By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/20/2020
Posted: 4/26/2010
Topics/Keywords: #Kauai #Hawaii #KipuFalls #WailuaRiver Page Views: 1554
Michael and I swim at a waterfall, take a river cruise, and attend a luau!

Today it was my turn to sustain a minor vacation injury. But it was so totally worth it, that I would gladly do it again.

We had three adventures planned for the day. First, a hike to an off-the-road waterfall we could swim at; second, a river tour by boat; and three, a full-out Hawaiian luau.

The swimming adventure was to take place at Kipu Falls, which I found on the web, along with directions. The GPS did not know where the falls are (no surprise, since it's non-commercial and off the road) and, while I could have put in coordinates, I didn't have them, since Google Earth hasn't been installed on this netbook. But, no matter. The directions included a road intersection and that was something the GPS understood.

We drove off the main road, and then onto a lesser road, and finally a minor road that, though paved, was too narrow in most places for two vehicles to pass. We came to a place where four or five cars were parked in the reeds at the side of the road, and I rolled down the window to talk with a guy loading things into his trunk.

"Is Kipu Falls anywhere near here?" I asked.

"You've found it!" he assured me with a friendly smile. "Park anywhere. It's that path over there."

"That path" was an unmistakable break in the thick, Hawaiian grasses. Michael and I got our gear together (towels, water, sandals, cameras—we were already wearing our bathing suits) and headed down the path.

At once we were enveloped by the thick, jungle smells: musky, fragrant, delightful. We couldn't see much from the trail, though here and there a partial clearing would afford a view of the river below. The path gradually descended until we were at the river level, about the same time that a roar was added to the soughing of the wind through the trees. There it was: Kipu Falls.

Kipu Falls

The other people here comprised maybe four or five small groups, mostly families; but they were spread out so the place didn't seem crowded. The only bad part was, Michael and I couldn't find a way to the base of the falls, where we wanted to swim, without jumping. There was a ladder, but everyone else was using it to climb back up after either jumping off the edge or swinging on a rope into the water.

Jumping at Kipu Falls

I'd been told specifically by a local friend not to jump off the rocks. "Every week," he said, "at least one person winds up in the emergency room from hurting themselves at Kipu Falls." But he hadn't said anything about the rope.

Michael at Kipu Falls.

The rope had clearly been there a long time, and everyone was using it. The ladder we had seen was bolted to the rocks, so the whole thing had clearly been thought out.

Michael was willing to take the ladder down to the pool, and I told him there was no reason why he shouldn't. But he's 60. I'm only 59, and I figured I was still good for a swing on the rope.

The dad of some of the kids who'd been using the rope pulled it in for me and handed it over. It was thick, like a gym rope, with thick knots to assist in holding on. I wrapped my fists above two of the knots and realized I couldn't back out now.

"Oh, fuck." I blurted out loud, and pushed off from the rocks.

As I swung over the water, I felt and heard a pop! come from my right elbow. My arm instantly burned like fire, but I held on until I'd reached the apex of the swing, then let go, dropping into the water like a bag of wet cement. It was deep and cool, but my right arm wouldn't work right. I couldn't use it to swim. If I let it relax, it didn't hurt; but when I tried to extend it, it hurt badly and I tried not to do that for fear of damaging myself further.

Fortunately I'm comfortable enough in the water to not panic. I can swim with one arm. I could swim with no arms if I had to. The fact that my body fat ratio allows me to bob like a cork helps. Michael could tell something was wrong and I called that I had "kind of maybe" dislocated my elbow. I had to side-stroke back to the ladder. By now, Michael had come down and, once he knew I wasn't in constant pain, we decided to go ahead and float in the deep pool for awhile before returning to the top of the falls.

Your blogger with one good arm at Kipu Falls.

The hard part turned out to be getting out of the water to get to the base of the ladder. There were no footholds and with only one working arm, I had the devil's own time trying to land myself. It didn't help that Michael kept drawing parallels to the beached sea lions we'd seen yesterday. He wanted to help, but I couldn't risk his pulling my bad arm and I needed the good one to try and lift myself. It literally took 30 minutes before I was in position to climb the 30-foot ladder to the top of the falls.

And, of course, climbing a 30-foot ladder with one dead arm is a challenge in itself.

But, as I said, I'd do it all again. The falls were breathtaking; the water was delightful and the injury (from the viewpoint of hours later) seems to be minor.

Though obviously I need to lose some weight. Or work out more. Or something.

Monument to William Hyde Rice 'by his Japanese friends'.

Back in the car, which I now had to drive one-armed, I decided to travel a little further along the road to find a place wide enough to turn around. That turned out to be a turn off for a very old monument, made of stone but completely covered with vines, dedicated, it turned out, to one William Hyde Rice, by his "Japanese friends."

We figured Rice must have been a governor of Hawaii, or maybe a diplomat assigned to Japan. But when I looked Rice up, it turned out he was a businessman and politician who lived here during the fall of the Kingdom of Hawaii. That was the period when the American owners of the pineapple and sugarcane plantations got tired of sharing their profits with Queen Lili'uokalani and cut her out of the deal by convincing the United States to step in and take over "for the good of the Hawaiian people."

As we returned to the main road, we were again struck by the natural and pastoral beauty of this land.

Along Kipu Road. Kipu River

We returned home to change clothes, and Michael loaned me his magnetite bracelet to wear on the theory that it might help my arm heal faster. My arm didn't bother me anyway, as long as I let it rest.

