As you buckle into your harness, tighten your helmet, and adjust your mud goggles you realize that this is not going to be your typical leisurely ride in the country.
A "thumbs up" from the ATV guide and you fire up your engine as vibrations shake the roll cage surrounding you. Ready for a 12-mile trek through a mountain tunnel, across streams and through lots of slippery red muddy terrain to a private waterfall your group speeds into the rainforest toward your remote destination. Howls of laughter mix with roar of your engine, awakening your inner teenager just in time to spray it with mud and a soak it in a fresh water stream.
At a glance:
Highlights: Mud buggy ride through a closed course track for 12 miles to a fresh water stream and waterfall for a picnic. A great adventure for kids of all ages.
Options: Single, double or four-seat ATVs. The waterfall tour is the more aggressive ride, the Koloa tour is more gentle in more modern buggies with smoother suspensions. Children over 16 with valid driver's license can be drivers.
Suggested Gear: Swim gear, water shoes, close-toed shoes
Hazards!: The road is rough, and bumpy and the seats are barely padded. Be aware that your body and back will be shaken through out this tour. Also the engine is loud, ear plugs recommended, grab a cheap pair from hardware or grocery store.
Costs: $169/$144 per person: driver/passenger $15 for photo-disk of your tour.
Where to begin:
Check in to the Koloa offices of the Kauai ATV, this is where you sign in, and get the paperwork portion of the journey completed. An orientation explains that you will not be able to carry much, as the vibrations during the drive shake everything loose and many peoples' valuables have been lost before.
A red card given to you at check-in (in exchange for a credit card held as collateral) gives you directions to the ATV base station for loading up into the buggies. It is a short drive and you end up near the old remnants of the Koloa Sugar Mill. The base station area is where you get to leave your rental vehicle and pack yourself into the ATVs and safety gear for the mud-ride.
Your group meets with the guides and gets equipped over a 20-minute period with a set of clean "cover all clothes", goggles, and a helmet. Next you get the basic vehicle orientation and claim your own ATV. Much like a 1911 biplane pilot, you get to walk around and kick the tires and inspect your craft before you sign off on a waiver and get start your engine.
The All Terrain Vehicle tour operates on 44,000 acres with 25 miles of trail laid out for you. In the beginning a quick run around the test track gets you tuned in to your cart and from there the real adventure begins when the guides unlock the gates to the old plantation acreage.
Group size can be up to 20 people for 2 guides, basically forming a caravan of 8 to 10 vehicles with a guide in front and one in back of you. The caravan will pull over several times during your ride to the falls. Each time you let the rear-guide pass the group to cleverly place themselves at a picture location ahead. The awesome action shots they gather are compressed at tours end and offered to as a compact disk for $15.
The journey out:
By far, the hand-excavated tunnel through the mountain is a highlight to the journey, built long ago to make the passage of sugar cane to the mill more efficient. It now enables a short drive through a mountain into the area where background shots for "Jurassic Park" were taken. The 360 degree panorama is raw and untouched by modern day development and it is easy to imagine CGI dinosaurs running about.
The waterfall location is gorgeous and private shared by your group during a picnic (provided and packed here by the guides). They are not entirely clear about this upfront, but you have to wear shoes while swimming in the waterfall. You might plan to wear your own water shoes or purchase some that they have convenient placed behind the counter where they inform you of the shoe policy.
45 minutes of refreshing waterfall and then it is time to return to ATV adventuring.
Your return trip is by the same roads, which lets you drive with more vigor and aim for the muddy parts. I enjoyed the part when the guide taught all the drivers which way to turn the wheel to spray the passengers in the big mud puddles. The real directions are opposite of what the guide says, essentially getting the drivers muddy instead.
The return trip:
On the way back, the group stops by a set of old World War II era bunkers for a quick exploration. Then stopping again for a great look at the panoramic view before returning through the mountain to the ATV base yard.
Mud is on everything, and the tour members look like they have all been to war. Lots of fun pictures can to be taken to show before and after affects of your ride. Everyone heads over to the shower and changing area to mud off and return gear. Once you give back your gear, goggles, helmet, clothes etc. you get the red card back. Don't forget to tip your guides, then head back to the shop in Koloa to retrieve your credit card from the counter where you started it all.
Bring very little with you. Disposable ear plugs are recommended as the engines are loud and right behind your head. A dust mask or bandana for covering your face for the wilder parts of the ride is recommended. (They will give you one at check in, but it smells of screen printers' ink) A small bottle of water tucked in your cart makes for a good mouth rinse after you realize how much dust is in your mouth. Head to the Poipu Beach Park after and take a plunge in the ocean after you journey.
3477-A Weliweli Road
Koloa, HI 96756
From Lihue head west on HI 50/Kaumualii Hwy for 6.6 miles. Turn left onto Maluhia Road/ HI 520 aka the "tree tunnel" and follow for 3.2 miles to stop sign and turn left onto Kaloa Road. Drive about a block and turn right onto Weliweli Road. Turn right into 3rd driveway. Look for "Kauai ATV" signs