Exploring the Hanalei River Valley by Kayak

There’s more to Hawaii than beaches, believe it or not.

In all my visits to Kauai, I’d never been kayaking on the pristine Hanalei River, something I think just about every tourist who’s ever visited has probably done. Since my brother was on the hunt for the elusive peacock bass (seriously, it’s ALL I heard about for 5 weeks!), we made our way down from our condo in Princeville and stopped at the first outfitter we found along the way – Kayak Kauai, where we each rented a $29 kayak for the day.

The low, flat portion where we spent several hours rowing away is the least dramatic of the Hanalei River’s march to the sea. The water comes from the wettest spot on earth, Mt. Wai’ale’ale, which receives more than 450 inches of rainfall a year, and flows to its eventual end at picturesque Hanalei Bay.

The Hanalei River flows north from Mount Waiʻaleʻale for 15.7 miles until entering the Pacific Ocean at Hanalei Bay as an estuary.

More than the kayaking itself, which was rather easy and average, I was taken in by the hordes of bright tropical flowers floating slowly past my kayak toward Hanalei Bay. While the boys unsuccessfully hunted peacock bass, I spent the majority of the hours we floated trying to capture the perfect shots of the gorgeous flora in its slow quest to join the sea.

In terms of water flow, the Hanalei River is the 2nd largest in the state of Hawaii.

We kayaked around 8 miles that day, all the way up the river as far as you can go to the most quiet spots toward the island’s interior, then back down to the bay. While I wouldn’t put kayaking at the top of my activities list, it was surprisingly peaceful and a fun new way to see the Hanalei River Valley and the bridge I’ve driven over 100 times.

60% of Hawaii’s taro is grown in Hanalei Valley, in farms alongside the river

The Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge is located within the Hanalei River Valley. The Refuge was established on 30 November 1972 for the conservation of endangered plants and animals.

The Refuge hosts four endangered waterbirds, the āeʻo, ʻalae kea,ʻalae ʻula, koloa maoli and nēnē. Good luck remembering all those.

If you’re in Kauai and you’ve got some time, spare an afternoon on the Hanalei River. It’s a nice break from the beach and it shows a side of Hawaii you can’t see anywhere else!

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  • December 01, 2012

    I am so sad to hear Alex didn’t catch one of those darn peacock basses! Oh well, a reason to go back 🙂

  • December 01, 2012

    Gorgeous shots of the flowers!

  • December 01, 2012

    Great pictures! I love gonging kayaking and it look that you had perfect weather for it 🙂

    • January 04, 2013

      WE did! The weather was ideal almost every single day of the trip!

  • January 12, 2013

    Is it weird that I REALLY want to go to an island with you and your funny brother? I mean weird considering I’ve never met him?

  • May 15, 2018

    I recently went kayaking while visiting Maui and it was also an amazing experience! Definitely recommend it to anyone who is visiting the island.

  • March 22, 2019

    Yeah! When we think about the Hawai, we always picture the beaches and surfing, but kayaking did look kind of fun and who not enjoy exploring placing while paddling! 🙂

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