Kauai: Tranquil Pools and Flooding Anxiety

To read my Kauai journal from the beginning, click here

Today was the Jungle Hike day – an attempt to find a poorly-marked trail and follow it to a picturesque waterfall cascading into a tranquil blue pool. So we piled into the Jeep (and of course it immediately started to rain, the skies seem to watch our every move), and drove back up to the arboretum.

When the road disappeared into the Wailua River, Martin kept driving, as we did that first day – right into and across the river. But instead of parking on the far side, Martin shifted the Jeep into four-wheel drive, and started inching up the steep dirt road in front of us.

And so our adventure began! We crawled up impossible inclines. We jounced over jumbled rocks and boulders. We navigated deep ruts. We splashed through muddy puddles.

I was white-knuckled at the start. Would we slide back down that heady incline, careening out of control, and crash backwards into the bank? Would the Jeep’s undercarriage be scraped violently against these huge rocks, ripping open the oil pan, leaving us stranded? Would we find ourselves beached on top of one of those cavernous ruts before us, tires spinning helplessly?

What disaster awaited us around the next bend?

But then relaxed as I saw how well Martin handled the Jeep, and how well the Jeep handled the terrain. In fact… it was pretty fun.

At one point we saw a White-Rumped Shama perched proudly on a stick. We stopped the Jeep right in front of the little bird and, hardly breathing, inched the photo gear out of the truck. Quietly, quietly! Crept to the side of the truck, uttering little prayers – stay there! stay right there! – as we set up the tripod, adjusted the camera… don’t leave yet, don’t leave….

Well, hell.

It turns out we could have had a raucous party in front of that bird, he was such a flirty show-off! He sat there, puffed up and pretty, and posed for photo after photo. In fact, he seemed to try to prevent us from leaving, flying back and forth across the road in front of us (“Here I am! I’m right here! Aren’t I pretty? Don’t you want to admire me some more?”) – and he flirted with us again when, hours later, we returned. More flying back and forth in front of the truck, demanding that we admire him. He was indeed a gorgeous bird, with his jet-black head and magnificent chestnut breast, and his snowy white rump and tail feathers. Oh yeah, he knows he’s good-lookin’.

White-rumped Shama White-rumped Shama

A little on the promiscuous side, though. Have a little self-respect, Shama! Don’t throw yourself at everyone you see!

Another river crossing

Another river crossing

According to our guidebook, we were supposed to be driving along this jumbled dirt track to a “T” intersection, turning right, going 1/2 mile to a gate – but we didn’t see any of those landmarks. Small tracks went deeper into the jungle from this “main” road, which was more like a one-lane path itself. We just kept blindly on, fording another swift river crossing in the Jeep –  like the one by the arboretum –  staying on what seemed like the most-beaten path… and finally saw a “Safari Adventure” van parked up ahead. Huh! Okay. So we parked, too.

We started up the rocky trail, and of course rain started lashing down. We dug through our daypacks, pulled out raingear, donned it hurriedly. And the rain stopped.


Martin’s sharp eyes found the “poorly marked” (let’s call it what it was: unmarked) trail off to the left. Into the jungle we plunged, following a little irrigation ditch with its trickle of water until it disappeared into a stone tunnel in the side of the mountain.

Our guidebook said we could either follow the dappled trail up and over the leafy ridge to the waterfall and pool on the other side, or we could step into the irrigation ditch and enter that dark tunnel, wading through its inky waters, feeling our way blindly through the bowels of the mountain to the far side, where we would eventually be dumped out at our destination.

“But be forewarned,” the guidebook cautioned. “The water can rise suddenly and unexpectedly at any time.”

Trapped in a stone tunnel in the pitch black, under a mountain, with water rising suddenly  and unexpectedly around you? With no escape except forward or back through the tunnel with its rushing water? Would the water rise to the very ceiling? Would we find ourselves with our noses pressed against the stone coffin above us, gasping for the last few bubbles of air?

Yeah, we’ll stick to the sunshine and open-air trail, thanks.

Besides, we’re, uh, wearing the wrong shoes for a water adventure. But maybe next time. Thanks.

