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Kauai Quest

Story & Photos by Vicki Andersen

The instructions seemed pretty straightforward - a few simple things to remember as we flew high above the foliage toward the river, which was way, wwaaaaayy below us. It was only when Sherrill, one of our two impish guides, hiked us back up from the "Bunny Slope" to launch off the platform onto the "Double Black Diamond" line, that he mentioned the "Triangle of Blood..."

Vacationing on one of the Hawaiian islands usually involves lots of water play, a few rounds of golf, and a fair amount of swinging-in-the-hammock, palm-and-plumeria-contemplation time. My most recent Hawaiian sojourn included interfacing with quite a few fellow malihinis (visitors), talking story with a whole bunch of locals, and lots of wide eyes, electrifying thrills, and hearty laughter. I was about to acquaint myself with another side of the Island of Discovery.

Zipping Waiahi Stream
Mt. Waialeale
Cannon Balling


We gathered around picnic tables in the large warehouse that serves as headquarters for Kauai Backcountry Adventures, nervously munching on sweet home-grown apple bananas and wondering what we'd gotten ourselves into. Fellow aspirant Bonnie asked if anyone had ever done this before. When each person replied in the negative, she cheerfully announced, "Good, we've found something that we're still virgins at!" Two plucky souls in our group had decided this was a great way to celebrate their Big Five-O birthdays. The rest of us had no excuse other than a unfathomable sense of adventure.

After being outfitted with harness and helmet, and a somewhat nervous drive (due to our anticipation, not our driver's ability), we found ourselves deep inside the former Lihue Plantation. Situated on the flanks of Kilohana Crater, it is an area of lush forested valleys and up-close views of 5,000-foot Mt. Waialeale. Sugarcane is no longer grown on Kauai, so these 18,000 acres of private land now provide pasture to a few herds of cattle and a playground for thrill-seekers like us.

What we've signed up to experience is one of the longest and fastest ziplines in North America, a series of seven airline-grade cables strung between poles, each with a platform where you launch yourself off and glide to a halt at the other side. As we descended the mountainside to the valley floor, we were soar in above the forest canopy and criss-crossing Waiahi Stream. Sherrill would go first, testing the line and wind, then radio back to our other guide, Nick, who clipped us onto the line and did a final double-check that all our gear was correctly fastened and in place. Sometimes, to make it all the way across to the unloading platform, we would "cannon-ball" - pull our legs and arms in tight to reduce wind resistance. Other times, we'd flutter our appendages in sheer delight as if doing some strange boogey dance in the air.

By the second line we had begun to cheer each other on, and by the final line we were begging to go back to the top and do it all over again. But it was time for our picnic lunch and a refreshing dip in the stream. In our smugness, we felt like true veterans. And that "Triangle of Blood"? It's the pulley that connects to the zipline, and Sherrill's mentioning it was a good way to keep us focused.

Being a long-time dirt biker, I was looking forward to kicking up some Kauai dust and seeing backcountry that is off-limits to the general public. The slight sprinkle that passed through earlier that morning had settled the dust, leaving some great mud possibilities.

As our Kipu Ranch Adventures guide, Tom, handed us helmets, goggles, bandanas (to tie cowboy-style against dust) and rain jackets, we settled aboard our machines. The newlyweds chose the two-seater Yamaha 600cc 4x4 Rhino, while Marlin and I lashed our jackets to the racks on our automatic Honda 400cc 4x4 ATVs. You can also opt for a guide-driven 4-passenger Kawasaki Mule, but since we were all experienced riders, we each wanted to pilot our own machine.

As we negotiated dirt roads and trails, through thick vegetation and across rugged terrain, Tom imparted volumes of legends, history and facts. The land was given to the Rice family by the ali'i (Hawaiian royalty), and three generations worked it as a sugarcane plantation. In 1793, Captain Cook brought some Herefords from England as a gift, the first of this breed in the U.S., and the Rices began shipping Herefords to the mainland ten years later. Now known as Kipu Ranch, this working cattle farm encompasses 3,000 acres extending from the Huleia River to the top of Mt. Haupu. Besides cattle, we encountered pheasants, peacocks, and wild pigs - a lot of wild pigs. Turkeys also populate the property, and mountains goats roam the surrounding mountains.

As our small group toured the backcountry, we came upon one dazzling view after another. The Haupu and Hoary Head Ranges backdropped much of the scenery. Nawiliwili Harbor and the Menehune Fishpond shimmered in the sun. We gazed upon the Huleia Valley, where a replica of Honolulu's Chinatown was constructed and then burned to the ground in a dramatic reenactment of the 1900 event for the movie The Hawaiians (third installment of four films based upon James Mitchner's epic novel Hawaii).

