Discover the Wailua River State Park on foot and by canoe

Written by Sandrine Published on 22/05/2017

The Wailua River is one of the only navigable rivers in Hawaii! It lies in the heart of a humid tropical ecosystem east of the small island of Kauai. A unique opportunity to enjoy an atypical day on the water.

The Wailua River originates from the peaks of the central part of the island, more precisely at 1700 metres above sea level, at Mount Waialealeale. Dozens of small streams flow down steep ridges into the main stream, gradually inflating the river. About 3 kilometres before its mouth, the river forms a large "Y", reuniting two already wide rivers. This is the most interesting area to discover. Then the river peacefully ends its journey in the ocean, after crossing the city that bears its name.

The area around the Wailua River is lush green, bordered by lush and imposing vegetation. Some of the most beautiful waterfalls on the island are here! The entire area has been protected and is located in Wailua River State Park, which is free of charge.

The road provides access to several points of interest, including the famous Wailua falls. To discover the rest, you will have to take a boat or rent a small canoe to sail on the calm waters of the river. Guided excursions are also organised.

Sites accessible from the road

The Wailua falls

Here is the most famous waterfall of Kauai and we understand why! Majestic, easy to reach and plunging into a turquoise pool of water, it didn't take any more than that to make her look good! The 26.5-metre jet splits into two parts from the top of the waterfall, but if it rained a lot in the previous days, it may only form one large waterfall.

The pretty waterfall is accessible from the road 583 which leads directly to it. The road ends with a small car park with a few parking spaces just in front of the belvedere. The waterfall is very visible from the road.

NNote that the site is very popular. So there's a good chance the parking lot will be full. In this case, you will have no choice but to take your evil in patience while waiting for a place to be vacated.
If you come in the morning, you may have the chance to see a small rainbow over the fall..

The Opaeka'a falls

Located a few hundred metres from Highway 580, the Opaeka' a falls are visible from a lookout point that was developed in close proximity to the road. A large car park is available for parking.

From here you will have a view of the waterfall which is located at about 300 meters, in the middle of the trees. The water flows down a rocky wall and falls into a basin that is not visible from the lookout.

A path, the Hidden Trail, allows access to the waterfall but it is not recommended to venture there, many people having lost their lives on this path.

The belvedere remains the only secure way to observe the waterfall from afar, which therefore loses some of its interest.

Finally, a little story for the road: Opaeka refers to the "shrimp" in Hawaiian because they were abundant in the river at that time.

Kamokila Hawaiian village

Kamokila Hawaiian village is situated at the end of a fairly steep, unpaved road that descends to the river bank. The place is quite charming, bordered by palm trees in the heart of dense vegetation.

It is an ancient traditional Hawaiian village whose huts have been faithfully reconstructed. Now an open-air museum, the village is a place to immerse yourself in the way of life of Hawaii's first inhabitants. We discover how the men and women of the time lived, as well as their different rituals and traditions.

Many fruit trees and plants also grow in the village, which allows us to know a little more about the use of these plants, which were used as building materials as well as food.

A small laminated document, in English only, is given to us at the entrance. It allows to give indications on the different places of life and plants. There is a charge for entry to the village if you don't rent a canoe: $5 and $3 for children under 12 years old.

Canoe rental and excursions from Kamokila Hawaiian village

Kamokila Hawaiian village also offers canoe kayak rentals or excursions on the Wailua River to reach the sites mentioned just below (not otherwise accessible). We think this is the best place to rent your canoe and kayak if you want to go on your own. The village is located in the immediate vicinity of the points of interest (avoiding the rather unattractive stretch between the village and the town of Wailua) and it is here that the rental price is the cheapest.

It cost $ 35 per person for the rental of a canoe/kayak for the day and $30 for children under 12 years of age (price plus taxes of about $1). A kayak canoe can carry up to 3 people..

The model we had was recent and in good condition. A large waterproof bag is provided free of charge. The renting is per day, but the whole walk on the water can be done in 3 to 4 hours.

Our tips :

  • Come to the village early in the morning around 9am-9:30am to make sure you have a canoe, or else early in the afternoon, when the first ones will be back.
  • Take windsurfing shoes because you'll have to put your feet in the water several times, and walk long enough to reach the Secret Falls.
  • Carry a small backpack with you to pack your belongings, which you will then slip into your large waterproof bag (much more practical!).
  • The visit of the village is free if you rent a canoe and show them the coupon in the small black magazine "Coupons" (which is available at the reception desk).
  • Don't forget to bring water, your sunscreen, a small towel and possibly mosquito repellent (although we haven't been bothered, but we never know!).

