Return to Huleia

Discovering Kauai’s Jungle Falls with Island Adventures

By: Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

Over a century ago, my maternal great-grandparents farmed rice and raised their 12 children in Huleia Valley. My grandmother often reminisced about those happy days in that verdant rural region of Kauai. Popo told me her family’s rice mill and unpainted wooden house stood on a hill overlooking a sweeping view of the peaceful valley and acres and acres of rice fields.

Today, most of the valley lies within the 241-acre Huleia National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1973 to provide a safe haven for four endangered native waterbirds, the refuge is closed to the public.

Anyone, however, can paddle on the Huleia River, which runs through the refuge. When I heard Island Adventures’ Discover Jungle Falls Tour included a kayak trip on the river, I jumped at the chance to glimpse the place my grandmother loved so much.

The weather was perfect the day my group took the tour. The Huleia River was calm, and a light wind was blowing on our backs instead of in our faces, which made kayaking easy even for those of us who hadn’t paddled much before. We glided along at a leisurely pace; the pretty, tranquil setting put me in a meditative state.

Numerous Hollywood blockbusters have been filmed in this area, including “Jurassic Park” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Do you remember the thrilling opening of that movie, when Indiana Jones escaped from a mob of South American tribesmen by swinging partway over a river to a waiting seaplane? When we took a break at the spot where that scene was filmed, a few daredevils in our group swung on the same rope tied to a tree branch that Indy had used.

We then paddled a bit farther to a landing where we left our kayaks and continued on foot through a thicket of philodendron, avocado, wild coffee, heliconia, hau and more. When we emerged, a van was waiting to transport us to private land in Huleia Valley for the most physically challenging part of the tour.

From a scenic bluff, we made our way 150 feet down nine steep flights of steps carved from the earth. We saw no signs of civilization along the way. This was virgin rainforest, exactly as the early Hawaiians saw it. We paused to snap photos of flowers and to pluck strawberry guavas and passionfruit right off the trees.

Twenty-five-foot Bamboo Falls and 50-foot Jungle Falls were framed by foliage at the end of the trail. In 1999, Greg Davis, vice president of Island Adventures, embarked on a quest to find Jungle Falls after hearing about it from acquaintances who remembered going there as kids, but couldn’t pinpoint its location.

Because the vegetation was so dense, it took four tries for him to reach the foot of the falls. Finding Bamboo Falls was an unexpected bonus.

Now that Island Adventures has blazed a trail, it’s much easier for visitors to get to the falls, but that doesn’t take away the sense of awe and wonder that the journey inspires.

“They kayak, they hike, they swim, they explore a Hawaiian rainforest that’s exactly the way it was centuries ago,” said Davis. “For a few hours, our guests experience all the fun and excitement of being real adventurers.”


Discover Jungle Falls Tour
Island Adventures
3500 Rice St.
Lihue, HI 96766

This tour is offered Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 7:45 a.m., and Tuesday and Friday at 9:15 a.m. Cost is $89 for adults and $69 for children aged 6-12, including a deli lunch and swimming at Jungle Falls. It is not open to kids under 6 years old, and the maximum weight allowed is 250 pounds.

Commission: 20 percent