Kauai’s hidden adventures
The Kauai Backcountry Adventures zipline tour soars 17,000 acres of former plantation land. (Sarah Mitchel)
With its lush gardens and picture-perfect landscapes, it is no wonder that the island of Kauai is best known as Hawaii’s “Garden Isle”. The beautiful vistas lure a steady stream of tourists, not to mention movie directors – Gilligan’s Island, Jurassic Park and, most recently, the latest instalment of Pirates of the Caribbean have all used the island as a natural backdrop.
But in recent years, Kauai has also quietly developed into a prime destination for adventure seekers. From Hawaii's largest ziplining course to a 100ft waterfall that can only be reached by kayak, a trip to Kauai can be as much about adrenaline as it is about relaxation.
One of the best ways to see the island’s natural beauty is by ziplining across the lush, rolling hills and verdant valleys that dominate the southeast corner. Kauai Backcountry Adventures runs the largest ziplining course on the island; some of the lines are are among the longest in North America. The four-hour tour has visitors soaring as high as 250 feet above 17,000 acres of former plantation land and over a dense canopy of bright, green trees. The seven-line course zigzags down to a base camp, where Backcountry Adventures provides lunch and a chance to cool down in a nearby fresh-water swimming hole.
For those who prefer to travel by boat, Wailua Kayak Adventures and Kayak Wailua offer tours that begin with a slow, two-mile paddle down the calm Wailua River, pass an old Hawaiian village along the banks and end in the middle of a tropical rain forest. From there, it is a relatively easy, mile-long hike, following the rumbling sounds of gushing water, to the 100ft-tall Secret Falls.
Adventurous travellers can swim under the waterfall via a natural swimming hole at the bottom of the falls. Otherwise, the surrounding rocks offer the perfect place to picnic with a view.
On the north side of the island, Waimea Canyon is often nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the West”. Stretching one mile wide and 3,600ft deep, the Waimea is full of hiking trails with panoramic views. Stop by the Kokee Natural History Museum and Visitor Center, near mile marker 15 on Kokee Road, to purchase a complete hiking map.
One of the most scenic treks starts with a drive to the Kalalau Lookout, slightly past the visitor’s centre. The top-down view of the canyon looks like something from the set of Jurassic Park, with cliffs that jut out into the Pacific Ocean. Starting there, a hiking trail traces the canyon’s edge, a great way to combine 360-degree views with a bit of exercise. The trail, just under two miles, continues to a second lookout point. It gets a bit steep and rocky at some points but is generally well-maintained.
In southern Kauai, locals know the place for body boarding is Brennecke’s Beach, a small inlet at the tip of Poipu Beach Park that attracts monster waves. There are a few spots for snorkelling and swimming, but the farther off shore you go, the closer to surfing territory you get.
A short walk away, Poipu Beach offers a natural, oceanic wading pool and towering palm trees. It is the perfect respite for rest and relaxation once the adrenaline rush subsides.