But Tom had a more recent blockbuster to share with us. The opening scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark finds Indy Jones inside a treasure-filled cave; this grotto is located near Kipu Falls. Discovered by the local headhunters, he is pursued across a meadow - located on Kipu Ranch - and tumbles down a hillside to - you guessed it, Huleia River, which winds its way across the Ranch. And that rope Indy used to swing into the river and make his escape via seaplane down the Huleia River? Actually having the chance to swing on the Raiders' rope is another part of the ATV adventure!

A lush setting with a waterfall was our lunch stop, and after ingesting until we were about to burst, another little wild porcine came along to clean up our leftovers. The day wrapped up in a giant bamboo grove where, at a waterfall-filled pool, I gratefully and grinningly washed off my Kipu dust and mud.

Mountain Tubing
Pre-Lunch Swim

"Don't panic. When you panic your guides freak out. Just close your eyes and go to your Happy Place. Sing 'It's a Small World'." This was Cathleen's way of reassuring us that the tunnels we'd be traversing would be manageable by even the most claustrophobic among our group. Once again I was enjoying the wit of a Kauai Backcountry Adventures guide, and this time we were headed for some play time in the water.

The historic Hanamaulu Ditch, which runs through the old Lihue Plantation, was hand-dug out of hard basalt rock in the 1870s. It takes one million gallons of water to irrigate one acre of sugarcane, and a 5-8 foot section of sugarcane stalk to produce one sugar cube. So back in Kauai's sugarcane glory days, it took a lot of crop and a lot of water. The crops are no longer there, but the water from Mt. Waialeale still runs two to three feet deep in these irrigation canals, providing the perfect pathway for our voyage.

Throughout the journey to the launch site, our guides shared tales of local history and lore. We stopped for a photo-op on a point above Wailua Valley, where part of Jurassic Park was filmed, while the guides explained the surrounding geography.

At the launch point, guides Nick, Alan and Brandon corralled the oversized, bright blue inner tubes while we not-so-daintily plopped ourselves onboard. Cathleen admonished us, "As guides we're not allowed to instigate horseplay, BUT WE WILL RESPOND." With that challenge delivered, the rope was dropped and our conveyances began their leisurely float down the flume.

As we twirled and bobbed along between canal walls carpeted with plants and vines, we passed through lush foliage, beneath towering bamboo forests, and alongside small waterfalls adding their volume to our roadway. We also navigated six diminutive tunnels, the longest over a half-mile in length with a left-hand bend that obliterates all light. Some of us turned on our helmet-mounted headlamps to see the hand-carved walls, but I didn't hear anyone singing "It's a Small World."

Even averaging only about 2 mph, all too soon our 2.5-mile drift came to an end. It was time to abandon our blue beasts, remove gloves and helmets, and settle in for a scrumptious buffet lunch served in a tropical setting alongside a meandering stream. Splashing about in the placid swimming hole and it's small waterfalls, it was obvious we'd not yet had our fill of Mt. Waialeale's abundance.

Pacific Missile Range
Jurassic Park Waterfall
Kilauea Point & Lighthouse

Probably no other Hawaiian island has as many awe-inspiring wonders that are so inaccessible. Unless you're a hard-core backcountry hiker, your best bet is to play bird, and Heli USA has some of the best "birds" on Kauai. Departing from both Lihue and Princeville Airports, their A-Star jet helicopters provide a comfortable, convenient and educational way to see parts of Kauai you've only heard about. But hearing about them and viewing pictures of them doesn't begin to convey the impact of actually seeing them.

You'll glide above pristine rivers and streams, dart in and out of luxuriant valleys, pass more waterfalls than you can count, and skirt massive cliffs carved into this oldest of the main Hawaiian isles. You'll circle the crater of Mt. Waialeale and cross the Alakai swamp, a 20-square-mile highland bog which is home to rare plants and animals. As your pilot narrates and points out sites, he hovers and turns so all passengers get the best possible view and photo-ops.

He'll point out the settings for more movies than you can fathom: South Pacific, Fantasy Island, Lilo & Stitch, Flight of the Intruder, George of the Jungle, Honeymoon in Vegas, Donovan's Reef, Wackiest Ship in the Army, Lord of the Flies, Throw Mama from the Train, The Thornbirds, Castaway Cowboy, Uncommon Valor. You'll fly across Manawaiopuna Falls, site of the heli landing pad in Jurassic Park, along the reservoir which served as the watering hole for the prehistoric beasts, and above the valley where the movie's electrified park gate was constructed.

