If you’ve watched the comedy Tropic Thunder, then you’ve seen the jungles of Kauai, Hawaii. This movie was entirely filmed on this island, and after kayaking down the Wailua River and hiking to Secret Falls, I fully understood why the producers chose Kauai as the “Vietnam backdrop”. As we worked our way down the river, surrounded by nothing but water, jungle plants, and the occasional “cock-a-doodle-doo!” of a wild rooster, and as we trudged through literal jungle, falling over rocks, sliding through mud, and climbing up steep inclines, it felt like we had been transported to another country. Kayaking down the Wailua River and then hiking to Secret Falls was an exceptionally challenging, yet super-rewarding adventure.
With a distance of 14.5 miles, the Wailua River is Kauai’s 5th longest river, plus one of its largest. A major river on the island, it’s sourced from two different locations – Mount Waialeale to the north and various streams near Hanamaulu to the southwest – eventually ending at the Pacific Ocean. Uniquely, it’s the only river large enough to be navigated by boats bigger than a kayak in all the Hawaiian Islands.
Secret Falls (formally: Uluwehi Falls) is a 100-foot not-so-secret waterfall. It’s located within the Wailua River State Park, approximately 1.5-miles from the river into the Kauai jungle, and is reachable only by kayak/small boat, then via hiking. It’s a decently beautiful waterfall and was luckily flowing strongly due to constant rain Kauai had been experiencing. It cascades into a small pool, which leads down the rocks into a small stream, eventually meeting the Wailua River.
Making it to Secret Falls was not challenging due to the river or trail, as the water was calm, and the hike was generally flat with only one serious incline. It was difficult mainly due to 1) my inexperience with kayaks, and 2) the incredibly strong winds and bouts of heavy rain. During the winter months, Kauai regularly experiences wind gusts up to 20mph and endless (sometimes heavy) bouts of rain. During our trips on the river, there and back, we had to deal with strong winds and two stints of heavy rain that began, and ended, suddenly. Unfortunately, there is zero cover in the middle of the river, and getting too close to the shoreline could mean hitting a branch or submerged tree and flipping the kayak.
As for the hike, it was challenging only due to the endless rain making the ground incredibly muddy, slippery, and difficult to walk through. We were all slipping and sliding, with the kiddos sadly taking the most tumbles and falls, although all three were able to make it there and back just fine. All in all, even with the mud and rain, the hike to Secret Falls was one of the easiest hikes I’ve ever done.
And of course, there were chickens 🐓 (please see below).
Overall, if you’re ever visiting the beautiful island of Kauai, make sure to take a (hopefully rain-less) afternoon kayaking trip up the beautiful Wailua River, and then a (hopefully) dry hike up to the equally beautiful Secret Falls! Even if the kayak trip proves challenging like it did with us, I promise you’ll be glad you did it and feel a sense of major accomplishment. Also, many people pack a lunch to enjoy at the falls… which is likely why there are chickens 🤪. Give it a visit!