Adventures in Inner Tubing

Former sugar plantation irrigation ditches are transformed into mountain water slides

By: Marty Wentzel

HANAMAULU, Kauai A new company called Kauai Backcountry Adventures has launched the island’s first tubing excursions.

Introduced on Jan. 1, 2003, the tour takes clients through historic irrigation ditches which once served vast Lihue Plantation sugar crops. The water system has been unused since sugar production stopped in 2000.

Kauai Backcountry Adventures’ general manager, Kelley Carswell, first thought about navigating the waters in multiperson kayaks, comparable to Flumin’ Da Ditch on the Big Island. “Then we tried going down in big inner tubes, and it was way more fun because the tubes are easy to steer and simply bump off the sides of the ditch,” she said.

“This adventure is tied to some incredible history,” Carswell continued. “The ditches were all dug by hand in the 1870s, and the workers were paid 49 cents per day to do this hard, manual labor. You can still see a pick in one of the ceilings of the tunnels.”

Clients check in at Kauai Backcountry Adventures’ office in Hanamaulu, near Lihue. After a 45-minute shuttle ride, they don headlamps, choose their tubes and jump in the water, floating along open, winding canals, down rushing flumes and through tunnels. The group picnics near a swimming hole before heading back to Hanamaulu.

Two CPR-certified guides lead each excursion, sharing information about the history of the sugar plantation and its surrounding flora and fauna. Carswell said that the new tour appeals to all ages. “A couple of weeks ago, we had a family including an eight-year-old boy, mom, dad, dad’s brother and 81-year-old grandma,” she said. “It was a perfect adventure for their family and they loved it.”

Carswell plans to expand Kauai Backcountry Tours’ offerings this spring, beginning with ATV tours in March and four-wheel-drive adventures in April.

She’s already licensed to run mountain biking, kayaking, hiking and horseback riding tours. “We’ll probably wait until fall to add the next tour,” she said. “We want to build carefully, with minimal impact on the environment, and we want to make sure each tour is of high quality before adding on.

“Eventually we’ll be a one-stop-shop for activities,” said Carswell. “If dad wants to ATV, but mom and the kids want to tube, we can line it all up for them.”

Kauai Backcountry Tours has exclusive license to operate tours on Lihue Plantation’s 17,000 acres.” The land runs all the way to the base of Mt. Waialeale, so it’s pretty spectacular,” Carswell said.

Clients on the tubing trip should wear water-friendly shoes and swimsuits or quick-drying shorts and shirts, and they’ll want a change of clothes, sunscreen, hat and bug repellent.

Offered at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily, the three-hour tubing adventure costs $85 per person, including a picnic lunch. Adults must accompany children under age 14. Clients should be at least five years old and weigh no more than 300 pounds.

Carswell’s family, which has lived on Kauai for generations. also operates Princeville Ranch Stables and Princeville Hike & Kauai. or (888) 270-0555.