Though tucked away in Kauai’s jungle along the Wailua River, Uluwehi Falls, or Secret Falls, is anything but uncharted, though it bears the moniker.
In fact, an adventure of kayaking and hiking to the 100-foot waterfall is highly recommended by guidebooks and travel websites, and rental companies are perched at the Wailua River mouth to help facilitate gear for the line of people making their way upstream.
Several companies offer guided excursions where guests paddle about 45 minutes up the river in a group and hike about half an hour through the Wailua jungle before taking a swim in the pool below the falls.
There are two main locations for kayak rentals at the river mouth or about 30 minutes upstream, where the Kamokila Hawaiian Village rents out kayaks and tours from their traditional village, complete with peacocks.
After several attempts at securing a kayak from Kamokila, we were finally successful on a recent weekend, and set off in a two- person vessel from the Hawaiian village at about 1 p.m. on a Saturday — they don’t rent kayaks on Sundays.
It was an easy process to rent and obtain the kayak, at a cost of about $35 per person. After a complimentary wander through the village, we were off with a light breeze and blue skies.
After about 10 minutes of paddling, a fork gives you the choice of heading to right to Secret Falls or left to the Fern Grotto, where you can tie up your boat and walk through a lush, tropical hideaway. A bit further upstream is a cliff, about 10 feet high, where people jump into the cool, deep waters below.
After wandering in the grotto and cooling off in the river, we returned to the fork in the river and took the right fork on a smooth paddle through low-hanging hau bush and patches of shade.
As the river became more shallow, we rounded a bend and came to a sandy landing on the right shore lined with Job’s tears, a plant in the grass family native to East Asia whose seeds are used for jewelry making.
That’s just one of the many plants we encountered in the short hike through the jungle to the falls after tying up the boat. Ti leaves and ferns, ginger in shades of red and pink, and hibiscus line the way to Uluwehi, and moskovy ducks greet hikers along the trail.
After crossing through several small waterfalls, where inviting pools provide a place to stop and play for a while, the trail cuts along the cliffside above the river, and the falls begin to peek through the thick vegetation.
Usually awash with people racing to the base of the falls or challenging each other to enter the cold, fresh water, that day we were lucky enough to share Secret Falls with others for about half an hour before it emptied and then we got it to ourselves.
The water stings your skin when you jump in. Its deafening roar and windtunel of waterdroplets add to the thrill of being in the pool, and after a dip that will get your blood pumping, it’s a good spot to grab lunch before heading back.
The hike has several stream crossings and it’s important to keep an eye on the weather when you’re hiking to Uluwehi. Gnarly roots and regular muddy conditions make the trail challenging at times.
The kayak back can be more difficult than going down if the wind kicks up. But, those who are well prepared say it’s a trek they’ll make again and again, a kayak and hiking trip beloved by residents and visitors alike.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.