The Beautiful and Romantic Fern Grotto Kauai, HI

Fern Grotto, Kauai, HI
This past year my husband and I had the pleasure of re-visiting one of the most beautiful and romantic places we have ever experienced, the Fern Grotto, on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. There was a time when the Grotto was a sacred place only to be seen by Hawaiian royalty, but for the past 50 years, visitors have been allowed to travel to the site by river boat. Unusual tropical ferns grow upside down from the roof of a lava rock grotto, which was formed millions of years ago, a true geological wonder. Native Hawaiian plants and colorful exotic tropical plants provide a rain-forest atmosphere, which is cooled by the remains of an ancient waterfall. The concave rock formation forms a natural amphitheater, which is the location of many wedding ceremonies. 
Fern Grotto Kauai, HI
The Fern Grotto is part of the Wailua River State Park and access is by boat on the Wailua River. More than 60 years ago, Walter Smith, Sr. started taking visitors up the river on a small rowboat, powered by an outboard motor. Seeing the need for something better, he came up with the idea of a rear-engine system river boat, which is used by the Smith’s family Wailua River tours today. The spacious, open-air boats provide excellent views from either side during the trip upstream. The Wailua River is known as “the only navigable river” in all of Hawaii.
Smith’s Family Tours, Fern Grotto Kauai, HI
The river’s fresh water pours down from Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale, one of the wettest spots on the planet. The land along the river makes up the sacred capital of ancient Kauai and the was the birthplace of the island’s royalty. The two mile ride up the Wailua River is a peaceful one in which tropical foliage and wildlife can be explored.
Rear-engine System River boat, Fern Grotto Kauai, HI
Along the way, kayaking tours can be seen, as well as an ancient Hawaiian Village.
Kayakers along Wailua River Kauai, HI
The Kamokila Hawaiian Village is a 4 acre reconstructed ancient Hawaiian village along the banks of the river. The village consists of thatched huts and houses, including an ancient canoe house, chief’s assembly and doctor’s house. Story boards and artifacts are located around the grounds to explain ancient Hawaiian life. Our destination is just a few minutes away.
Kamokila Hawaiian Village Along Wailua River Kauai, HI
Once docked, a short walk through the tropical rain forest leads visitors to the beautiful Fern Grotto. Already, the memories started to come back.
Fern Grotto Kauai, HI
There is an abundance of both indigenous and introduced tropical plants along the walk, including Hawaiian Ti Plant, Torch Ginger, Shampoo Ginger, Bird of Paradise, philodendron, bamboo and a variety of palms. Magnificent aerial roots came down from the trees above.
Fern Grotto, Kauai, HI
A non-invasive form of clumping bamboo can be seen along the path. This type of bamboo exists in many of the gardens on the island.
Clumping Bamboo, Fern Grotto Kauai, HI
Tropical plants surrounded the walkway from all directions. Red Torch Ginger is a popular plant on the island. This beautiful flower is grown for its ornamental value.

Red Torch Ginger, Fern Grotto, Kauai, HI

While following the path, even more beauty can be admired. Grown for its ornamental value, Beehive Ginger can grow to over 6 feet in height with one foot long leaves. 

Beehive Ginger, Fern Grotto, Kauai, HI

Its bracts arise from the ground and can range in color from chocolate to golden and pink, resembling the shape of a beehive. The true flowers are insignificant white blooms that appear in between the bracts.

Shampoo Ginger, Fern Grotto, Kauai, HI

Near the end of the path is Zingiber zerumbet (Awapuhi).  It is named Shampoo ginger, or ‘awapuhi kuahiwi’ and may be recognized as the name of a familiar brand of shampoo made by Paul Mitchell. Awapuhi was introduced to Hawaii by early Polynesians and includes earlier uses with the leaves being used as flavoring for foods and rhizomes and leaves being used for medicinal purposes. 

Path through rain forest to Fern Grotto Kauai, HI

As we approached the grotto, a joyous feeling came upon me, as we had finally made it back to this wonderful place after so many years.

