Kayak and Hike to Kauai’s Secret Falls Also Known As Uluwehi Falls

A combination kayak and hike to a waterfall would be the final adventure of our recent Kauai Waterfall Trip (see Wailua Falls, Hoopii Falls). We actually had this planned for earlier in the week, however, flash flood warnings kept kayakers out of the Wailua Stream. Hey, safety first! This was the only adventure during this trip that we hired a guide for, mainly because of unfamiliarity with the area. We decided on Wailua Kayak Tours.

Paddle. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Paddle. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

View from the back. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

View from the back. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

In your face. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

In your face. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

The day started very early. We checked in with the tour group at 6:45am to sign liability forms and for a short debriefing. Shortly after, we were all shuttled to the Nawiliwili Small Boat Harbor, which was a short 5 minute drive from our hotel. Once there, we were greeted by our guide for the day, Judah. There were three other pairs of people, making our group size 9 people strong. In no time, Judah had us all in our kayaks, and then launched us into the Wailua River. Each pair paddled a few feet from the launch point and waited for the last group and Judah. We then received another debriefing, which included a quick lesson on Kayacking 101. Some tips we learned: 1. the person in the back would try his/her best to stay in sync with the rowing of the person in the front. 2. keep your paddles near your knees, and 3. never drag your paddle. With those basic tips in mind, we set off for Secret Falls.

On the trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

On the trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Green Room. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Green Room. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Preparing to cross the stream. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Preparing to cross the stream. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Stream Crossing. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Stream Crossing. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Wailua River starts at Mount Waialeale and ends some 20-miles downstream near Kapaa. The Secret Falls is located on the Kapaa end of the river. Although nicknamed Secret Falls, it’s not at all very secret. It probably got the nickname because it’s difficult to access via land (because of trespassing issues) and must be accessed by kayak. The proper name for this waterfall is Uluwehi Falls (meaning lush and green vegetation).

The tour is listed as being 4-5 hours long, two hours of paddling (roundtrip), two hours of hiking (roundtrip), and an hour at the falls. Based on our GPS track, the kayak portion did indeed take one-hour (one-way). However, the hike to the falls lasted a very short 30 minutes (one-way).

Uluwehi Falls. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Uluwehi Falls. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

First view of the waterfall. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

First view of the waterfall. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Upside down waterfall. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Upside down waterfall. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Just to give you some perspective. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Just to give you some perspective. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

There are four landmarks of note for the hiking portion. First, you will enter an area that our guide called The Green Room. I presume that it was given this name because it was covered in lush greenery 360 degrees around. Looks kind of like the beginning of the Manoa Falls Trail where you cross the bridge and have your first glimpse of the large green scenery. The second point of interest will be the stream crossing. For some, this might be the most “thrilling” part of the trail, especially, if the water level is high. We hike this trail the day after a flash flood warning was issued. The water level was waist high. The day before,the guide mentioned that the water level was chest high. A rope was installed to help make the stream crossing more manageable. However, don’t count on it always being there, it was installed just the day before to help with the flash flooding. The third point of interest is known as broken leg ridge, because a slip here will send you tumbling into the water below. It’s not as sketchy as Judah made it out to be, but I guess if you’re not careful or paying attention then it can be an easy place to slip and fall.

Thanks for the photo, Judah!

Thanks for the photo, Judah!

Legs. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Legs. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Entering Secret Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Entering Secret Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Underneath a 100 foot tall waterfall. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Underneath a 100 foot tall waterfall. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Waterfall boogeyman. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Waterfall boogeyman. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Probably my favorite shot of the entire trip. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Probably my favorite shot of the entire trip. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Quintessential GoPro shot. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Quintessential GoPro shot. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The final point of interest is the ancient heiau site. This is where things got weird. Judah stopped for a bit and gave us a quick history lesson of the heiau and the surrounding area. He told us the the people that lived here were called Alii, that was their tribe name (this is contrary to what almost all local kids learned in Hawaiiana class, that alii meant chiefly status). He also said that the average height of these Ancient Hawaiians was 7 feet tall. What? That’s some crazy height, even for ancient Hawaiians! This scholarly article suggests the average height to be roughly 5 feet 10 inches (with chiefs often being over six feet tall). In any case, once you reach this spot, you will be about 5 minutes from Uluwehi Falls.

I was in awe as soon as the waterfall came into view. Uluwehi falls is listed as being 100 feet tall and because of the recent rains, it had a beautiful flow. After enjoying some snacks with Juday (he brought along some nuts and dried fruits) and a quick debriefing, we were off to explore the base of the waterfall. Judah did note that the falls was only about 2 feet deep around, with the portion just under the falls being the deepest at 5 feet. He said that if we wanted, we could go under the falls. Of course, we all did. In my haste, I slipped and feel and cut my right shin up pretty bad, and also nicked my right thumb nuckle up. Worth the blood? Yep.

We arrived back at the Harbor dock at around 11:30am. Joel and I both agreed that this was an excellent way to end our trip. You know that you had fun when you’re super tired and yet super stoked. Would I do this again? Absolutely. Next time, however, I would probably kayak and hike on my own, minus the guide. The kayak portion is very straightforward and the hiking trail is well defined – you just need to know how to find the landing spot. Fortunately, I had my GPS going the entire time!

Wailua Kayak Adventures
1345 Ulu St
Kapaa, HI 96746
(808) 822-5795
Hours: Mon-Sat 7 am – 7 pm
Cost: $85 for two people

Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Joel Sabugo.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

One comment

  1. “shuttled to the Nawiliwili Small Boat Harbor”
    Unlikely you went to Nawiliwili, you were shuttled to somewhere near the mouth of the Wailua river.

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