Adventures in Kauai: Great for all (or most) Ages
By Kathy Chin Leong
Trust me. When you fly with the kids to Kauai, reading a book poolside and tanning in the sunshine is not their idea of fun. While the Garden Island seems like the most laid back of the four, most visited Hawaiian islands (Big Island, Maui, and Oahu), high octane adventures are surprisingly prolific. From helicoptering to ATV romping in former sugar cane fields, you can leap onto as many adrenaline power trips as you want in a week, and never run out of activities.
As this year is the 25th anniversary of the Jurassic Park movie, adventure tour operators throughout the island are keen to point out film locations. Island Helicopters is the only one to offer a 75-minute Jurassic Falls tour where it has special rights to land near the 400-foot Manawaiopuna Falls. Tourists can hike to the waterfall base where the movie was filmed.
The helicopter flight includes noise cancelling headsets with Hawaiian music and historic narration. In operation since 1980, this is considered one of the safest helicopter companies around with a strong safety record. There are doors on these helicopters so passengers can feel comfortable and secure. Further, the ride is suitable for all ages, even infants. Riders should wear dark colors so they will not reflect on the glass windows. For many, the helicopter ride is the highlight of the vacation.
When San Jose, Calif., resident Dinora Bradley completed her flight, she was ecstatic when she returned home. “Amazing! Inspiring! I saw the island in a different way than my last time I was there,” she says. “What made me appreciate Kauai was this helicopter ride. Everyone has to experience it. I've been in airplane rides before, but this experience was spectacular. We had a pilot who described the places with so much love that it was contagious.”
Also one-of-a-kind in Kawai is the Mountain Tubing Adventure, inner tube excursion, offered only by Kauai Backcountry Adventures. Guests (no babies) lazily float in an inner tube down a private sugar cane ditch and through several pitch black caves during an excursion that lasts about an hour. Give yourself three hours, however, to factor in transportation, lunch, and registration check-in. The calorie burn on this trip? Zero. No experience nor courage is needed, but people should feel comfortable in narrow, dark spaces. You wear a helmet with a light, so you turn your headlamps on and off accordingly. Guides are young, sometimes funny, and highly informative as they share stories of Kauai’s sugarcane past.
The website for the excursion stresses that tubing is “extremely popular.” For that reason, you must book a month or more in advance. You won’t be sorry. Even the most jaded traveler will admit this is unique and makes you feel like a kid again.
When you get to the facility and wait for your ride, there is a little souvenir counter and free games to play such as corn hole for you to pass the time. Once you register, you board a cool jeep to get to the ditch site, and, along the way, you stop for a photo-op in front of a fantastic mountain range.
The guides share interesting info about the history of the sugar industry in the 1870s when ditches and tunnels were dug by Chinese laborers to move water to the sugar cane fields. These leftover ditches are now used to move people. It is a delightfully slow, lazy ride, so there is absolutely no need to fear. And the water is less than three-feet high, another reason not to tremble. If you fall out, you only have to stand up. Guides are at the front and the back, and they are lifeguard-ready.
Backcountry Adventures has photographers who are positioned in strategic places. They photos for you along different points of the trip, so you can view and purchase the files later on. You can bring a camera if you wish, but you are responsible for your gear. Don’t whine if you drop it in the water!
On another day, unleash your inner Tarzan, swing on a rope and splash into a hidden watering hole during a kayaking trip with Outfitters Kauai. This group kayak adventure on the river is a splendid, easy glide. No waves at all. And if you feel you don’t have the endurance to ply through the water on your own, pair up with a partner so you don’t have to do all the paddling.
On this adventure, you get to kayak, hike a little, swing into a watering hole, and then stop for a nice picnic sandwich lunch which is included. Make sure, as in all excursions, that you get buy-in from the kids. When I was on this trip, the kayak behind us held a mom and a little girl who complained the entire time. Poor mom!
