Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi Hawaii’s
Back yard

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

ATV tour offers
scenic view of Kauai

Gay & Robinson's new ATV Mountain Tour is not for the timid. Tour supervisor Chris Faye wants you to know that -- not to dissuade you, but to prepare you for what she says is a ride unlike anything you've likely experienced.

"There are 45-degree climbs and descents on uneven terrain," she says. "Some are even steeper -- places you wouldn't want to drive a four-wheel-drive truck. In fact, we go over very few flat areas. It's more of an obstacle course than a race course."

The trail runs over 13 scenic miles of Gay & Robinson's Makaweli Ranch, a working cattle ranch that spans 22,000 acres across Hanapepe Valley to the edge of Kalaheo in sunny West Kauai.

Breathtaking vistas include tall stands of eucalyptus trees lining the Olokele Ditch, verdant pastures dotted with cattle, and sweeping views of sugarcane fields bordering the Pacific on one side and mountains and forests on the other.

This is a large, pie-shaped property that starts at the center of Kauai and fans out to the sea. The ATV Mountain Tour crosses breathtaking private lands few outsiders have seen.

"The only other way to see some of the views our ATV riders see is from a helicopter," Faye says. "I love the scenery here on the west side of the island because there are a lot of colors in the landscape besides green -- pinks, purples, yellows and more in the grasses and other vegetation."

In this dry forest zone, plant lovers can spot native kukui, 'ohia and wiliwili trees, as well as introduced species such as eucalyptus, kiawe, Java plum and panini cactus.

In command of a fully automatic Kawasaki 350 Prairie all-terrain vehicle, you'll enjoy the panoramas without struggling with gears. Expect a lot of thrills and surprises.

"The first hill is the scariest," Faye notes. "You're riding on a level road along the ditch and then all of a sudden there's a long drop, and you can't see the bottom of it! After that, you learn to trust the vehicle; the belt system really holds it back so you don't need to use the brakes much. I'm very impressed with how well the Prairie handles the slopes -- way better than my bicycle!"

The ATV Mountain Tour follows sections of the Olokele Ditch, which provides water for both Makaweli Ranch and Gay & Robinson's adjacent sugar plantation.

Comprising a continuous series of rock tunnels along the side of Olokele Valley, this ditch was said to have revolutionized ditch building in Hawaii by replacing open ditches, which had to follow the contours of the land. Instead, long tunnels were cut through hills and mountains, shortening the distance from the water sources to the fields.

When Olokele Ditch was completed in 1904, it consisted of five miles of 7-by-7-foot tunnels and five miles of ditches through which flowed an average of 66 million gallons of water per day. This remarkable feat of engineering was acclaimed for its efficiency and low maintenance requirements.

These are just a few of the fascinating facts you'll learn on the tour, which starts with a 20-minute van ride through Gay & Robinson's sugar plantation to Makaweli Ranch, where participants receive a brief orientation and negotiate an introductory course designed to weed out those who probably would have difficulty on the tour.

Some would-be riders have been turned away, but, Faye notes, "We can't encourage those who are not physically able to do the tour; it wouldn't be fair to the other participants. We don't have an alternative vehicle, so we have to make sure everyone in the group is able to handle their ATV on challenging terrain.

"If you are not sure you can do this, then our tour is not for you. Beginners might want to first take other ATV tours that can accommodate them with alternative vehicle choices and flatter terrain. This allows them to test their abilities and get a feel for the bikes."

According to Faye, participants on the ATV Mountain Tour can travel up to about 15 miles per hour, but go only as fast as is safe for each condition they encounter.

"The major difference between what we and other ATV companies offer is you really get to ride an ATV the way it was intended -- as a trail bike," she says. "We have a longer ride than most other tours (at least two hours on the vehicle), and there is a lot of variety to the landscape and trail conditions.

"Our tour was designed by an avid ATV rider for other avid ATV riders, which is why there are no other vehicle options. This is an activity for intermediate riders or adventuresome beginners."

Stops totaling about an hour are made so tour-goers can take pictures, guides can share stories, and everyone can enjoy a picnic lunch of sandwiches, chips, cookies, dried fruit and bottled water.

"We don't pad the tour with a lot of stops," Faye says. "There are just enough of them to give people breaks from being on their ATVs."

In addition to the ATV Mountain Tour, Gay & Robinson offers a two-hour field and factory tour of its sugar plantation and a 3.5-hour four-wheel-drive van tour to the magnificent Olokele Canyon overlook. Like the ATV tour, they won't disappoint visitors yearning for a glimpse of Kauai's past and nature at her unabashed best.

"All of our tours give visitors a rare opportunity to see a slice of the real Hawaii that lies beyond the Hollywood version," Faye says.

Gay & Robinson ATV
mountain tour

Place: Gay & Robinson Visitor Center & Museum, 2 Kaumakani Ave., Kaumakani, Kauai. Kaumakani Avenue is on the ocean side of Kaumualii Highway at mile marker 19.

Time: Meet at 8 a.m. for 8:15 a.m. weekday departures, with 12:30 p.m. return.

Cost: $125 per person, including lunch. Kamaaina receive a 10 percent discount. Participants must be at least 18 years old and have a current driver's license. Wear long pants, covered shoes and long-sleeved shirts. Rental overalls are available for $5; no charge for bandannas and rain jackets.

Call: 808-335-2824

Web site:

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.


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