The Wailuā River is a river on the island of Kauai. It rises at Mount Waiʻaleʻale and is the only navigable river in Hawaii. However, there are mainly kayaks that can be found there.
The 32-kilometre-long river, which once flowed past seven different Heiau (temples), has its origin in the centre of the island on Mount Waialeale, which is over 1,500 meters high. The Wailua River includes two popular waterfalls: Opaekaa Falls and Wailua Falls. You can explore the scenic river by kayak, SUP board or boat. Boat tours are also available. In addition to that, there are guided trips to Fern Grotto, a cave made of natural lava rock. This romantic area is also a popular spot for weddings. You can also see the Nounou Mountains, a mountain range between Wailua and Kapaa that resembles a human figure lying on its back and is therefore called the Sleeping Giant.
You can also see the river from your car. To do so, follow Kuamoo Road (Hwy. 580) coming from Kuhio Highway (Hwy. 56) along the north bank of the river inland.
In 1946, a Hawaiian named Walter Smith Sr. came up with the idea of offering boat trips on the Wailua River. It all started with a borrowed motor and a small rowboat. He took interested tourists along the beautiful scenery to a huge grotto covered with ferns (Fern Grotto).
The company became a success story and today, almost 70 years later, the boat business is run by the fourth generation of descendants. The small rowing boat turned into large professional open-air boats and the fern-covered grotto in the heart of the Wailua Marina State Parksis one of the most popular destinations for Kauai tourists today.
The tour is still run by Smith's today. The whole trip takes about 1.5 hours and costs 20$ for adults and 10$ for children. Boats depart daily at 9:30 am, 11:00 am, 2:00 pm or 3:30 pm.
To be honest, you have to like the cheesy factor of the boat trip. On the "Journey of Songs and Legends", there is hula dancing, romantic singing and ancient Hawaiian stories. So it's much nicer to rent a kayak to explore the river and waterfalls by yourself.