Commission: 10 percent, based on referrals.
Rates: From $135-$155 per person.
When it comes to uncovering some of the Garden Isle’s most picturesque landscapes, an all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) tour is the way to go. I learned that lesson during the four-hour Waterfall Mauka Tour with Kauai ATV, a Koloa-based tour operator that has been leading excursions since 1999.
The adventure began with a morning stop at the Kauai ATV office, which doubles as a retail store called Da Life. When we pulled up to the parking lot of a nondescript shopping center, I wondered if we were in the right place until I saw the storefront’s window displaying Kauai ATV’s motto, “Do Something Dirty.”
Kauai ATV hands over the keys for some island-style off-roading. // (c) 2010 Kauai ATV
Once inside, my group and I purchased bright orange bandanas for $2, something I highly recommend. We’d planned to wear the handkerchiefs so as not to ingest too much mud on our imminent adventure. After all of the tour participants arrived, we were given a five-minute briefing and were advised to bring disposable, waterproof cameras and closed-toe shoes. Those of us who had glasses or sunglasses would be fine, as long as we weren’t wearing spectacles of the Jackie O. variety. Also, we were told not to worry about our clothes, as we would be given a change of clothes to wear once we reached the plantation.
Our group consisted of honeymooners, families, friends and repeat Kauai ATV riders. Just as we started to head out to Koloa Plantation, it began to drizzle. Secretly, I hoped it would only add to the already muddy conditions. At the plantation, a three-minute drive from the office, we met our tour guides, Pat and Eric. They doled out cargo pants and well-worn T-shirts, along with goggles and helmets for each of us, little ones included. While ATV drivers must be at least 16 years of age with a valid driver’s license, children five and older are welcome as passengers in a two-seater Mud Bug or a four-seater Ohana Bug.
Kauai ATV is quite committed to being green on this greenest of Hawaii isles. All of the roads that we traveled on our tour were pre-existing sugarcane plantation roads — no trail blazing is allowed — and the company makes a big effort to recycle everything. It’s also a member of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, an educational nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the great outdoors.
After changing into the provided clothes and accoutrements, we gathered by the vehicles to watch Eric and Pat’s safety demonstration. My friend and I decided we’d take turns driving — I’d drive for the first leg of the trip, and she’d drive us back — so, with that, I turned the ignition key, and we were off. Driving the Mud Bug was no different from driving my automatic Corolla, only a little bumpier, dirtier and a lot more fun. Plus, the surrounding scenery — beautiful greenery and blue skies — sure beat my daily hour-plus commute on the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles. Together, we formed a mini caravan with Pat leading the way and Eric in the back, snapping the occasional photo of us.
We drove through Koloa Plantation, built in 1835 and Hawaii’s first plantation to grow sugarcane. While sugar is no longer a dominant industry on the islands, we saw glimpses of its past, including a half-mile-long tunnel through lava rock, designed to make it easier for plantation workers to transport the crop across the island. Pat told us about the history of the plantation and the tunnel’s construction, before leading us straight through it.
For the most part, our drive was dirty but beautiful. Perhaps the most magical moment was when we reached the waterfall and spotted a white mare with her equally snowy white pony. At the waterfall, we stopped for a boxed lunch and a dip in the water. On the way back, I made sure to soak in all the sights along the way — as well as some more of the dirt.