On our last full day in Kauai, Eric and I booked a kayaking & hiking trip along the Wailua River with Kayak Adventures. It was the activity I’d been looking the most forward to during our week-long trip to Kauai.
We arrived early in the morning at the company’s office in Kapa’a, where we met our guide, Andy, and our fellow kayakers. Each of us was given a dry bag in which to pack our belongings, two bottles of water, and a few snacks. Then we piled into a van and made our way to the Wailua River Marina at the mouth of the Wailua River.
After securing our dry bag to the kayak and lugging it down the dock and into the water, we were on our way! The trip began with a two-mile kayak down the river, deep into the heart of Kauai. Andy was impressively knowledgeable about the details of Kauai’s history and paused to mention fun facts along the trip.
I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t being on an island protect them from invasion? Sure. But these people weren’t taking any chances. Besides, it’s beautiful here, and when you’re a king you can pretty much live wherever you want.
Just before turning up the north branch of the river, we passed by Kamokila Village, best known for its appearance in the movie Outbreak. This historical village aims to embody 17th-century Hawaiian life. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stop here on our tour.
Vibrant green shrubbery dipped lazily into the water, shading us as we paddled up the right fork. Yellow hibiscus, the state flower of Hawaii, grew all around us. Red hibiscus floated on the river’s surface as we paddled past. Andy told us that these flowers turn from yellow to red within a day, falling from their vines as their color slowly transitioned.
The river gradually narrowed until we could no longer paddle with ease. We harbored our kayaks by the riverside and continued on foot through the jungle.
Kauai, besides being the oldest of the Hawaiian islands to form, was also the first of the islands to become inhabited. It is estimated that the earliest Polynesian settlers reached Kauai sometime between 200 and 600 AD. Kauai operated independently of its neighbors until 1810, when the Kingdom of Hawaii was established.
Hawaii’s remained isolated until the 19th century when the pineapple and sugar industries began flourishing. South American travelers first brought the pineapple to Hawaii when stopping on the islands to restock supplies. The fruit took naturally to the Hawaiian environment and began growing rapidly.
Sugar cane was already an abundant resource on the island, having been imported by the original Polynesian settlers for medicinal use. Yet it wasn’t until 1835 that the first sugar cane plantation was founded. Andy pointed out a number of ancient water ducts that had been created in this valley to move water from the river into neighboring sugar cane fields.
Andy also introduced us to the kukui trees — the state tree of Hawaii. These trees grow big, round nuts which produce an oil that had many uses for early Hawaiians. They burned the oil for light. It worked excellently as a shampoo. And, when ingested, it behaved as a laxative, making it useful to treat an upset stomach. Today, these nuts are best recognized for their use in Kukui Nut Leis, the popular leis of Kauai.
Minutes later, we reached the grand finale of our excursion: Uluwehi Waterfall. Commonly known as the “Secret Waterfall,” this was once the private bathing pool of the kings of Kauai.
When we’d finished exploring, we met back up with our group for lunch. Andy had brought along sandwiches for us, and I devoured mine, hungry after our journey to this gorgeous site. While we ate, Andy put together a small offering of Hawaiian flowers to the sacred spirits of this place, thanking them for allowing us to spend time there.