Smith’s Fern Grotto Tour Wailua River
What could be finer than cruising on the Wailua River in Kauai? I can think of a few things, and the Wailua River Cruise to the Fern Grotto, known by the ancient Hawaiians as Ma`ama`akualono, is definitely on that list. The grotto is part of the Wailua Heritage Trail.
We hopped on the Smith’s Family cruiser—the Johnny-Mac, aptly named after the captain—for a ride upriver. As we motored along, our guide regaled us with stories of the Smith family and ancient Hawaiian history and myths as we passed kayakers.
I was glad we were riding in a motorboat. The last time Jon and I were in Kauai, we oared our way up the river in a tandem kayak. Although we had difficulty getting in sync with our rowing, it was an easy ride up. Going back against the tide coming in was much more difficult. To our embarrassment, our guide had to maneuver behind us and push us down the river.
The flat-topped trees towering in the background of the photo above are Moluccan albizia or Paraserianthes falcataria in Latin. The trees, native to New Guinea, were brought to Hawai’i as part of reforestation efforts in the late 19th century. And, although they are beautiful to look at, the trees grew better than expected and have crowded out plants native to Kauai.
We disembarked at the Fern Grotto landing and took a short walk through the rainforest. The guide told more stories and the ‘cousins’ sang songs and danced the hula. The fringed lava cave is not as lush as it once was. Hurricane Iwa damaged them in 1982 and ten years later, Hurricane Iniki nearly destroyed the rest. After 30 years, many of the ferns have grown back, but our guide said they aren’t as thick as they once were.
And on our way back, this lady serenaded us with Hawaiian songs and gave us a hula lesson. “Okay everybody, lift those hips and with your arms and hands make like a tree swaying in the breeze. Like this. Now like a wave on the ocean. You’ve got this.”
The leisurely boat ride and short hike was a wonderful way to get into the Aloha Spirit, commune with nature, and let our troubles flow out to sea with the river.
Not ready to head back to the house, we drove to Hanalei Bay. On the way, we stopped at the Hanalei Valley Overlook. Spread out before us was a valley of taro fields and the 4,363 ft. (1,330 m) Namaolokama mountain rising in the background.
The 2-mile-wide Hanalei Bay is great for surfing, body boarding, fishing, picnicking, and watching the sunset. It would have been nice to walk the shoreline to the Hanalei pier, but the grumbling of our stomachs told us we needed food. “It’s only two miles, let’s walk,” sounded like a good idea.
Again, our poor planning had us scrambling for a table to seat eight. Had we driven instead of walked from the beach, we might have beat the large party eating on the porch when we arrived. As it was, we had to watch them sit and talk for another half hour after they finished eating.
A shaded picnic table and browsing through stores kept us busy during our one-hour wait for a table. Due to staffing shortages, other restaurants either were not open at all or didn’t open until 4:00 pm or after. The Arnold Palmer’s were refreshing after our walk and wait and our food tasty, so we couldn’t complain too much.
It was a good thing we drove two cars that day. The heat had gotten to some of us and we were ready to head to the house, while the rest stayed to spend time at the beach. Next time we’re on Kauai, we’ll leave earlier in the day so we can spend more time in Hanalei Bay.
It looks like one or two more posts will wrap up our 2022 trip to Kauai.
Until then, safe travels.