Kauai ATV gives adventurers some fun in the mud

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In the eight years since Kauai ATV set up shop, the activities operator has grown dramatically, expanding both the range of island tours and the types of off-road vehicles it offers. When I first took one of the company's tours, shortly after it began operations in 1999, it was an all-ATV operation with one tour.

Today, there are three daily itineraries plus private tours. The company operates out of a well-stocked shop in Koloa, which sells outdoor gear. One recommended purchase is a bathing suit, particularly if visitors are setting out on the Waterfall Tour, which I highly recommend, or the Combo Tour, a newly introduced outing that combines kayak and Mud Bug rides.

Bugging out

So what's a Mud Bug? I wondered as much when making my reservation. I had originally requested a tour on an ATV (all-terrain vehicle), but when I arrived at Kauai ATV and saw the Mud Bug, I changed my booking immediately.

These custom-made, Jeep-like vehicles seat two riders and weather all the abuse that muddy, rutted, jolting roads mete out. Kauai ATV also employs larger Ohana Bugs, similar vehicles that seat four passengers.

Drivers ride alongside guides who are playful and well informed, creating a let's-have-a-good-time atmosphere without compromising safety. While the route may prove bumpy, it's not too risky for the average person to navigate and enjoy.

"We've seen the biggest growth with our custom-made Mud Bugs," said Marleny Cotrim, marketing manager for ATV Kauai. "They're easier to handle than the ATVs, and they allow couples or families to ride together and share the fun." 

For clients who find ATVs too challenging, Mud Bugs are far easier to handle and more stable on backcountry roads. Drivers must be age 16 or older to drive a Mud Bug, and passengers must be age 5 or older.

While going over safety procedures before my tour departed, I saw the return of a mud-caked group from that morning's Waterfall Tour. I instantly understood why we had been given rubber boots and overalls as well as goggles and helmets.

Kauai ATV provides necessary outerwear and gear to don for off-road rides, during which clients often get splattered with red mud.

The only gear I had to bring along was a bathing suit for a swim in a waterfall-fed pond and a towel for the final wash-down after our return. Kauai ATV also recommends that riders bring bandanas to cover their mouths, bug spray, sunscreen and water-friendly footwear such as strapped sandals or aqua shoes.

Kauai ATV has access to tens of thousands of scenic, off-road acres on a route that includes hand-hewn tunnels that cut through mountains and World War II-era bunkers built just after Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor.

Tours, which include a maximum of 12 vehicles and up to 20 participants, run three to four hours. Most include a picnic lunch, except the daily Koloa tour, which includes just a snack and drink. Photos taken by Kauai ATV during the tour can be purchased as souvenirs.

Worth the money

An informal interview with the dozen other participants on my Waterfall Tour revealed that all were pleased with the experience and considered the tour worth the money. For the Waterfall Tour, drivers pay $155; passengers pay $135.

The tour included several interesting stops en route to lunch and the swim. Guides were warm, enthusiastic, alert and professional throughout.

There are four daily Waterfall Tour departures, at 8 a.m., 8:30 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. Other tour options include the Koloa Tour, at $125 for drivers and $105 for passengers, with one 1:30 p.m. departure. The three-hour tour takes in Kauai's south shore, accessing film locations, the Waita Reservoir and a half-mile cane tunnel. Guides provide information about Kauai's plant and animal life.

The new Combo Tour includes a four-hour Mud Bug tour and a kayak adventure on the Waita Reservoir. Prices are $175 per driver, $155 per passenger. The tour departs daily at 7 a.m.

Cotrim said a large percentage of business is booked before clients fly to Hawaii, which is recommended because Kauai ATV tours often sell out. Travel agent commissions are paid upon completion of tours.

For more information or to book, call (877) 707-7088, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.kauaiatv.com.

To contact reporter Allan Seiden, send e-mail to [email protected].

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