Kauai Plantation Railway’s Train-Hike-Lunch-Orchard Tour
Price: $75 per adult, $60 per child ages 3-12
Commission: 25 percent
Kahuna Nui Valley is the kind of place you’d expect to see Indiana Jones bounding out of the bushes or Tarzan swinging between treetops. It’s made up of pristine forest, so dense and lush with vegetation that only slivers of sunlight penetrate to the ground.
Rain had soaked the valley the day before my boyfriend, Rick, and I walked through it as participants on Kauai Plantation Railway’s Train-Hike-Lunch-Orchard Tour, and everything was imbued with a fresh scent and vibrant colors.
Led by our guide Kaimana Kenzie, we felt like pioneers exploring uncharted wilderness. Nearly every step we took, we were crouching beneath or moving aside leaves, branches and flowers.
“If you’re a plant lover, this is the tour for you. It’s a touch, feel, smell, hear, taste tour. It stimulates all the senses,” said Kenzie.
Pepe Trask, Kauai Plantation Railway’s general manager, concurred.
“There are many magnificent botanical gardens throughout the state, including two national botanical gardens on Kauai, but most of them have exhibits of pruned plants that you aren’t allowed to touch,” he said. “In Kahuna Nui Valley, all the plants are growing in their natural state. You have to touch them because you’re walking so close to them — most of the time, right beneath and through them.”
Launched last October, the three-hour, 40-minute Train-Hike-Lunch-Orchard Tour is a great diversion, especially for city dwellers whose only connections with nature are landscaped public gardens and the potted plants on their balcony.
“It’s nature doing her own thing, which, to me, is far more beautiful than a manicured garden,” said Trask.
Although the one-mile trail isn’t rugged, there are inclines and descents that your clients should be able to negotiate. We were glad we were comfortably dressed in T-shirts, shorts and shoes that we didn’t mind getting a bit wet and dirty.
The valley walk is one of the highlights of the Train-Hike-Lunch-Orchard Tour, which also features a ride around Kilohana Plantation in a train pulled by either a 1939 Whitcomb or a 1948 General Electric diesel locomotive.
A State of Hawaii Historic Landmark, the 105-acre plantation is touted as Kauai’s premier dining, shopping and entertainment venue. Its centerpiece is an elegant 16,000-square-foot Tudor-style mansion that was built in 1935 as the residence of sugar baron Gaylord Wilcox.
As the train chugged from the station, we got great views of the estate and its expansive grounds, including plantings of beans, peanuts, pumpkins, okra, tomatoes and other crops. Midway along the three-mile track, we disembarked to feed a snack of bread to friendly goats, sheep and pigs. From there, it was a short stroll to the start of the switchback trail that meanders 250 feet down into Kahuna Nui Valley.
After our walk in the valley, we lunched on turkey and cheese croissant sandwiches (veggie wraps are also available), cookies, chips and juice in the shade of towering Norfolk Island pines. Our next stop was Kilohana Plantation’s orchard, where Kenzie pointed out two dozen varieties of fruits. He plucked juicy tangerines and oranges right from the trees and cut them open for our group to taste.
Then we boarded the train for the ride back to the station, snapping photos of a sugarcane field; taro patch; koa, kou, milo and other hardwood trees; and plantation “camp houses” dating back nearly a century.
Accustomed to more strenuous activities, Rick nevertheless enjoyed the outing.
“It was a little history, a little exercise, a little time outdoors and a lot of fun,” he said.
In my opinion, he summed up the Train-Hike-Lunch-Orchard Tour perfectly.