A line of wobbly yellow and red kayaks, complete with oar-wielding operators, had formed in front of me on a sleepy stretch of Kauai's Kalihiwai stream. Surrounded by a bushy cloak of Garden Isle-brand jungle, most of us were enjoying the languid urging of the stream's current, while a couple of first-timers struggled to get a feel for their paddles between fits of laughter.
Now embarking on the third stage of Princeville Ranch's Jungle Valley Adventure, our small group had already survived a Pinzgauer military vehicle commute and about 40 minutes of hiking, first over lush pastureland, then through rain forest and several stream crossings.
There was a good deal more to come, however, including a ziplining session, swimming next to a photogenic Hawaiian waterfall and a bit of small-scale cliff jumping. None of which seemed to worry the handful of surprisingly little kids on the trip.
"The Jungle Valley Adventure was actually created with kids in mind," said Patrick Nowak, general manager for Princeville Ranch Adventures. "The ziplines on that excursion are designed for lighter individuals. On our larger ziplines, you need to be 12 years old and 80 pounds. But on the JVA tour, it's 65 pounds, and you only need to be 5 years old."
Each of the under-12-year-olds on my recent Jungle Valley trek not only tried the ziplines, but later they all jumped off a deceptively high ledge into one of Kalihiwai's deep pools, screeching with joy leap after leap. Kauai's first cattle ranch
Cattle have been grazing on Princeville Ranch since 1831 when Richard Carlton, then British consul and adviser to Hawaii's king, Kamehameha II, first leased the land to support 100 longhorns shipped in from California. Spanning about 2,500 acres today, the ranch has been operated by Gale and Donn Carswell since 1974, when the couple launched the property's first horseback-riding tour.
"That's actually one of the rides we still do," Nowak said. "It's about a three-hour excursion, and you ride the horse for about a half-hour and do a little hike down next to the waterfalls and then swim, lunch and then hike back up, get on the horse and come on back."
In addition to the Waterfall Picnic Ride, patrons interested in horses can do a combination of ziplining and riding referred to as the Ride N' Glide or arrange a private outing.
"That's you and a guide just out exploring the 2,500-acre ranch as they see fit," Nowak said, adding that the group horse excursions are far from your typical trail ride. "We don't encourage our guests to ride nose to tail. We have big, wide-open fields, so we like people to ride side by side, spread out, go loop around that tree. We want people to work their horse a little bit."
Still home to about 200 head of cattle, the ranch produces 100% grass-fed beef that can be sampled in several of Kauai's North Shore restaurants, and according to Nowak, encounters with the herd not only happen frequently but are often a highlight for guests.
"One of the greatest times of year is in the spring during calving season when we have a hundred calves running around," he said. "People just love to see that." Adventure plus
Along with the various zipline courses, horseback riding and jungle outings, the folks at Princeville Ranch Adventures seem serious about offering clients a lasting Kauai experience.
"Giving people a true understanding of the landscape and the plants and a little insight into the culture and history is one of the things we really strive for," Nowak said. "You might never know that you're standing right next to a virtually extinct plant if nobody told you. We don't want it to be just a ride where you hoot and holler and leave. We want people to have an authentic Hawaiian experience and take some value away."
Talk with John Fradella, owner of Mount Pleasant, S.C.-based HawaiiDiscount.com, and he'll tell you that combination of authenticity and adventure is yet to disappoint.
"I think they're absolutely top-notch," he said. "We never have any complaints. Customers just always seem to have great things to say about their activities."
Another of the ranch's distinctions is its North Shore location.
"I would suggest that if travel agents have their clients staying on the north side of the island, that they consider booking with Princeville Ranch," said Kaya Carman, office manager at Garden Isle-based KauaiVacationTours.com. "The island's other ziplines could be up to an hour away, and that can really make for a long day when you factor in total driving time."
Princeville Ranch's Jungle Valley Adventure is $145 for adults and children 12 and up and $89 for children ages 5 to 11. The Waterfall Picnic Horseback Ride, priced at $135 per person, and the Ride N' Glide, priced at $145, are for ages 12 and older.
For details about more package options and a complete listing of prices, visit www.princevilleranch.com