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For nearly 70 years, the Smith family has been taking visitors on a journey along Wailua River to see Fern Grotto on Kauai.
Kauai is known for high-octane and high-risk activities such as ziplining, mountain tubing and helicopter tours, but travelers who want to experience the island’s amazing landscape without a single white knuckle will find the beauty of Wailua River Valley especially appealing during this serene, 80-minute tour from Smith’s Kauai.
I had been to Fern Grotto as a child, so I was looking forward to experiencing it as an adult. Although I didn’t remember learning much about the history of the valley the last time I visited, I found this aspect of the tour to be the most enjoyable this time around.
A Family TraditionWhat started in 1946 with one small rowboat and a borrowed outboard motor has grown to a fleet of spacious open-air boats that gently cruise the river for the 2-mile trip to Fern Grotto, a well-known geological and botanical wonder in Hawaii. Here, sword ferns grow upside down from the roof of a 50-foot cavern formed millions of years ago, and clients will find themselves surrounded by a magnificent garden of native Hawaiian plants and colorful tropical flowers.
Along the river, passengers are entertained with music and stories that illustrate Kauai’s history and culture — both past and present — as musicians and dancers perform traditional and modern Hawaiian song and dance. Guides point out the locations of ancient Hawaiian myths, as well as sites made famous by movies and television shows.
The audience is even encouraged to stand up in the boat and join the entertainers in the fairly easy Hukilau dance.
A Natural and Cultural GemThe fresh water of Wailua River flows from Mount Waialeale, one of the wettest spots on the planet. The land along this body of water, known as “the only navigable river in Hawaii,” was once the sacred capital of ancient Kauai. Because of this, Fern Grotto is thought to be a sacred place where Hawaiian royalty came to leave offerings for Lono, the Hawaiian god of agriculture, rainfall, music and peace.
In 1962, the first wedding was performed in the grotto, and since then, more than 10,000 weddings have taken place in the area, according to our group’s guide. And when the musicians and dancers performed the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” in front of the grotto for our group, it was easy to understand why so many couples have chosen it as the place to start their lives together.
Smith’s Fern Grotto tour is perfect for families with small children or for clients with limitations that would prevent them from participating in more physically demanding activities. Travel agents should note that there is a short walk from the boat dock to the grotto, but the path is paved. Although admission is $18 per adult, children 3 to 12 years old can join for $9 each, and kids younger than 3 years old are free.
In addition to Fern Grotto river cruise tours, Smith’s Kauai offers garden luaus and visits to its 30-acre botanical and cultural garden.