Kauai’s Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” stretches 10 miles long, a mile across and 3,000 feet deep. Today, I will travel down it by bike.
Well, not actually down Waimea Canyon, but along it. I’m with Outfitters Kauai, a Hawaii tour company that offers a Waimea Canyon Bicycle Downhill tour. Today’s sunset journey goes down Kōke‘e Road, a sloping, 13-mile-long thoroughfare that runs parallel to the canyon.
My guides for today are Dakshina Marlier, an ebullient, young French woman, and Harold Naumu, a Kauai native. Marlier leads the tours on bike. Naumu drives the would-be cyclists from Outfitters Kauai’s Poipu Beach headquarters up to a gathering point some 3,800 feet above sea level.
Before arriving at our gathering place, we stop at one of the canyon’s lookouts—the perfect place for photos before the bike ride. For safety reasons, taking pictures is not allowed while on the bikes.
Loaded with knowledge of Kauai, Naumu regales the group with the history of the canyon—from the catastrophic volcanic collapse that formed it 4 million years ago to the rainfall and erosion that shape it to this day. Remarkable stuff, indeed, but I am more than ready to get on the road.
We move forward, finally arriving at our roadside stop. Geared up and ready to go, Marlier gives us a few words of advice.
“A few pedals with your feet is all it takes,” says Marlier. “Your bike will do the rest.”
She’s right. A few short pedals, and I instantly surge downhill. Marlier leads, and the group follows single-file. Naumu brings up the rear in the tour van—providing a barrier between bicyclists and traffic.
Cool breezes whip against my face as we zip through grassy plains and tall pine forests, cruising along at speeds of 20 to 25 mph. Tropical flora such as eucalyptus and koa trees dance wildly in the wind. I steal glimpses of Waimea Canyon’s fluted cliffs to my left, the afternoon shadows filling its deep crevasses.
At the halfway point, Marlier signals the group roadside for a brief rest. It gives us a chance to marvel at a lush valley that extends on the right side of the road. Naumu tells us Hawaiians settled in these ravines centuries ago, establishing village communities that extended from deep within the canyon all the way down to the ocean.
Looking out toward the ocean, I see Niihau on the horizon. Naumu says we can see the sun setting directly over Niihau from the bottom of the canyon. But we need to move fast.
Refreshed and determined to catch the sunset over Niihau, we embark on the tour’s second half, carefully working our way down steep declines, tight turns and a particularly hairy hairpin. This rough patch of road feeds us into a straightaway—the homestretch of our downhill ride. Marlier takes off at breakneck speed past the high outer wall of Waimea Canyon, the final section. We follow. Above us, the bright bulb of a rising moon is ready to claim the evening sky.
Waimea Canyon now conquered, the group takes one final ride through the quaint town of Kekaha and down along the ocean, a gentle ride to cool down our legs.
When we arrive the sun is already behind Niihau. Alas, we’re too late. Still, it’s nothing to be disappointed about. Like the majestic Waimea Canyon, our beachfront view is one of a kind.
Outfitters Kauai, (888) 742-9887 toll free, (808) 742-9667, www.outfitterskauai.com