Wailua State Park Marina

We drove up past Lihue to the Wailua State Park and home of Smith's Tropical Plantation, to catch a tour boat from the marina. Almost all the boats there belonged to Smith's.

Presently it was time for our tour to leave. I knew it was supposed to last an hour and a half, but I assumed that would all be spent in the boat. As it turned out, we were heading for Fern Grotto, a short 18 minute trip, and would be strolling to the grotto and touring the area on foot for 40 minutes.

Now, if I'd known that was the case, I might not have signed up for the river tour. But there was live music on board, and hula dancing, and the captain gave a very funny (but accurate) spiel describing the geography and history of the area. So it really was all worthwhile.

Hawaiian music and hula girls on the river tour.

The captain pointed out the field over which "Incans" chased Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. And the guy singing on the boat had been in any number of movies, and his guitarist had been a semi-regular on Hawaii Five-0.

The Fern Grotto itself, we were told, was once a sacred spot to the ancient Hawaiians who worshipped Lono, their goddess of agriculture and peace, there. When the Christian missionaries showed up, they forbade anyone's going to the Grotto under pain of death. So the place was forgotten until 1946, when "Grandpa and Grandma Smith" went canoeing along the river. When they discovered the beautiful grotto, it occurred to Grandpa Smith that a whole tourist empire could be built around it. Or something.

There's no denying, the Fern Grotto is a beautiful spot.

The Fern Grotto.

When we returned to the marina, we walked a few hundred feet to the entrance of Smith's Tropical Paradise, which is an extensive garden and location of a grand luau or traditional Hawaiian feast. As we entered, a photographer took our picture with a couple of hula persons which made me worry that this was one of those places that nickels and dimes you for "souvenirs". However, this was the only one. (And I did buy the photo.)

Hula girl, Michael, Paul, Hula hunk

By the way, that's not a backdrop we were photographed against…it's the real place.

While waiting for the luau to start, Michael and I toured the grounds. There was every conceivable kind of flower, and even mockups of ancient Polynesian villages.

Mockup of an ancient Polynesian village.

There was also a sizable peacock community which was competing with the ever-present chickens (which, we were told, are simply picked up and cooked by anyone who's a little peckish for chicken).

Peacock at Smith's Tropical Paradise.

They then had the "Imu Ceremony". An imu is an underground fire pit, or, as our host put it, "A Hawaiian microwave". A Kalua pig had been roasting there for eight hours and was now done. The two masters of the Imu Ceremony blew shell horns in each cardinal direction, then dug up the pig (which was wrapped in palm fronds) and brought it to the surface.

The Imu Ceremony brings forth the roast pig.

We then gathered for the feast. I have no idea how many people were being served in the covered, open-air pavilion, but it was certainly in the hundreds. There were three buffet tables, and three open bars, one serving Mai Tais (a drink made with rum and tropical juices), one with Hawaiian Punch and water, and a regular bar for sodas, beer and wine, all covered by the entrance fee.

The buffet at the luau.

I had salad with papaya dressing, a little macaroni salad, teriyaki beef, Hawaiian sweet potato (it was purple!), fried rice, and of course, the pulled Kalua pig, which had a very distinct but delicious flavor. For desert there were tropical fruits and coconut milk cake.

And, of course, there was poi. Poi is a traditional staple food of the Hawaiians, sort of like Hawaiian grits. After going on about how much Hawaiians "love their poi!", our host allowed as to how it was a bit bland and takes some adjusting to. He said if we didn't like it plain, we should try adding a pinch of salt. And if we still didn't like it, we should try it again after four or five Mai Tais!

Hula dancer in the show.

I added the salt and had two Mai Tais, and I finished all of mine. It wasn't bad. Apparently, pretty much anything tastes better with enough Mai Tais.

But I probably won't be buying any from Sprouts when I get home.

After dinner, we were treated to a show in an amphitheatre that included a fake volcano, and a couple dozen dancers who were startlingly talented. They were also surprisingly familiar: one had sold us our tickets; another had posed for pictures with us when we came in. But the music was awesome, the effects definitely impressive, and the whole absolutely worth the time spent to see it.

The theme of the show was "The Golden Peoples of Hawaii" and showcased each of the Polynesian groups that contributed to the settling of Hawaii: The Tahitians, Samoans, Maori, Philippines, and the Japanese and Chinese (the latter two brought in as slave labor to work the pineapple and sugar cane fields).

The Golden Peoples of Hawaii.

The narrator explained that, in the ancient, male-dominated Hawaiian society, only men danced the hula…women, in fact, were forbidden to dance. The hula was also performed naked (as were most island activities, in this land of perfect year-round temperatures). When the missionaries showed up, they were horrified at the "heathen" dancing and forbade the men from doing it anymore. So the women began to do it, secretly at first, so that the culture wouldn't be lost forever.

Now, of course, the men can dance once again, and did in the show. Sadly, they didn't do it naked.

The male hula dancers.

The show ended about 9:15 pm and we waddled to our car, stuffed and happy. On the way home we found a Wal-Mart and of course had to stop there—Michael never misses a chance to visit a foreign Wal-Mart.

We were exhausted by the time we got back, but put in a movie anyway, a gay romantic comedy called I Think I Do. My eyes kept closing during it, so I'm not sure if it was any good or not, but I think it was.