The Huleia River is a gorgeous spot for paddleboarding tours. // © 2013 Janice and George Mucalov
Rates for Kauai SUP Adventure: $124 per person per adult, $94 for kids 14 years old and under. Commission: 10-20 percent to contracted agencies.
The warm sun on our backs. The still waters sprinkled with scarlet sea hibiscus blossoms. The slight wobble of our bodies. It sure felt good standing up tall on our boards, quietly paddling up Kauai’s Huleia River.
We thought our stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) tour with Outfitters Kauai would be more like the brochure said: “Paddle. Smile. Splash!” But, it was easy to remain upright and paddle on the tranquil river, where no waves could knock us off balance. No one in our group fell off their board on their own — though horseplay came naturally on the river, and several family members had fun trying to push each other off.
Kauai has one of few navigable rivers in Hawaii, and this Kauai SUP Adventure on the Huleia River is the only one of its kind on the island. The active six-hour tour combines stand-up paddling with rainforest hiking, followed by jumping from a zipline into a freshwater jungle pool.
After checking in at 7:30 a.m., we started with a SUP lesson at the Huleia River entrance near Nawiliwili Harbor by the cruise ship pier. Then, outfitted with drybags containing our lunches (strapped to our boards), we set off. We knelt at first to avoid falling off at the river entrance, where the water is shallow and the bottom muddy. This also allowed us to gain confidence on our boards. Pretty soon all of us (mostly first-timers) were able to paddle standing up.
The two-mile paddle down the river took us into the unspoiled interior, with mesmerizing views of the lush surrounding Hapupu Mountains. The paddling was easy-going and unhurried, and we occasionally slid into the brackish water to cool off. A guide followed in a kayak to offer any needed assistance.
All too soon, we stepped from our boards onto the river bank. The dry bags had shoulder straps, which we now used as backpacks for our two-mile hike along a jungle trail, passing by giant tree trunks entwined by philodendron vines. The scenery was very “Jurassic Park” — some of the movie’s scenes were, in fact, filmed here.
Our guides pointed out many interesting plants and their uses. There was the broadleaf taro, used to make the calcium-rich Hawaiian dish poi. The ivory-colored, pockmarked noni fruit, which smells like very ripe bleu cheese, is being studied for its cancer-fighting properties. We also saw the dark brown kukui nut. Lit by early settlers as crude candles (they burn for 20 minutes), kukui are now polished and strung on leis. Our favorite was the hala “walking tree.” Resembling legs, its tall roots stick out of the ground and the tree grows slowly or “walks” toward fresh water.
We also encountered brown cane toads hopping around as well as the inevitable wild chickens, a legacy from Hurricane Iniki in 1992, when chickens escaped from the island’s chicken farms.
Lunch was a simple affair, and we plunked down to eat wherever we could find a grassy area in the shade. Outfitters Kauai offers several other tours in the Huleia National Wildlife Refuge area where our hike finished, and zipliners and other groups had already snagged the available picnic tables. No matter. We chowed down our veggie and turkey wraps, pasta salad and cookies, and then hiked a little farther to a natural swimming hole, dubbed the Blue Pool.
The freshwater pool looked perfect for a cooling dip, but there was a catch. We either had to jump off a 20-foot-high platform or from a mini-zipline to get in. The zipline won out for most of us. It turned out it wasn’t as scary as it looked, and it was refreshing and great fun. After several cannonball jumps each, it was time to go.
For the return trip, a large motorized Hawaiian-style outrigger canoe ferried us back down the river, towing the SUP boards behind it. We had all earned the right to trade “standing up” for “sitting down.”