Smith’s Fern Grotto tour reopens

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    The back of the Smith’s Motor Boat Service vessel is seen on the way back from the Fern Grotto on the Wailua River last week.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Visitors on the Smith’s Motor Boat Service barge listen to the tour guide speak about Kamokila Hawaiian Village on the way up the Wailua River to the Fern Grotto last week.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Visitors walk around the bamboo area on their way up to see the Fern Grotto two miles up the Wailua River from Kuhio Highway.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Kino Breezy, a deckhand at Smith’s Motor Boat Service, welcomes visitors aboard the Johnny-Mac in Wailua Marina last week.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    The famous mist of Fern Grotto enshroud entertainers including tour guide and musician Sean Carillo, second from right, as they sing and dance to “The Hawaiian Wedding Song.” From left are Sky Flores, Kilohana Woodward, Cheryl Watson and Mahina Kolo.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Dominic Rodriguez, 5, of San Francisco, looks out into the Wailua River from the Smith’s Motor Boat, as a couple on a kayak pass by last week.

WAILUA — Businesses, resorts and tours are reopening on Kaua‘i as visitor numbers increase, and Smith’s Tropical Paradise is one of them.

The company hosts garden lu‘au and boat tours along the Wailua River, historically with Kaua‘i musician Larry Rivera playing original songs while participants are ferried to the historic Fern Grotto, a bit upstream from the Smith’s main property.

Rivera no longer plays or those boat tours, but the tours have started again.

Last week, the Smith’s Wailua River Tour reopened. The garden lu‘au is set to resume on May 5.

The company requires patrons to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 protocols, meaning anyone who books a boat tour or plans on enjoying a lu‘au must wear a face mask and practice social distancing and hand-washing.

The company’s president, Walter Smith Jr., also known as “Freckles,” was on his golf cart with his two dogs last week, greeting the guests as they got on and off his boats.

He has been working the family business with his late dad Walter Smith Sr. since 1946, and now works with his son and General Manager Kamika Smith.

“It’s great to see people around,” Freckles Smith said. “It’s something different for them to do.”

The boat tours provide free Hawaiian music played by seasoned musicians, storytelling, jokes, and free “Hukilau” hula lessons to set the mood right before heading two miles up north on the Wailua River.

At the Fern Grotto, Sean Carillo, one of the Smith’s boat musicians, said they reopened last Monday after a brief reopening at the ending of last year.

“It feels good to be back,” Carillo said. “We were open for a short time towards the end of October. I think we’re only open for three weeks. And then the mayor shut down the safe travels. So, besides that, three weeks pretty much (for) 13 months we were closed.”

Carillo said on Wednesday the number of visitors was on average, serving approximately 60 people in total.

“We’ve been pretty full on the boats, capacity is lower — like half,” Carillo said. “But they seem to enjoy it. We’re all glad to be back at work.”

Karen Chan, her 5-year-old son Dominic Rodriquez and her partner Miguel Rodriguez, from San Francisco, enjoyed their morning boat ride during one of the first outings after the tours resumed.

“I was just Googling things that are age-appropriate for him, and that’s how I found out about this tour,” Chan said. “It was perfect, and now we are going to hang out with my sister who lives here part time.”

Adults can expect to pay $30, children ages 2 to 12 are $15, and those under 2 are free.

Currently, boat tours will be held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The first tour goes out at 9:30 a.m and the last leaves at 3:30 p.m.


Stephanie Shinno, education and business reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or

  1. Palani April 26, 2021 6:25 am Reply

    This is the most definite sign of a return to normalcy! Let’s hope it holds and the island can resume its life, and jobs can return.

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