Up the Lazy River to Kauai’s Secret Falls

The wide-mouthed Wailua River was chosen as the homeland for the first Polynesian voyagers nearly two thousand years ago, who settled its fertile banks, fished for both fresh and ocean-going fish, and built a series of seven heiaus (temples) that extended from the shore to the base of Mount Waialeale, “the Birthplace of All Waters.”

Kayakers head up the placid (unless it has stormed) waters and local canoe clubs practice here before pointing their vessels toward the waves. The Wailua is home to Fern Grotto, part of a state park that is a destination for Smith’s river boats that take tourists on a fun cruise to a cavern to hear a version of the Hawaiian Wedding Song. Kayakers can visit the grotto by taking a left fork of the river, a journey of about two miles.

Paddlers who take the right fork will pass Kamokila Village (where some of the movie Outbreak was filmed) and come to where the river reaches rocky shallows. From there a well-used trail leads for about a mile to tall Uluwehi (Secret) Falls. Chilly waters beckon swimmers. Tour companies bring their charges here, but the place still delivers the thrill. See page 98 of Kauai Trailblazer.