The Aloha State is synonomous with surfing - but there's more to Hawaii than the beaches and boards of Waikiki
I clamber aboard my tube, grab a headlamp, and let the freezing, rushing water from the channel take me. I’m pouring down Mount Wai’ale’ale on Kauai, the wettest spot on earth with 400 inches of rain each year. For 90 minutes I am part of it, bobbing and bumping my way to the sea on a cushion of rain. Suddenly, an open canal and we flatten out, the pace slows, a flash of tropical vegetation as I move into one tunnel, out the other side, into another tunnel, out the other side. Then the roar of a closed dank drain. A moment of blind panic – they told me I couldn’t capsize! – I flip on my light, go with the flow. Spinning in the dark is fun, it feels safe and exhilarating at the same time. Suddenly, daylight, the ocean, and it’s over.
It may seem risky, but tubing in Hawaii is not a dangerous sport. You sit in sturdy rubber rings a bit like car tyre inner tubes, which have handles and can’t capsize – no matter how hard you try. The water is only a couple of feet deep and you can bale out at any open-air point.
The activity takes place on the lush green island of Kauai, where, in the late 19th century, engineers channelled the rainwater into a network of pipes and canals to provide irrigation for the sugar cane plantations. Advances in agriculture have made the system obsolete, so the giant pipes have been transformed into the ultimate waterpark.
Another of Kauai’s highlights is the lovely little town of Hanalei. It’s a gorgeous place full of craft shops, health food stores and a hippy atmosphere. Close by is beautiful Hanalei Bay, with its soft beige sand sheltered by pine trees, and two of the island’s loveliest beaches: Ke’e and Kalihiowai.
If you make the long journey to Hawaii (it’s a 10-hour flight to LA then another five-and-a half hours to Honolulu on Oahu island), don’t stay long in Honolulu. Waikiki Beach is disappointingly scruffy and the city is built-up and full of all the usual designer shops you can find everywhere else – Gucci, Chanel, Prada and Louis Vuitton, to name but a few. An ideal trip to Hawaii would mean staying on two contrasting islands.
My first stop was Kauai, but I also took a 60-minute flight from Honolulu to Kona on Big Island, which is the biggest and oldest island, famous for its highly active volcano. Here you can even ski on Mauna Kea in winter, though, with no lifts, you have to make your way up by 4WD.
In summer the island’s earth is a burnt umber and charcoal hue, with ochre shrivelled grass – almost a lunar landscape. There’s another unusual sport to do here, which again is eco friendly and makes use of the old irrigation channels. This one is less exciting but more educational than Kauai’s tubing and it’s quaintly called Flumin’ Da Ditch.
At the northern tip of the island I meet up with my group and we are taken by 4WD vehicle along a rough track to Waiapuka Mountain, 10 minutes away. Here we get into inflatable kayaks, each seating six people with a guide at the front. My guide, Adam, is Hawaiian-Japanese and extremely knowledgeable about plant life.
We don jackets and start to paddle the three-and-a-half miles through 10 tunnels, seven flumes and a lot of open ditch. First we travel through rainforest with trees of white ginger, cinnamon, coffee and guava, and finally we reach an open area of macadamia nut orchards. It’s all fascinating stuff and Adam breaks off a cinnamon branch and offers us the leaves to suck – it’s a spicy and familiar taste.
But it’s surfing that Hawaii is really all about, although to do it here you have to be both brave and very experienced, as the current is so strong. If you don’t want to surf, there are so many other options that you could easily spend a couple of weeks here without ever hopping on a board. You can swim with dolphins, scuba dive, go on a snorkel safari, zip-wire over canyons, jump off waterfalls, play on a championship golf course, horse ride, go whale watching or deep sea fishing, take a heli trip over the islands – and, of course, tube and flume.
Tubing with Kauai Backcountry Fluming Da Ditch