Fern Grotto Kauai, HI

We have arrived! To give a little background, the Fern Grotto is one of nature’s wonders. Native tropical Sword ferns grow upside down from the top of the 80 foot opening, with water streaming down from the top of the cave where a waterfall used to exist. The plant life in the grotto is nurtured by rainwater, which feeds from the river, beginning on the slopes of Mount Waialeale, 20 miles inland. The 5,000-foot mountain averages 450 inches of rain per year, which comes down into the grotto.
Sword Fern and Ti Plant Fern Grotto Kauai, HI

The falling water from the river can be seen from the visitor platform facing the grotto.
Fern Grotto Kauai, HI

In 1992, the Fern Grotto was nearly destroyed when the island of Kauai was hit by Hurricane Iniki. Most of the ferns hanging from the grotto were torn from the rocks and the grotto is still rebounding. We were pleased to see that much of the vegetation had returned over the years and the grotto still remains one of the most popular and beautiful spots on the island. Even though visitors can no longer stand inside the grotto, today it can be viewed from the designated observation deck. 

Hawaiian Wedding Song, Fern Grotto Kauai, HI
In April of 2006, the grotto was hit again by severe rains that caused rocks to fall from the ceiling onto the viewing area below, causing the area to have to close. The Grotto was reopened in 2007 following artificial reinforcement of the rock walls and installation of ramps to access to the area.

Hawaiian Wedding Song, Fern Grotto Kauai, HI

Up until 2006, weddings were performed within the grotto, but due to the damage, they now they take place on the observation deck facing the amazing feature. We got a feel for how a wedding ceremony would be there, as we listened to water falling from the top of the fern-lined cave, while being serenaded by the beautiful and well known Hawaiian Wedding song.

Aerial Roots Fern Grotto Kauai, HI

While standing in silent awe, we could not get over the beauty of this magical place. It was as we had remembered, with cascading aerial roots and three to five foot long tropical ferns descending from the roof of the grotto. Close to the platform were Hawaiian Ti Plants, believed to bring good luck
Fern Grotto Kauai, HI 2016

It started to gently rain, which seemed to make the grotto even more magical. We were signaled by the tour guide that is was time to go. I could have stood there all day.

Ravenala madagascariensis (Traveler’s palm or Peacock Palm) Fern Grotto Kauai, HI

One the way back, we viewed Peacock Palm, a favorite of mine. Peacock Palm is not really a palm at all, but rather belongs to the genus Strelitzia, which is a relative of the Bird of Paradise. If you have ever seen a Bird of Paradise flower, the resemblance is remarkable.
Philodendron along path at Fern Grotto Kauai, HI

Philodendron, introduced to the islands many years ago, have grown freely and become invasive due to the perfect conditions of temperature and rainfall. Philodendron can be seen along this pathway to the left, climbing up the trees.
Fern Grotto Kauai, HI

I believe this is another variety of ginger. The color is striking and adds to the beauty of this place!
Departing Fern Grotto Kauai, HI

We have now arrived back to the river boat and the captain is ready for the trip back. 
Boat Ride Back from Fern Grotto Kauai, HI

On the boat ride back, Hawaiian singers play a variety of island songs, including Blue Hawaii, as Hula dancers sway to the music. Even a fun hula lesson was taught to the passengers as we approached the shore. After a fun day, we say “A hui hou”, or good-bye and until we meet again.
Fern Grotto, Kauai, HI

It was a very special day as memories flooded our minds…memories of our honeymoon vacation to this very spot back in 1982, when the grotto was lush and undamaged from the dangerous winds of hurricane Iniki. We were part of a privileged group who had the experience of standing inside the actual grotto and feeling the mist from the water that came from above. We had heard stories that the grotto just wasn’t the same after the storm, but it has recovered quite well, and the whole experience was just as wonderful as we had remembered.

For more information on the Fern Grotto visit Smith’s Family Tours, Hawaii.

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As Always…Happy Gardening!
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