Purchase a six-pack of Wailua Wheat Passion Fruit Beer from Kona Brewing and you’ll get a sneak peak at what awaits you inside of Wailua River State Park. The label shows a beautiful Hawaiian woman bathing at the base of Secret Falls which sits deep inside the park. You can only get there with a kayak.
The Wailua River is the only navigable river in the state of Hawaii, and it’s easy to find. Simply take Kauai’s one highway north out of Lihue and you’ll drive over it as you near the town of Kapaa. You’ll find the entrance to the marina on the south side of the river which you can only access from the southbound side of the Kuhio Highway.
The river itself is deep and dark. It’s filled with sediment being carried out to sea by the rainwater that falls inside Mount Waialele’s Crater. The river is lined with trees with roots that reach out into the water, and you’ll find dozens of hibiscus blooms floating downriver.
There’s a flow to traffic on the river just like a road. Kayak on the right side to allow oncoming traffic to pass. Paddling down the river is blissful. You’ll be surrounded by tropical flowers, chirping birds and towering mountains. Soon, you’ll come to a fork in the river.
Stay right to follow the river as it narrows. The trees will close in, and soon you’ll be paddling underneath a rainforest canopy. You’ll find a rocky beach inside this rainforest that serves as a trailhead to Secret Falls, and the beach will likely be littered with kayaks. Beach your kayak and follow the trail.
You’ll find yourself in a field of six-foot grass with crowning trees covered in blue flowers. You’ll then have to cross the river on foot, and there’s a rope to help you across this shallow passage. You’ll then enter a rainforest full of mango trees and red flowers as you hike beside the river.
You’ll pass the remnants of an ancient Hawaiian village, but you probably won’t recognize the site without a guide. Secret Falls sits just a mile from the trailhead, and it hides just behind a hill.
The falls are picturesque, and the whole scene is accurately represented on the Wailua Wheat bottle save for the Hawaiian woman. The water comes pouring down from the rainforest’s canopy to forge a small swimming pool at its base. And you’ll be delighted to see a handmade monument built near the falls where flowers are ceremoniously placed on a rocky cairn.
You can only get to Secret Falls if you have access to a kayak. Many companies in the Kapaa area are eager to rent you a kayak, and they’ll tether it to the roof of any rental car. Otherwise, you can join a tour group up the river where you’ll have a guide to teach you about the flora and fauna of Hawaii. The guide will also stop to educate you about the ruins of the ancient Hawaiian village, and they will serve you a bagged lunch at the falls.
You can join a river boat cruise if you don’t want to paddle, or you can simply picnic by the river. The state park is also home to Opeaka’a Falls which is a short drive inland on Kuamoo Road. The road hugs the north side of the river, and it takes you to Kauai’s most accessible falls. Simply drive up and enjoy.