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December 7th, 2010:

Fern Grotto? Not so Ferny.

Wailua River

Wailua River by fadedpictures on Flickr (Creative Commons)

In the midst of fern grotto Mother Nature made her home…” — Beautiful Kauai

It takes a little less than an hour to arrive at Fern Grotto via Smith’s fern grotto river cruise. The destination is a place of legend and somewhat kitschy romance. This natural amphitheater was once a popular location for weddings, and the acoustics are still quite impressive, but sadly, the ferns are sorely lacking. While I wasn’t disappointed with the hospitality or charm of the staffers on the boat trip, the grotto itself is… well, it’s a little tired.

I thought of this the other day when I stumbled across a picture postcard sent from Hawaii in the early 70s. The grotto was lush and green, aloha shirted men lined the walkways accompanied by ladies dressed in matching muumuus. The walls were draped with greenery, water dripped from the reddish rock. It was exactly the kind of place Mother Nature might make her home, a cool refuge from the Hawaiian sunshine.

Sadly, the site was afflicted by drought and most of the reviews are accurate, if unhelpful, in their “you should have seen it 20 years ago” assessment of the site. It’s still fun to take the boat and be suckered into the somewhat uninteresting marketing point of this being “Hawaii’s only river” because really, who doesn’t like a leisurely ride on the water?

For the less lazy, one of the many kayak rental places will set you up and you can paddle your own way, taking as long as you like to travel the two mile stretch. But make it about the journey, not the destination.

As for the song Beautiful Kauai,  it was written in 1967 by Randy Farden — surely fern grotto was bursting with plant life in ’67.  Don Ho made the tune famous — his classic lounge version of it is here.