You'll catch an unparalleled view of the Pacific Missile Range, where Navy radar units track air and sea activity across a 17,000-square-mile patch of ocean. As you look across at mountain goats clinging to the colossal sea cliffs, watch birds soaring beneath you, and try to fill your memory banks (and digital memory cards) with a thousand scenes beyond description, you'll agree this is the most breathtaking way to see Kauai's mysteries.

Napali Coast
Catamaran Leila
Kalalau Valley

As we sailed out of Port Allen's harbor aboard Holoholo Charters' 48-foot sailing catamaran, Leila, anticipation was high for the sights we'd see both above and below the water. Despite our excitement, the salt spray off the bow only sharpened our appetites, and when Captain Mel's crew announced the Continental breakfast was ready, we headed for the large shaded and wind-protected cabin. At various stages of our trip we were joined by playful dolphins, bobbing sea turtles, and inquisitive Monk seals. Dropping sails and casting anchor in a peaceful cove, our snorkeling excursion brought us face to face with a myriad of fish and coral beds beyond counting.

The nearly deserted sands of Polihale, longest beach in the Hawaiian islands, emphasized how few folks venture to this side of Kauai. Niihau, the "forbidden" island, sat on the horizon close enough to intrigue, yet so ephemeral it seemed that if you looked away, it would disappear.

Kauai lays claim to arguably one of the most stunning sections of shoreline in the world: the Napali Coast. Our attention was riveted by the sight of jagged green sea cliffs towering as high as 4,000 feet out of the sea. Stretching more than fourteen miles, it is home to fertile valleys, sea arches, volcanic sea caves, huge waterfalls, and secluded beaches. Kalalau Valley, where it is believed the first settlers on Kauai made their home, can be reached by a long, arduous, multi-day hike, but the rest of Napali can only be reached by boat.

As we skimmed along the coastline, Captain Mel and his crew recounted history and legends of the area, and pointed out more movie locales. Kalalau Valley was gated across to keep King Kong captive in the 1976 film. In Six Days, Seven Nights, Harrison Ford fled from the pirate attack in Honopu Valley. South Pacific, Man with the Golden Gun, Jurassic Park, Mighty Joe Young and Lilo & Stitch all include scenes from the Napali Coast.

It was time to turn around and retrace our steps. Our captivation of the sights was temporarily broken when lunch was announced, but the bountiful buffet didn't dampen our hunger for a repeat sighting of nature's jewels, southbound this time. It seemed that too quickly we were about to make landfall, and it would be time to bid the Captain and crew adieu.

Wailua River
Opaekaa Falls
Poliahu Heiau

Centrally located on the east side of Kauai, along a stretch known as the Royal Coconut Coast, is the 311-room ResortQuest Kauai Beach at Makaiwa. This four-story property was known as the Courtyard by Marriott Waipouli Beach until it's rebranding this June (Marriott fans can still find the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club a few miles south in Lihue). Oceanfront on Waipouli Beach adjacent to a ten-acre coconut grove, ResortQuest Kauai's spacious rooms include air conditioning (not a common find on the Garden Isle), mini-refrig and coffee maker in addition to the usual room amenities. You can relax in the oceanfront pool and whirlpool, pamper yourself at the day spa, work out in the fitness center or on the tennis court, enjoy a tropical libation in Cook's Landing Lounge, or indulge in some excellent and innovative fare in the Voyager Grille.

ResortQuest Kauai Beach at Makaiwa is a great location from which to visit several sites you won't want to miss: Waimea River, Waimea Falls (used in the opening scenes of the television series Fantasy Island), Opaekaa Falls, the Fern Grotto, numerous heiau (sacred temples), and is within walking distance to the Coconut Marketplace and two other small shopping centers. If you opt for an oceanfront room, kick back on the large private balcony and watch the sunrise cast its sparkle over the waves lapping just yards from your feet.

Hanalei Bay from Princeville Resort
Maori Warriors at Princeville's Luau
Lumahai Beach

To get around Kauai's requirement that no building be higher than a palm tree, deemed to be four stories tall, Princeville Resort built itself on the north end of the island, against a cliff overlooking Hanalei Bay. As your vehicle circles the huge fountain and pulls up under the massive porte cochere, you suddenly realize the lobby is on the ninth floor of the hotel, atop its 252 rooms and suites. Four restaurants and lounges, a twice-weekly luau, small shopping arcade and beauty salon, fitness center, infinity swimming pool and three whirlpool spas are among the conveniences this property offers. Well-appointed and decorated rooms include marble bathrooms with oversized tubs, and a shower wall that -- with the flick of a switch -- opaques for privacy or clears for an indescribable view of the Bay.

