There are gems on Kauai that don’t receive a lot of fanfare, but should, because, frankly, they are amazing.
Smith’s Motor Boat Service’s Wailua River cruise to the Fern Grotto is one of them.
It’s an hour and 20 minutes of being introduced to culture and tradition, while seeing beauty all around and having a lot of fun, too. This leaves you feeling good and walking away with a smile.
If you’re a visitor, it’s the best $30 you’ll spend (children are $15), and if you’re local, it’s the best kama‘aina discount you’ll get: free.
Kamika Smith, the general manager who heads up this family operation (they also operate the Smith Family Garden Luau), not only answers the phones but mans the ticket booth, too, and shares aloha with customers.
Smith’s Wailua River cruise boats are powered by a rear-engine system invented by Walter Smith Sr. The open-air boats provide nice views from either side during the ride, but one piece of advice: try to get a seat along the outside railing. The inside seats, while perfectly comfortable, don’t offer the same views.
Once the boat motors away from the dock, sit back and enjoy the scenery and listen to your host outline the history of the two-mile journey you are going on before reaching your destination, Fern Grotto.
The Wailua River is the only navigable river in Hawaii. The river’s fresh water comes from Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale, which is one of the wettest spots on the planet, getting 400 to 500 inches of rain each year.
Here’s a little history of this river cruise:
In 1946, Walter Smith Sr. and his wife, Emily, started this family business with a small rowboat and a borrowed outboard motor. Four generations later, they continue their tradition of sharing their love of Kauai and its rich cultural heritage.
Guests hear songs and stories of the king’s highway, sacred Mount Kapu, and the first hau tree.
At Fern Grotto, you’ll take a short walk through a lush, green rainforest that is spectacular and is a must for any visitor or local. You can sense the power of this place, described as “a geological wonder of Kauai.”
It’s famous for weddings once held there, the first in 1962 and more than 12,000 since. The cave itself, we were told, is 12 feet high and 50 feet wide.
In 2006, a series of rainstorms lasted 42 straight days. During that time, the cave tours went on but a woman was hit by a falling rock, leading the state to close that part of the park..
Our emcee, a delightful young man with a friendly face, smiled and joked with the crowd.
“This cave can hold over 150 people in there — or 100 Hawaiians,” he said, as people laughed.
The ferns of Fern Grotto, we were told, are very special to the people of Hawaii.
“When the sun comes out, they hang low. They’re sleeping, known as the ‘sleeping ferns,’” our host said. “When the moon comes out, they stand straight up — no, just kidding. No, they don’t.”
On the return, you’ll not only get to watch hula, but asked to stand and follow along as you get a free hula lesson. Don’t be shy and worry about looking foolish. Most people did on our cruise, but it’s one of those times people are laughing with you.
The boat tours depart daily from Wailua Marina State Park at 9:30 and 11 a.m. and 2 and 3:30 p.m.