And so, in due time, we came upon the short squat tumbly waterfall cascading into the peaceful blue pool. At the downstream end of the pool, water spilled over the small stone wall, part of the irrigation ditch, creating a gentle waterfall to the quiet creek below. To our right, we saw the irrigation tunnel – the tunnel we would have splashed through – entering the pool. Off to the left, water chattered away, funneled out of the pool between the small irrigation walls, continuing its way in the stone ditch.

It wasn’t warm enough to swim, but we put our feet in the water and ate lunch – well, actually, I forgot to bring our lunch, so we shared a few nuts and a granola bar I discovered at the bottom of my pack, and thought longingly of the thick ham sandwiches sitting in the refrigerator at home.

I hate it when that happens.

And so… happy times at the pool, hanging out, taking photos, relaxing… until suddenly Martin said, “Look at the irrigation ditch!” And to our surprise, the water was rising.

Water was pouring out of the irrigation tunnel, filling the pool, overflowing the top of the ditch, and changing the lower waterfall from a gentle shower to a pounding frothy torrent. The lovely blue water of the pool turned a murky brown.


Pretty blue pool and gentle lower waterfall before flooding

Pool brown, overflowing stone walls, frothy waterfall

Murky brown pool, water overflowing stone walls


The lower waterfall ain’t so “gentle” anymore

We scrambled to move our daypacks and hiking boots to higher ground as the water poured over the irrigation ditch walls onto our former lunch spot. We backed away from the flood. It was amazing to watch how much water poured in, the power of it, the sheer volume of it … and I started to get anxious.

Remember that river crossing? The one we crossed in the Jeep to get here? The one we need to cross again in order to get out?

As I watched this flash flood, turning the pool’s tranquil blue into a swirling brown, turning the lazy stream below into a gushing river – my thoughts turned to our road, our only exit, disappearing into the water.

Where does this newly-formed river go? Surely we’re upstream, right now, of our river crossing. Is this water emptying into our river and turning our crossing point into a churning mess? Is our crossing point becoming impassible from all this pitching water?

I couldn’t help but think of our ill-fated backpacking trip up Snowbird Creek in North Carolina.  How the creek swelled after heavy rains from a friendly little knee-high stream to a raging monster, and our subsequent very dangerous  creek crossing to return home. We had to balance ourselves by thrusting heavy walking sticks into the heaving waist-high waters as we inched along. We took one fearful and tentative step at a time, feeling for purchase, finding solid footing, shifting our weight carefully, praying we didn’t lose our balance (a potentially lethal mistake). Reminding ourselves that if we did lose our balance, to struggle quickly out of our packs in a last desperate attempt to swim to safety. It’d be hard. We’d be instantly swept downstream into an even more dangerous river. One that was tossing logs around like matchsticks.

I did not want to try that – any of it! – in a Jeep.

Besides, we’d had virtually no lunch. We had no more food: not one nut, not one crumb. Might we be stuck out here, blocked by dangerously high water levels, overnight? For days, even? I was hungry now.

I wanted to get back.

As usual, we hiked out faster than we hiked in – less stopping/admiring/photographing – but this time I had a panicky voice in my ear and a jabbing pitchfork in my bottom:

Go faster! Hurry! Danger!

But once we drove back and actually arrived at our river crossing, we saw that the river was as it had been before – swift clear water, the roadway visible underneath, holding at a steady level. No murky flooding, no rising waters.

And I relaxed. Started to breathe again. We easily crossed the river and drove on, to be joyously greeted once again by our happy flirty Shama.

And so passed another flood of anxiety.

3 Comments Kauai: Tranquil Pools and Flooding Anxiety

  1. Karen Gake

    Oh Carol…you are so much more adventurous than I am…either that or your crazy husband just drags you kicking and screaming into these adventures that you end up enjoying and you gain confidence and trust and end up actually liking the adrenaline rush! Yep, that’s it…you are hooked now and destined to be adventurous the rest of your life! Yay!

    1. Carol

      That’s the sign of a true friend, someone who can read this post, awash with white knuckles and fretting anxiety, and come to the conclusion that I’m “adventurous.” *kiss*

  2. Pingback: Kauai: Waimea Canyon and the Kawaikoi Stream Trail | Carol Beebee

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