For more information on the village, canoe kayak rentals and other proposed excursions, you can visit the Kamokila Hawaiian village website.

Sites accessible by sailing on Wailua river

The sites below are accessible only by boat, paddle or canoe/kayak. Many organizations offer rentals or excursions from Wailua or the Kamolika Hawaiian village. If you prefer to choose a guided tour, we recommend those departing from Wailua (city) at 7:00 in the morning to avoid crowds.

The Secret falls

Secret falls are well hidden! You have to get them by rowing and walking, but the little expedition will be worth it.

To begin, you will have to start the trail with a canoe or paddle. Only small boats can get there. If you rent your canoe-kayak in Kamokilan Hawaiian village, it will take between 10 and 15 minutes to get to the starting point, where a small shore beach allows you to drop off your boat.

Then we continue on foot for about 40 minutes. The trail is very pleasant. We cross a lush and dense jungle. Quite quickly we reach the river again and this time we will have to cross it on foot. The current is not very strong but large stones line the bottom. A rope has been installed to facilitate the crossing, which is not complex.

Once on the other side, the trail runs along the river for almost 30 minutes. Most of the time he's in the shade, which is not to our displeasure! Be careful not to get caught up in the many roots that emerge from the soil.

After about 25 minutes, we arrive at King's bath, a small waterfall lined with basalt columns. A little further on, the trail crosses another river with a kind of basin: here is Queen's bath (don't worry if you miss it, because it doesn't jump out of sight and has nothing incredible).

The trail continues for a few more minutes before arriving in view of the Secret Falls. The waterfall of about 30 meters falls in a small green and rocky setting. The place is charming, cool and shady. This is an ideal opportunity to have a bite to eat or snack after swimming in the pool! The water is cool but swimming is very pleasant especially after the walk!

Please note that even if we did, it is not advisable to swim under the waterfall because stones can fall from it.

Our opinion: The walk to the waterfall is very pleasant and allows you to discover a very humid and luxuriant jungle. The proximity to the river brings freshness all along the route and swimming at the waterfall perfectly closes this getaway! We really enjoyed it! We just regretted to find so many people at the foot of the Secret falls, given the access conditions.

Fern Grotto

Fern Grotto is a famous place on the island. Its literal translation:"The fern cave" describes the place perfectly. It is a small cavity at the bottom of a natural amphitheatre.

It can only be accessed by water. The places are discovered quite quickly. A short path leads to a lookout just in front of the cave (don't expect to enter the cave, it is only viewed from afar). Then the path returns to the pier via a small loop in the middle of the flowers and banana trees and passes in front of a small waterfall.

This place has an important place in Hawaiian culture because the cave was once sacred. They came here to venerate and make offerings to the god of agriculture and fertility: Lono. The access to the cave was reserved until the 1950s for the Hawaiian royalty!

For more than fifty years now, it has been accessible by boat. Boat tours are organized from Wailua, all in music (the cave is famous for its acoustics). Count $20 per person to discover the cave. Alternatively, you can come with your kayak free of charge, taking care to disembark on the right side of the pier.

Our opinion: Don't expect an exceptional cave! We were a little surprised by the size of the cavity. The small loop can be visited very quickly (about 10 minutes on site). That's why we don't recommend paying $20 to get you there. We think it's a good idea to rent a canoe for the day to get there.

Swimming hole

Swimming hole is a small promontory from which you can dive into the river. Here the bottom is quite deep, which allows you to jump safely (although the water is cloudy and you can't see the bottom)!

As we couldn't see anything, I relied on the advice of the guy at the kayak rental counter, and jumped. It's okay, I can confirm it, the place is very deep, I didn't even touch the vase :)

To reach the promontory, you will have to walk a few tens of meters on a dirt path, then cross a rather steep section of rock. Finally, you can reach the top of the rock and jump into the water.

The Wailua River in video

We loved this day sailing on the Wailua River! It's one of our favorite days in Kauai. The stroll on the water allows you to discover a new scenery and enjoy the river at its own pace. It's really enchanting! To find out more, here is our video that retraces our day on the Wailua River.

Not having taken our cameras with us, we came back 2 days later to discover the Wailua and Opaeka' a falls by car. You will be able to quickly discover them at the beginning of our Vlog 08.

The translation may not be accurate. If you detect any errors, please let us know , and we will correct them immediately. Thank you and sorry for this inconvenience. Sandrine & Flo

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