Sunday, December 30, 2001


The soothing sound of a waterfall, above, provides a great backdrop to talk story with the other riders in your group or to just cool off from the heat of an ATV adventure.

Exploring off-road
on Kauai

Get ready for scrapes, dirt and
plenty of jungle fun on this
all-terrain day trip

By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi
Special to the Star-Bulletin

When you go touring with Kauai ATV, you'll hit deep ruts in the road and puddles as big as ponds. You'll be jarred and jostled; tree branches may scrape your face, arms and legs; and you're going to get dirty. Really dirty.

That said, you'll have the time of your life!

Rather than avoid the mud, riders are encouraged to drive through the puddles and do something dirty.

Kauai ATV's Waterfall Tour is the ultimate off-road experience -- an exhilarating four-hour journey over 22 miles of virgin private land near Koloa on Kauai's south shore. At the controls of your own spunky semiautomatic all-terrain vehicle, you'll zip along rugged trails, past thick vegetation and through a pitch-black half-mile-long tunnel that was built in 1948 so trucks could haul harvested sugar cane directly from the fields to the mill. You'll see spectacular views of the verdant Hapuu mountain range, hike through a bamboo forest and swim in a waterfall-fed pool.

"This tour is completely interactive from beginning to end," says Kauai ATV's marketing manager, Marleny Cotrim. "You're not just a spectator, but a participant. It's very attractive to people who are looking for an 'adventure' tour.

"Having said that, I think our tour is popular because anybody can do it. You get the sense of adventure without the physical demands of bike riding, hiking or kayaking, which makes it fun for the whole family. Our oldest ATV rider was 88 years old."

The peace and beauty of nature is a big draw. During the tour, you'll visit wilderness regions that normally can be admired only from afar.

"We take you to a lot of hidden treasures that are inaccessible to the general public, including two waterfalls," says Cotrim. "Koloa is great because it's so close to civilization yet so far from it once you get on the trails. Five minutes from the Hyatt Regency Kauai, you'll find yourself in the middle of nowhere."

Several stops are made along the way so you can catch your breath and get close-up looks at tropical plants such as taro, wild orchids, fragrant awapuhi blossoms and mango, coffee, banana and guava trees. You'll learn how the ancient Hawaiians pounded the bark of the wauke tree into tapa and how they used the fruit of the hala as a brush to paint designs on the cloth. If you're lucky, the guides will slip a handful of pretty Job's tears into your pocket to string into a bracelet.

The lunch of hefty deli sandwiches, cookies, chips and juice is often augmented with raw sugar cane, oranges, lilikoi and avocados that the guides have picked from their home gardens. As you savor the treats and "talk story" with your group, cascading Kahili Falls provides soothing background music.


Address: P.O. Box 800, Kalaheo, HI 96741

Times: 8 and 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily

Cost: $130 per person ($115 for kamaaina), including lunch and gear. Private tours and a three-hour Koloa tour are available.

Phone: 742-2734 or toll-free 877-707-7088

Restrictions: Pregnant women and those with back problems are not allowed on the tour. Participants must be at least 16 to operate their own ATV. Younger children may ride in the Mud Hog, a six-passenger dune buggy operated by a guide, for $120. Long pants and closed-toe shoes are required. Don't forget your swimsuit, towel and sunscreen.

Web site:

Unless there are flood warnings, the Waterfall Tour goes out three times a day, seven days a week. Notes Cotrim, "We will even go out in pouring rain."

That means mud is likely an unavoidable element of the tour. "Instead of fighting it, we decided to embrace it and make it part of the adventure," says Cotrim. "Even in dry spells the trails are dusty. We make it a point to warn people that they are going to get dirty when they go on the tour."

Kauai ATV supplies old T-shirts, pants and shoes at no charge so participants don't have to risk ruining their clothes. "A few people have turned around when they get to our office and realize what the tour is going to be like," admits Cotrim. "But 99 percent of the people wind up enjoying the mud. The timid ones get into it once they go through their first puddle. You can try to avoid the puddles, but riding through them is half the fun!"

One couple chose to be married on the Waterfall Tour. Their party of eight donned Kauai ATV's less-than-glamorous attire and rode to Kahili Falls, where they exchanged vows. The newlyweds then hopped back on their ATVs, completed the tour and started their new life together caked from head to toe in mud.

Kids under 16 can ride in the Mud Hog, a six-seat buggy that's a blast.

Founding Kauai ATV was the dream of Cotrim's father, Olie Rivera. "The story goes that he wanted to buy an ATV for himself, but my mother wouldn't let him, so he started the business," Cotrim recalls. "A year later, he recruited me back home from Washington, D.C., to help in the marketing department. At the time, I was working for National Geographic, monitoring ad traffic on their Web site.

"Kauai ATV celebrated its second anniversary in September, and I'm proud of how the company has evolved. We are now the biggest ATV company in Hawaii. It's successful because of my father's hard work and vision. He's amazingly creative; give him some duct tape, rope and a razor, and he can build just about anything. This is the kind of skill that's needed to run an ATV business."

Kauai ATV produces a CD of images taken on each tour as a souvenir. Priced at $15, the CD contains 40 to 80 pictures of the tour and scenic stock shots of Kauai. Since you can't use your camera while driving an ATV, the CD provides great pictures of the experience.

Says Cotrim, "We like to compare the tour to the time when people were children splashing through mud puddles, grinning from ear to ear without a care in the world. That's where we got the idea for our latest print ad -- "Be a kid again ... do something dirty!"

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer.

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