Wailua River Kayak to Uluwehi Falls
Kauai has the rare distinction of being the only Hawaiian Island with navigable rivers. The wide and open Wailua River meets the sea on Kauai's eastern shore in an area that was called "Wailuanuihoano" in days of old. The 2800 acres oceanfront allowed for cultivation of large number of food crops including taro to support the "ali'i" or chiefs of the island in ancient time. Today the Wailua River access is a great way to explore while paddling and relaxing surrounded by lush rainforests. Those venturing upstream can find there way to the trailhead for Uluwehi Falls, a 200 foot cascade of fresh water that feeds a tributary to the Wailua stream.
At a Glance:
Highlights: Relaxing paddle upstream leads to a hike through jungle and rainforest with your ultimate destination being the 200 foot tall Uluwehi Falls
Activity Level: Moderate to strenuous based on length of trip and trail conditions
Options: Guided or self-guided by renting a kayak for the day.
Hazards!: The warnings for this experience are mostly for the hiking portion, the trail is well worn and extremely muddy at times. Slipping and falling on trail is to be expected during extreme muddy conditions. At the waterfall beware of falling rocks.
On the river beware of other boat traffic.
Duration: 4 to 6 hours
Costs: $85 per person guided/ $64 for a double kayak rental with all gear and map
There are two distinct options for exploring Wailua River by kayak, self-guided and guided. The wealth of knowledge, experience and support of a guide is never to be understated, especially if you do not often kayak. The guides make a daily routine of this experience, so they are aware of what hazards exist on trail. They also will do their best to give you a sense of place, safety, plus plenty of snacks and hydration.
Self-guided has some outstanding positives, such as traveling at your own pace. The downside is that you are on your own to discover your way up and back the river to the waterfall. This is not exceedingly difficult, nor dangerous, it just requires a peace of mind to see your group safely through the journey.
Whether taking the guided or self-guided options, the paddle begins about 150 yards in land from the river mouth and bridge. Guided tours go from the Wailua River Marina launch on the south side of the river. The provider will tell you your check in time, and you show up ready to go. Volume and frequency of the tour is dictated by demand, summer being the most popular season for this excursion. Self-guided tours begin by picking up your kayak at the Wailua Marina check in, and once kayak is loaded on your roof top you simply return to Kuhio Highway and turn left across the bridge, then left on to Opeokaa Road then left into Wailua River State Park. Pull close to the boat launch and unload your gear being careful not to block the boat ramp access. Once parked, make sure all your gear is secured either in a "wet dry bag" or clipped or strapped to the kayak. Once you are ready to launch, you will stay on the right side of the river as you paddle the 2 miles to the trailhead. Larger boats use the river, so by staying on the northern or right side river shoulder you avoid the possibility of collision with the large boats. As you paddle upstream you will weave through other adventurers on their return from their journey. It provides you with navigation practice as you avoid other freshman paddlers who hopefully have gotten the art of steering their craft mastered. However, be prepared for the occasional collision, and try not to laugh to hard if you or another party begin careening into the tree line. It happens, and thankfully there are no crocodiles or anacondas to worry about.
The stream meanders inland and you begin to lose all signs of modern civilization and you begin to feel the depth of nature unbridled. The small mountain of Maunakapu rises on the left and the plateau of Wailua'iki towers to the right. Just 100 yards past a landing on the right that is private for a Polynesian cultural center, you will see the river has a tributary on the right. Paddle up the tributary 200 yards and as it narrows look for the landing area on the right. There will be plenty of kayaks and a few wild chickens looking for handouts. As you pull your kayak ashore, make note of any distinguishing marks to be able to remember which craft is yours, as this landing can fill up with identical looking kayaks while you are hiking.
The trail to Uluwehi Falls begins at the kayak landing zone. Follow the foot warn path inland. The trail will arrive at a stream crossing at approximately miles along, a rope has been strung across the river to assist in supporting you as you hobble across wet slippery rocks. Once across the stream the trail parallels the stream up valley with stream staying to your right. The sound of the rushing water makes for fantastic background as you watch your steps carefully along the muddy trail. Eventually you will come to a side stream approximately 1 mile into the hike on the left. Carefully follow this stream 100 yards and you will have reached Uluwehi Falls. Fear not the crowds, as they turn over quickly. During our hour stay at the falls we saw many a family and group come and go. The joy is in the moments in between and many great pictures can be taken of one of Kauai's most beautiful waterfalls.
The way trip out is the reverse of the trip in, so pace yourself and gauge your timing. Upon reaching the main river, turn left to return to the launch area or turn right to explore the areas further upstream. The wind may be a factor on your paddle back to the launch. Daily strong easterly "trade winds" funnel up the river and provide a head wind to paddle into on your return trip. Find your paddling rhythm and you will make it without stress, keeping in mind that your return path is to stay on the left side of the stream as you paddle down to the river mouth launches.
The originator of this tour and experience is Kayak Kauai, a leader in the industry and an official outfitter for Wailua River kayaking. Here is there weblink: http://www.kayakkauai.com/
Wailua River Marina is off of HI-route 56 the Kuhio Highway at the town of Wailua.
From the north: following HI-route 56 south, cross the Wailua bridge and make your first right and follow the road in looking for the signs for "Kayak Kauai".
From the south: following HI-route 56 north, look for signs for "Lydgate Park" on right and get in left lane. Turn left onto small connector road before the Wailua bridge and go to stop sign. Carefully cross the southbound lanes and enter Wailua River Marina. Follow the road in and look for signs for "Kayak Kauai"