Kayaking Kauai

Exploring Kauai’s jungle-like waterways

By: Dawna L. Robertson

I love kayaking. Since most of my ventures are on Oahu’s sparkling bays, I jumped at a shot to explore one of Kauai’s jungle-like waterways.

What drew me to Princeville Ranch Adventures’ paddling trek was its lazy-river appeal with a punch. As if hiking and kayaking into Kauai’s heart isn’t ample incentive, this excursion rewards clients with a hidden pair of waterfalls cascading into a brisk swimming hole.

On a sunny North Shore morning, our group of eight gathered at the company’s headquarters just beyond the Princeville Resort entrance. Our guide, Mike Kaplan, geared us with tabis (water shoes) and dry packs for our cameras. Following our orientation, we loaded into a Swiss Army Pinzgauer and drove to Princeville Ranch.

Along the short ride, Kaplan explained that the 2,500-acre spread is one of Hawaii’s oldest working cattle ranches. It’s leased and operated by Denise and David Carswell, who launched Princeville Ranch Adventures in 1999.

We unloaded near the Ranch’s zipline area, realizing our outing would be much more subdued. As we walked toward the Kalihiwai River, Kaplan pointed out guava, lauhala and uluhe fern. We also learned about invasive plants like ink berries, which actually taste like ink. I noticed odd notches at the base of a tree trunk.

“Those are wild boar markings,” Kaplan explained. “That’s how they sharpen their tusks, show hierarchy and mark their territory.”

As we jaunted further off the beaten path, we witnessed a clandestine Kauai few experience. We weaved our way into the island’s interior, soon approaching a stream bank flanked by a fleet of colorful kayaks.

Kaplan helped us gear up, and in no time, we were navigating through the mellow stream lined with a maze of tangled vines. While only a few had kayaked before, no one really struggled.

After a half hour or so, we banked our crafts and hit the trail toward the twin waterfalls.

“David Carswell was on horseback looking for a lost cow when he heard the sound of the falls,” said Kaplan.

The Carswells cleared the Amazon-thick growth over the stream and laid out the hiking path over six water crossings all to figuratively pave the path for eco-enthusiasts to share this remote find.

The falls spilled into a deep mountain pool surrounded by fern-lined walls. After soaking in the scenery, the games began. No one was shy. Most jumped off a perch into brisk waters below and floated in tubes. Others opted for “waterfall massages,” letting the plummet pound their backs.

While we frolicked, Kaplan laid out a spread of pita, veggies, turkey, salami, cheeses, fruits and Kauai cookies. He encouraged us to eat up to lighten his return load. Full and refreshed, we were ready for our homeward-bound paddling.

With their adventures, the Carswells hope to “preserve, promote and protect the open lands and hidden natural beauty of Princeville Ranch.”

It was clear to me they were on track.


Princeville Ranch Adventures

Jungle Waterfall Kayak Adventure includes: Gear, life vests, dry bags, tabis (water shoes) and a picnic lunch.

Requirements: Clients must be at least 5 years old and in good physical condition.

Times: 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Duration: Four hours

Cost: $94, plus tax

Commission: 10 percent. Referral deposit only.

Other Tours: 4½-hour Zipline, $125, plus tax; four-hour Hiking Excursion, $79, plus tax.