COURTESY KAUAI ECO-TOURS
Kauai Eco-Tours four-mile Kuilau Ridge Tour offers breathtaking views of several Kauai landmarks.
Kauai’s beauty made mainlander go native
Peter Artley and his family traveled all over the United States, but it wasn't until they visited Kauai in 1988 that they felt as if they'd found home. Enthralled by the island's beauty and laid-back lifestyle, they moved there the following year.
Kuilau Ridge Tour
Meet: Kauai Eco-Tours' guide meets guests at their hotel to caravan to the trail head. If you don't have a car, the company will arrange transportation for an additional fee.
Time: 6, 8 and 10 a.m. Mondays to Fridays, except holidays (afternoons available by request)
Cost: $75 per person, including snacks and water. Kamaaina discount is 20 percent. Add $20 per person and at least an hour more for an option that includes the Moalepe Trail, which provides views of Kapaa and the ocean.
Web site: www.kauaieco-tours.com
Notes: Kauai Eco-Tours also offers four two- to five-hour hikes, ranging from easy to strenuous, up the flanks of Sleeping Giant mountain. Two other rugged hikes are available only to experienced, fit hikers: a seven-hour, 10-mile hike goes through Kauai's lush interior, and a six-hour, 10-mile trek that traverses the cliffs above the Na Pali Coast. These tours are priced from $65 to $150 per person, limited to eight people, and go out rain or shine if weather conditions are not dangerous. The minimum age requirement is 12; exceptions may be granted per the guide's discretion.
Artley, a high school freshman at the time, lived on Kauai for a year before returning to Minnesota to be with his dad. His mom, stepfather, half brother Alex and half sister Sara remained on Kauai, giving him reason to visit the island many times over the years.
After graduating from USC in 1999, Artley worked in Los Angeles' tech industry for a few years, which made him realize he didn't want a career that would keep him chained to a desk. Having hiked, camped and fished all his life, he knew his calling would be connected to the great outdoors, although he didn't know quite how.
In September 2004, Artley and two friends spent a week exploring as much of the island as they could on foot.
"I showed them all of my favorite spots and told them about Kauai's plants, wildlife, geology, culture and history," recalled Artley. "I was surprised at how much I knew about Kauai, and they were surprised at how many beautiful, interesting places there were to see. They suggested I transfer my love for the outdoors into a tour business."
The more Artley considered the possibility, the better it sounded. He moved to Kauai the following May, and by October he had settled on a name for his company, Kauai Eco-Tours. He began working toward a January 2007 launch with Alex, who's nicknamed Kimo, as a partner and fellow guide.
"Kimo has lived on Kauai just about his whole life and is the one with the real 'Kauai intelligence,'" said Artley. "He explored most of the island before all the gates started going up. Even his memories of the May Day celebrations at Hanalei Elementary School contribute to the special experiences that he shares as a guide for our tours."
THE 2 1/2-HOUR Kuilau Ridge Tour, which traverses a well-maintained trail in the Halelea Forest Reserve in central Kauai, is Kauai Eco-Tours' most popular option. Four miles round trip, it showcases nature at her tropical best. A canopy of trees -- including mango, monkeypod, eucalyptus, albizia and swamp mahogany -- covers most of the trail. You can pluck and sample luscious guava along the trail throughout the year; in the summer, lilikoi (passion fruit) is another treat.
As the trail steadily climbs to around the 1,200-foot elevation of the Kuilau Ridge, the foliage changes. Hapuu ferns and paper-bark and ohia lehua trees appear, along with juicy wild raspberries, in season now.
Nearing the highest point of the ridge on a clear day, you'll marvel at breathtaking vistas of Mount Waialeale, the Makaleha mountains, Nounou (Sleeping Giant) and the Lihue basin in the distance. Below, panoramic views of the valley and Kawi Stream also provide subject matter for photography buffs.
Wild pigs roam the area, and the resident bird life includes the Japanese white-eye, shama thrush and egret.
"The Kuilau Ridge Tour is great for those who'd like to get out in nature and learn about Kauai but who don't want to or aren't able to do a rigorous hike," Artley said.
"Although the trail can get muddy, the 600-foot ascent is gradual. Going down, we retrace our steps and make a half-hour stop at a scenic picnic area for a snack and a drink before enjoying a swim in Keahua Stream."
According to Artley, sustainability is the core of Kauai Eco-Tours' business philosophy. Snacks served on its tours include fruit purchased at farmers' markets and granola and trail mix made on Kauai.
"We prefer to support local businesses rather than shipping in products or using services from elsewhere," Artley said.
"When we're unable to fill a need with a local product, we think hard about whether or not we really need it."
Environmental protection is also a top priority for Kauai Eco-Tours. It organizes volunteer groups to pick up litter and remove invasive species such as lantana, cattail and Koster's curse from forests and trails, then replace them with native plants.
"We're planning to offer tours that give guests a chance to participate in those conservation efforts," said Artley.
Through Kauai Eco-Tours' activities, Artley hopes visitors will develop the same affinity for the aina he and Kimo have.
"No matter how many times I've hiked on Kauai, it always feels like the first time," he said.
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.