalei Bay. In summer, when Hanalei Bay is calm, you may be able to paddle along the bay’s edge and pull up on the Princeville Hotel’s sandy beach. Everything in the kayak can get wet, so protect your camera in a waterproof bag. Bring drinks, snacks, perhaps snorkeling gear to explore the reef. A 2-hour trip may be all you need (and all your muscles can take). Or load the kayak onto your car and drive to the boat pier at Hanalei Bay, or to Anini beach or Kalihiwai Bay (about 10 minutes). When winter surf and currents are too strong, your best options will be Hanalei Kalihiwai Rivers.

Sea kayaking can be great fun, in the right surf conditions. Kayak Kauai Outbound (800-437-3507 or 808-826-9844; www.kayakkauai.com) offers a day-long kayak excursion between Ha‘ena and Polihale State Beach on the westside. Views are spectacular, but be ready for a strenuous six hours of hard paddling. Occasional squalls and choppy water often punctuate the ride, but in your kayak you can explore sea caves, play with dolphins, and visit with turtles. When Na Pali waters become too rough (October till April), whale-watching tours go out along the south shore ‚to Kipu Kai. Poipu-based Outfitters Kauai (742-9667 or 888-742-9887; www.outfitterskauai.com) offers guided sea kayak tours along Na Pali ($165) and the south shore (winter), as well as bike and kayak rentals.

Be sure to clarify the tour cancellation policy carefully, or you may wind up being charged if you change your mind. If you are renting, check the kayak carefully for patches and leaks. And remember the sun! A hat, sunscreen, and drinking water are a must. Bring a towel and spare shirt. If you paddle up river, don’t drink the river water, and if you have an open cut, be particularly cautious. The bacterium causing leptospirosis found in all of Kauai’s rivers can cause serious, even fatal, flu-like symptoms.

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