Tubular Tour

Visitors float through the lush valleys of Kauai’s Lihue Plantation

By: Janeen Christoff

One moment you’re floating lazily down a refreshingly chilly freshwater stream surrounded by lush vegetation. The next second it’s pitch dark and you’re spinning slowly, your inner tube bouncing off rock walls as you speed through a dank tunnel. Ahead of you, seemingly just out of reach, a circle of daylight grows slightly bigger with each passing second.

To some this scenario may sound like a bad dream, but for the vast majority of your Kauai-bound clients, tubing the irrigation ditches of the island’s backcountry will be a highlight of their trip.

The Mountain Tubing Adventure is the only one of its kind on Kauai and is offered by Kauai Backcountry Adventures. The land they use is owned by America Online founder Steve Case, a native of Hawaii. Case leased the land to the guiding company, granting them sole rights to run their eco-adventure programs on it. And business is booming: The Mountain Tubing Adventure has a waiting list, so book early.

Since floating in a tube requires little effort, the activity appeals to all ages and every fitness level. Only those clients with claustrophobia or severe fear of the dark or those who are extremely sensitive to motion sickness will balk at this unique soft-adventure treat.

Hand-carved through solid rock by Chinese laborers a century ago, the irrigation tunnels and ditches wend through the lush backcountry of the old Lihue Plantation. The ditches run through some of the most beautiful scenery on the island, with its waters starting near the top of Mount Waialeale, the wettest spot on Earth. The ditches are a stunning feat of engineering, and visitors run through five tunnels on the 2½-mile journey.

The trip starts at the company’s home base in Lihue, where clients gear up with water shoes, gloves, a hard hat with headlamp and an inner tube. From there, a bumpy ride takes guests through the plantation, stopping at a scenic overlook. Along the way, the guides provide entertaining and informative narration.

Once clients arrive at the entry to the irrigation ditches, they are given some brief instructions and then they are on their way.

Tubing is so easy that almost anyone can go for the ride, making it a great family activity. Riders must be at least 5 years old, and the guides said they have had visitors in their 90s.

The tubing consists of gently floating through the tunnels and cruising down a couple of very small rapids. The longest tunnel is a little over half a mile, and tubers are accompanied by guides the entire time.

At the end of the ride, tubers are helped out of the water, and after a short hike to a quiet park, guides prepare lunch. Once there, clients can change into dry clothes or take a dip in the swimming hole nearby, making for a totally tubular day for all.


Water-friendly shoes (rental shoes are also available)

Swimsuit or clothing that can get wet

Towels and change of clothes


Bug repellent

Kauai Backcountry Adventures provides gloves, lunch, headlamp and tubes.

The trip lasts approximately three hours and reservations should be made in advance to ensure availability. Tours go out rain or shine.

For photos, advise clients to take a waterproof camera. Cameras can also be purchased from Kauai Backcountry Adventures.

Price: $92 per person. Call for commission.

Kauai Backcountry Adventures