Princeville Resort is the hub of the 9,000-acre planned resort community of Princeville. From here it is an easy jaunt to visit the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge & Lighthouse, taro fields which produce 60% of Hawaii's poi, the town of Hanalei, Makana Peak (a.k.a. Bali Hai in the movie South Pacific), and Lumahai Beach where Mitzi Gaynor "washed that man" right out of her hair in the same film. Stretch out on a hammock strung between palm trees, as it should be on a tropical isle, and gaze across at the headlands whose silhouette is said to have inspired Peter Yarrow to co-write the lyrics to Puff the Magic Dragon. Yes, there really is a dragon in the magical Land of Honah Lee (Hanalei).

Poipu Beach
Kiahuna Plantation
Net Casting at Salt Pond Beach

Location, location, location... how about smack dab in the middle of one of the "Top 10 Most Romantic Getaways" according to USA Today, a shoreline the Travel Channel named its 2003 "Best Beach in America"? Kiahuna Plantation boasts Poipu Beach just steps from its 333 suites and bungalows, many of them ocean-front, on the south shore of Kauai. Fully-equipped condos with private lanais, ten barbecue areas, swimming pool, tennis courts, two restaurants and lounges, nearby championship golf course, and one of the best snorkeling spots on the island could keep you very busy.

If you can tear yourself away from Kiahuna Plantation's 35 acres of delightfully landscaped grounds filled with tropical flowers and swaying palms, you have a variety of options for exploration. Old Koloa Town was the site of Kauai's first sugar plantation. Sea water explodes through tunnels in the rock at Spouting Horn, shooting geysers as high as 60-feet into the air. Locales still harvest sea salt in their ohana (family) ponds at Salt Pond Beach. The Menehune Ditch and Waimea Swinging Bridge are an easy detour on the way to the incomparable Waimea Canyon, which Mark Twain called the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific."

Whether you visit Kauai for its stretches of white and golden sands, warm and alluring surf, views-to-kill-for golf courses, the staggering variety of land, air and water adventures, or award-winning regional and Pacific Rim cuisine, you won't leave the Island of Discovery disappointed.

Nihi Kai Villas; Poipu and Koloa are the best ways get to sun on Kauai. Find affordable resort and luxury accommodations with Parrish Kauai.
Helicopters Kauai; Fly from the cascading waterfalls and lush tropical interiors of Kauai to the Na Pali coast and the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
Kauai Vacation Rentals; Adventure needs a place to stay. Base camp in style at one of Hawaiian Beach Rental's Kauai condos or beach homes.

Kauai Visitors Bureau www.kauaidiscovery.com
Heli USA Airways www.heliusa.com
Holoholo Charters www.holoholocharters.com
Kauai Backcountry Adventures www.kauaibackcountry.com
Kipu Ranch Adventures www.kiputours.com
Kiahuna Plantation www.castleresorts.com & www.outrigger.com
Princeville Resort http://www.princevillehotelhawaii.com
ResortQuest Kauai Beach at Makaiwa www.AstonHotels.com

Find Adventure through your Resort
Wherever you stay, be sure to take full advantage of the services your accommodations offer. Timeshare resorts like Marriott's Kauai Beach Club have staff that can not only point you in the direction of the best adventure, but sometimes get you discounts. Explain to them what you're looking for – heart in your throat bungee jumping or more the more serene parasail around the island, and they'll be better able to make suggestions. Hawaii is a thrill-seeker's paradise.

Sergeant Major Patrolling Poipu
Irrigation Canal

You'd like photos of your adventures, but don't want an ATV flinging mud onto your camera, or worry about it banging around while you fly across a zipline? You've probably gone digital and are tired of costly waterproof disposable cameras and having to digitalize the images. Olympus recently released their Stylus 720SW and it's the perfect solution! Weighing less than 6 ounces with battery and memory card, and measuring just 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.7 inches, this little guy is waterproof down to ten feet and shockproof if dropped up to 5 feet (although the latter claim I have not tested). With 7.1 megapixels and retailing for under $300, it features a 2.5-inch LCD screen, 3x optical zoom, built-in flash, 28 shooting modes, and can take movie clips and panoramics. Being an old-school shutterbug, I'm not fond of composing a shot with an LCD monitor, but the Stylus' lack of viewfinder is the only downside I've found. And it produces remarkable images.

Whether shooting with my digital SLR or my Stylus, I wouldn't be without my SanDisk memory cards and reader/adapter (www.sandisk.com). The cards, available to fit just about every memory type and offering a multitude of storage capacities, are reliable under a wide range of temperatures and conditions. SanDisk's readers/adapters make it much easier and quicker to upload images into your computer than using the camera's USB cable. And if you're like me and have four different digital shooters, each one using a different type of media card, SanDisk's 5-in-1 readers reduce your paraphernalia by handling five different types of cards in one compact reader. Life just became a little simpler!

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