Outfitters Kauai is all-in-one adventure vendor, so it also touts a zipline excursion where its custom FlyLine Zipline represents the longest in Kauai at three-quarters of a mile. Surrounded by jagged mountains and green valleys, you zoom like Superman above canopy trees and waterfalls as you are harnessed on a cable, stomach down. Between exhilarating zips on several lines you walk cross suspension bridges and enter in and out of a newly-constructed three-level treehouse that serves as the jumping-off platform.
You hit several zips, each one that gets longer and longer until you access the 4,000-foot long flight on the FlyLine. There are tandem lines, so you can try to race your partner, and you will also cut through breathtaking scenery that appeared in movies such as Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Descendants.
To ride, note that “flyers” have to be at least four feet tall, and weigh between 60-275 pounds. Pregnant mamas cannot fly, nor should people with back, neck or muscular problems. Rates for the AdrenalLIne Kauai Zipline Tour runs $129 and features four ziplines, including the FlyLIne, and lasts about two and a half hours.
ALL TERRAIN VEHICLE
On ground level, the action continues on ATVs (all terrain vehicle). Cover your face with a handkerchief and get ready for some mud slinging as you commandeer your own ATV. With Kauai ATV tours, you follow other intrepid explorers into caves and through former sugarcane plantations. The vendor gives you the handkerchief to keep as your souvenir, by the way.
Guides here are hilarious as they “talk story,” and you can easily figure out how to drive the ATV. You must drive in a line, well spaced between you and the other driver in front. Another one is in the back following you. The guides instruct you on how fast to go, and you must be ready to get splashed with mud, especially if it has rained in the morning or in the afternoon before your trek.
On this excursion, lunch is included. Wear your swimming suit beneath your clothes and prepare to go swimming at the watering hole which is the midway point before returning back to the headquarters.
In the ocean, a snorkeling sail with Captain Andy’s Sailing Adventures covers the famous Napili coastline where you skim aquamarine waters reminiscent of blue gelatin. Your skipper will slow down towards beaches where George Clooney’s Descendants was filmed and point to the mountains that became part of the backdrop in the animated Disney film, Lilo & Stitch.
Take the advice of seasoned snorkelers and pop a Bonine or Dramamine pill an hour before your sail to prevent seasickness.On this trip, only about 45 snorkelers are on board, and you get a morning coffee and treat, lunch, and snorkel gear.
On board, there is a netted trampoline that you can lie on to feel the wind and water on your face. It is an exhilarating ride, and on the sail boat you get plenty of space to stretch and stand. Unique here are the attentive staffers who come up to have conversation with you to make sure you are having a good time on the trip.
This snorkeling adventure makes one stop, and you have about 30 minutes or so to explore under water. You do not have to snorkel, however. It’s up to you. After the snorkel session, it’s time for a burger lunch, chips, a fresh-baked cookie, and after that, you head back. Wear plenty of sunscreen, bring a super absorbant towel, and look straight on the horizon so you do not get seasick. On my sail, only a couple of people felt ill, and I can attest that with my Bonine, I did fine. My companions fared well, and they did not even have to take a pill.
On the final day before departure, you may want to make it your wind down day. Hang out by the pool, get in that last order of poke and shave ice, and look to dine that restaurant you have been hankering to try. And do not worry if you didn’t hit every activity on your list. Kauai isn’t going away’ its fern grottos, open canyons will always say aloha.
When You Go:
Captain Andy’s Sailing Adventures: 4353 Waialo Rd. #1A, Ele’ele; 808.335.6833; napali.com
Island Helicopters: 3651 Ahukini Rd. #1, Lihue; 808.245.5050; islandhelicopters.com
Kauai ATV: 3477A Weliweli Rd, Koloa; 808.742.2734; kauaiatv.com
Kauai Backcountry Adventures: 3-4131 Kuhio Hwy, Lihue; kauaibackcountry.com
Outfitters Kauai: 230 Kipu Rd, Lihue; 808.742.9667; outfitterskauai.com