Hidden along the banks of the Wailua River is one of the most enchanting and romantic spots on Kaua‘i, the Fern Grotto. Tucked away in the lush tropical forests that line this mighty river – the island’s largest and only navigable waterway – is a secret cave, the mythological home to the Hawaiian god Lono and the site of more than 19,000 weddings. This unique fissure in the rock face, formed millions of years ago when Kaua‘i was young, is covered in exotic flowers. It is famed for its “upside-down” ferns that grow from the ceiling of the 35-foot deep cavern thanks to the water dripping down from irrigation works in the sugarcane fields high above. Only accessible from the river, this magical location is ideal for a morning of exploration and sightseeing in the heart of the island’s lush interior.
A Three Hour Fern Grotto Tour
Well, closer to an hour and a half. But unlike Gilligan and his ill-fated tour, your adventure up the Wailua is bound to have a happy (and possibly romantic) ending. Most visitors rely on Smith’s Kaua‘i and their legendary river cruises to tour the Fern Grotto; after all, the Smith family were the first to bring tourists up-river to the grotto, and have been doing so since 1946 (the initial operation relied on a rowboat; now you get to relax in a comfortable open-air cruiser). Along the way you will get plenty of photo ops for the incredible scenery and beautiful foliage that lines the river, from stately tropical trees to crawling vines to exotic flowers lining the river banks. Your knowledgeable guides will enlighten and entertain you with tales and songs of old Hawai‘i, from the legend of Mount Kapu to the story of the First Hau Tree.
Of course, if you prefer self-propulsion, kayak rentals are also available, and the round-trip paddle is about six miles (NOTE: You are not allowed to dock while the tour boat is loading/unloading, so you might have to wait a few minutes depending on the window of your arrival). TIP: Head upriver earlier in the day to avoid the afternoon breezes which add extra effort to your return paddle.
The Fern Grotto in Kauai has fully recovered from the damage of Hurricane Iniki in 1992 and flooding in 2006, but visitors are no longer allowed inside the cave. After a short hike from your landing on the river bank, you will still have an excellent vantage point of this magical grotto from the observation area, and if you are lucky you might even be blessed with a moving rendition of the “Hawaiian Wedding Song,” a popular choice for the numerous weddings that take place here every year.
To visit the Fern Grotto, book your tours through Smith’s or rent kayaks from one of the vendors at Wailua Marina in Kapaa.