Brett Atkinson finds plenty of outdoor adventures to get his heart pumping on Jurassic Park-like Kauai
Make the short flight from Honolulu to Hawaii's northernmost outpost of Kauai, an island ideal for a road trip. Make sure you stop often to experience Pacific thrills tinged with spectacle and excitement.
Kipu Ranch Adventures
Wearing oversized goggles and maybe Hawaii's biggest motorcycle helmet, I'm keeping an eye on the near horizon for dinosaurs. To the right, our convoy of ATVs is flanked by a verdant mountain ridge straight from the Jurassic Park movies, and under bruised tropical skies it's very easy to imagine a flock of Gallimimus theropods escaping a rampaging Tyrannosaurus rex.
For cinema buffs, joining a tour with Kipu Ranch Adventures combines self-drive thrills with an entertaining commentary covering all the Hollywood movies filmed on this expansive private farm. Our vehicles' roll cages brush the sides of narrow forested lanes, slip-sliding gently on corners made smooth from recent rains to reach the riverbank where Harrison Ford escaped on a rope swing in Raiders of the Lost Ark, while a narrow concrete path surges uphill to a forested peak with views of George Clooney's perfect half-moon cove in The Descendants.
Freshly-baked banana bread and local coffee provide sustenance for concentration behind the wheel, and all the while there's an uncanny feeling something very big and very dangerous might be lurking nearby. It's probably a good idea Kipu's zippy ATVs don't have rear-view mirrors.
Holo Holo Charters
Kauai's Waimea Canyon and Na Pali Coast are so spectacular they're worth seeing three different ways. Previously we'd journeyed by helicopter above Waimea's necklace of forested waterfalls and also negotiated a rental Jeep along the sinuous mountain highway coursing through the canyon to coastal lookouts freshened by fleeting banks of mist.
From the water, on a catamaran, Holo Holo Charters completes the trifecta and finally provides the necessary perspective to view the improbable scale of one of the Pacific's natural wonders.
Scored by ancient ridges and soaring knife-edge pinnacles, Na Pali's immensity contrasts with the low-key and super-relaxed welcome from Holo Holo's trio of blond-haired surfer dude yachties. Departing Port Allen's raffish harbour, their combined skill at sailing, wisecracking and providing the perfect morning on the water soon becomes evident. A jib's quickly raised, moving the boat downwind in fresh breezes to the coast's best snorkelling spot.
The morning's swell breaks impetuously on a nearby reef, but underwater, beyond the reach of the white water, is calm and meditative. Shapeshifting light plays on banks of coral and there's the surprise of a sea turtle easing effortlessly past us. Surfacing under Kauai sunlight, the constant and soaring background of the Na Pali Coast is both leviathan and inspiring.
Kauai Backcountry Adventures
To a couple of Kiwi travellers, the joke-laden introduction from Kauai Backcountry Adventures' bearded and wet-suited team is entertaining and familiar. If you've grown up in New Zealand, their self-deprecating Polynesian warmth and humour strike a chord, and while a few of our mainland American co-adventurers don't necessarily get all the laughs, we're almost rolling in the aisles.
Our shared experience for the next few hours is to journey by inner tube along narrow irrigation channels established in the island's mountainous interior when sugar plantations were the biggest game in town. Now tourism is Kauai's biggest earner, and tubing adventures reinforce the island's adventure sports credentials. The action begins gently, drifting along like human bumper boats in narrow concrete channels that were dug by hand in the 1870s. A frisson of excitement soon ensues when the waist-deep water becomes shallower to create faster-moving mini-rapids.
More than half the journey is in tunnels, and after negotiating the first with headlamps on, we journey through the next, longer darkened spaces with lights totally extinguished. Emerging into dappled sunlight from a tunnel almost a kilometre long, the experience concludes with the rush of a log flume-like plunge and the lazy-days coda of spinning slowly in island sunshine on the tour's most easygoing waters.
Hawaiian Airlines (hawaiianairlines.com) and Air New Zealand (airnewzealand.co.nz) have direct flights from Auckland to Honolulu. Hawaiian Airlines has frequent 40-minute flights from Honolulu to Kauai.
Kauai is one of Hawaii's more compact islands and easily explored in a rental car.
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