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In early 2016, Kipu Ranch Adventures (KRA) switched its fleet from all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to utility terrain vehicles (UTVs). The Kauai company wanted to change its focus from heart-thumping exploits to more relaxing spins around a 3,000-acre working cattle ranch.
It was a smart move on KRA's part. Not only has it increased the safety factor of its offerings, but it has also opened the door to a wider variety of clients, including kids and seniors.
That doesn't mean KRA's tours are dull. During a recent outing on its two-hour Waterfall 4X4 Jungle Tour, participants were clearly excited to drive their own off-road vehicles. They proudly wore bandanas and masks for protection from dust and mud; they got dirty and wet and loved every minute of it. But no one was scared.
"Rather than billing our tours as thrill rides, we promote them as a unique opportunity to see a beautiful ranch with a compelling history and incredible natural gifts," said James Marques, head guide for KRA.
ATVs vs. UTVsFor off-road fun, certain adventurous clients might prefer booking an ATV tour for its adrenaline rush. With an open construction, handlebars and no seat belt, the single-passenger ATV requires physicality and balance.
UTVs drive more like cars. They have steering wheels, seat belts, roll bars and good legroom. They can carry multiple riders, making them sociable rigs. KRA’s UTVs feature power steering, comfortable seats and easy controls.
Fascinating HistoryKipu Ranch, located near Lihue in southeastern Kauai, stretches from the Huleia River to the top of Mount Haupu. Since it’s a private holding, visitors can only explore it on a tour.
The ranch once was owned by Hawaiian royalty. In 1872, the son of missionaries bought it to raise horses and cattle. The next generation grew sugarcane on the property. In 1942, the family went back to ranching. That explains why so many cows, calves and bulls dot the landscape.
A fifth-generation Kauaian, Marques knows the island inside out. As he led the waterfall tour along historic ranch roads, he occasionally brought everyone to a stop and enthusiastically described the significance of the surroundings.
Movie SitesWith its dramatic mountains, forests, pastures and streams, Kipu Ranch has served as the backdrop for numerous movies. During the tour, Marques pointed out production sites for famous flicks such as “Jurassic Park” and “The Descendants” and provided insider stories about various films that were shot there.
During a tour highlight, Marques took the group to a riverbank. Clients recognized it from the scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where Indiana Jones runs to the water’s edge, grabs a rope that’s tied to a tree branch and swings to a waiting float plane.
Guests took turns trying out the rope, ending with a satisfying drop into the water. In between swings, folks munched on homemade trail mix and banana bread.
Wildlife and WaterfallsAlthough Kipu is a working ranch, it exudes a wild vibe. Marques pointed out animals that call it home, such as pheasants sporting red heads, peacocks strutting their stuff and Hawaiian geese dubbed “nene.” He also identified the exotic plants that thrive around the ranch.
The tour’s last stop is a hidden grove, the site of a dazzling waterfall. Some guests jumped into its refreshing pool, while others posed for photos in the surrounding bamboo forest.
It’s clear that Kipu Ranch is one of Kauai’s real treasures, and KRA’s UTV tours offers a safe yet rousing way to experience it firsthand.