Over the years I have received quite a few emails asking about the Fern Grotto on Kauai since many readers have heard that it is not what it used to be. I have to admit that until my November 2008 trip to Kauai, I had not visited the Fern Grotto in almost fifteen years.
In fact, the Fern Grotto is not what it used to be. Hurricane Iwa in 1982 and Hurricane Iniki in 1992 both caused some damage to the grotto area, but the most serious damage was caused by the 42 days of rain that drenched Kauai in early 2006 and which caused landslides and damage to the ferns in the grotto.
Wailua River Cruise to the Fern Grotto
That being said, however, a trip down the Wailua River to the Fern Grotto on a Smith's Fern Grotto Wailua River Cruise is still a worthwhile experience and a lovely well-spent hour and a half on your visit to Kauai. It was in 1946 that Walter Smith, Sr. and his wife, Emily, started the business with a small rowboat and a borrowed outboard motor.
My wife and I were on Kauai during one of those early winter weeks of rain. Deciding to flee rainy Princeville, we were intending to drive to the Kauai Museum, but first decided to stop by Smith's to see if the river cruises were operating on a rainy day. We knew that the boats were covered and we had our rain parkas in hand for the short walk to the grotto.
We were in luck that a boat was leaving within 5 minutes. Purchasing our tickets, we quickly boarded the barge along with about a half dozen other folks. We were pleased to see that the rain had actually stopped. Our trip down the two-miles of the river to the Fern Grotto was delightful as we had remembered from our first visit.
Our boat captain narrated the ride along the river pointing out points of interest, describing the flora a fauna along the river's banks and relating tales of the significance of the river and surrounding areas (such as Mount Kapu) to early Hawaiians.
The Fern Grotto
We arrived at the grotto area in less than 30 minutes and made the short walk through the rainforest to the Fern Grotto area itself.
As I indicated, the grotto area is much different than we remembered. No longer can visitors or performers enter the 30-35 ft. deep cave area or even stand near the cliff face. A new viewing platform with railings has been constructed which allows for good views of the grotto. We were pleased to see that the ferns have started to come back following the damage in 2006.
As is customary, a small group of entertainers performed the Hawaiian Wedding Song, a long tradition in at the Fern Grotto. Over 19,000 weddings have taken place at the Grotto. Even today four or five take place each week.
You can't help but wonder how magnificent the area must have been hundreds of years ago when Hawaiians came to the grotto to offer crops to Lono. Our guide told us that prior to 1935 a huge waterfall spilled into the grotto area. In 1935 the local sugar company diverted the water for their crops, cutting off the waterfall's flow.
Return Trip Down the River
Before long it was time to return to the boat for our return trip down the river. The path back to the boat dock has wonderful tropical flowers along both sides including numerous types of gingers.
As is a long tradition with Smith's, the return trip featured live Hawaiian music and hula dancers.
Our Wailua River Cruise brought back fond memories of our first trip to Kauai, shortly after Hurricane Iniki devastated the island in 1992. While the grotto may not be all that it used to be, the Smith's Fern Grotto Wailua River Cruise is exactly as we remembered it. We were very pleased that we decided to re-experience the trip down the river to the Fern Grotto.
If You Go
A trip down the Wailua River with Smith's Kauai costs $20.00 for adults and $18.00 for children (3-12). You can save 10% by booking online or the same amount by showing your AAA card at the box office.
Boat tours depart daily from the Wailua Marina State Park at 9:30 a.m., 10:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
You can obtain more information at Smith's Kauai website.