Kauai in a day by dual-sport

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Home to strange megaflora and the legendary Na Pali Coast, Kauai is truly a place of wild beauty. What better way to see it than on a motorcycle? Staying at the Kauai Paradise Inn near Kilauea Town, owner Jim Bray let me borrow his Suzuki DR650 to do just that. Bringing the bike up from the garage he smiled and said, “Key’s in it, have a blast.”

7:56 AM: I start up the bike and leave Kilauea headed for Waimea. It’s a beautiful morning. A couple little showers rain down on me, as will happen on Kauai, but nothing that actually gets me wet. The sun reappears and warms me as I ride.

8:30 AM: It’s possible to get lost on the smallest of islands, as I figure out a couple of miles beyond my missed turn. I stay on my diverted path and meet back up with the main highway after a small loop down to Nawiliwili Bay. From experience I recognize that sometimes it’s those little mistakes that lead to new discoveries and great fun on motorcycle trips.

9:07 AM: Arriving in Waimea, the sun is shining brightly now and the temperature has steadily risen as I’ve journeyed westward. The ocean is beaming off to my left as I ride the last few miles before I take the first (planned) detour of my trip. I turn right off the highway onto Menehune Road.

9:15 AM: I park the bike by a cool old suspension bridge with a torn up sign reading, “Menehune Ditch.” A Territory of Hawaii Historical Landmark plaque reads: “The row of hewn stones along the inner side of the road is a remnant of one wall of an ancient water-course which is said to have been made by the Menehunes” (Menehunes are Hawaiian mythological creatures). I marvel at the stones and wonder about the origin and lore of the place, as well as the current ditch that allows water to flow under the plaque. As I walk across the bridge taking pictures, a local pulls up and crosses the bridge to tend to his horse, tied up on the bank of the river. When he comes back across to find me still hanging out, he tells me a story his grandfather told him.

“Legend has it that if you make a wish and you are able to cover the whole plaque with one splash from your hands, it will come true.”

Not one to back down from such an invitation, I take off my jacket.

“I’ve only seen one person do it,” he says.

Now I’m really intrigued. I squat as low as I can on the bank of the ditch, making my wish. My best effort leaves only a small portion of the top left of the plaque uncovered. After a chat about some nearby roads, I thank the friendly local and we go our separate ways.

10:15 AM: I stop at the Big Save Market back in Waimea proper to get a drink. Next stop Koke’e State Park. Two blocks down I take a right on Waimea Canyon Drive and the fun begins almost immediately. A few turns in, up some decent grades, past the last of the houses and I’m grinning in my helmet. Up, up, up the climb begins as Waimea Canyon begins to take form off to my right, the blue gleam of the ocean getting larger behind me.

Twist after twist after turn after turn. I happily accelerate up each section, pausing a handful of times to take pictures of the amazing scenery just off the road. I am lucky not to get stuck behind too many slow moving minivans trudging up the impressive elevation change. This is an 18 mile road going up over 4,000 feet. The pavement is quite good, and I’m charging through each corner, leaning as much as I feel confident to on the dual sport tires. From gradual long sweepers to tight, quick changes of direction, this road has it all.

I am truly a happy motorcyclist.

11:22 AM: I stop at Waimea Canyon Lookout (above). Pretty good amount of tourists up here for a Thursday morning. I’m getting jealous looks from the guys in the tour busses. The view from the lookout is spectacular. I look out into a deep canyon valley of rugged volcanic mountainsides covered with tropical foliage, while a rain shower in the distance creates a great juxtaposition from my sunny perch. After a decent break I am back on the bike heading up further towards Koke’e State Park.

11:45 AM: As I near the entrance of Koke’e, there is a 4X4 road heading down a hill with signs indicating the need for high clearance vehicles. This is where the DR650 shines. If I was on a rental Harley or a scooter (the traditional Hawaiian rental options) there’s just no way I would even think about going down that road. Instead, with the accessibility a dual sport affords me, I begin to rumble down the rutted dirt road, slowing to greet and pass the hikers I find along the way. It’s mostly smiles and a couple more jealous looks from the folks I see. It turns out they’re all hiking towards a waterfall, as I find out when I reach a trailhead and can go no further. I could have parked the bike and walked to the falls, having cut a good 30 minutes off the hike in doing so, but today is for riding, so I continue on. After some meandering and exploring on a couple of fun dirt turn offs, I rally back up to the main road. Up, up, up once more, faster now as I head to the end of the road on more excellent curves.

12:45 PM: I arrive at Kalalau Lookout (above), the top of this majestic road. Off the bike and a short walk up and I’m looking down at the magical Na Pali Coastline. It’s hard to explain this type of view, and there’s really no doing it justice, but I’ll try. Imagine the most tropical green cliff ridges cutting down to the most remarkably blue water you’ve ever seen. Some helicopters flying far below provide spatial awareness as I take in the grandeur of the place. I could spend a day looking out at the view, easy, but I’m getting hungry and I’ve got a lot of turns to cover to get back down to town for lunch.

1:32 PM: After a fun ride back down to Waimea I order two seared ahi tacos at Island
Tacos and plot the rest of my day. I originally thought I’d ride up Koke’e, then out to my next stop, Polihale, and then call it a day and ride back to Kilauea. Now realizing that I’ll be at Polihale before 3:00 PM, I’m already thinking about the possibility of riding back up Koke’e one more time, depending on how much time I spend at the beach. The tacos hit the spot, and I hit the road northbound towards Polihale.

2:45 PM: Fighting the wind I pass a truck and push the bike up to 90mph on a straight stretch of road near the Pacific Missile Range Facility. I know I’m getting close when the pavement ends. Road construction equipment and a decent start to the dirt road shows they’ve been doing some grading to the surface, and I find myself going 40-50mph with ease. Here again, a testament to the DR650 and dual-sport bikes in general, there’s no way I could make these seamless transitions on any other type of motorcycle. After about 5 miles of dirt and then sand, I reach the end of the road at Polihale. Cliffs block further travel as the rugged Na Pali Coast begins.

Looking back to the South I can see Ni’ihau, the Forbidden Isle. The water here is the clearest blue water I’ve ever seen. It takes some work to get out of my sweaty clothes, but I manage and head into the water for a refreshing plunge in my underpants.

3:55 PM: On my way out of Polihale, I stop at the beginning of the dirt road to take a
picture. A Naval Police truck pulls up behind me. “Is it for sale?” asks what turns out to be a mainland expat cop from Minnesota, bushy Midwest mustache and all. I explain to him that I am just borrowing the bike from the owner as he ganders at the machine.

“What is that, a 450?…Oh, a 650? Man, it’s f’ing beautiful, looks brand new…you sure you don’t want to sell it? Damn that thing looks nice!” He seems genuinely interested, and really surprised when I tell him that this low mile, completely stock 2009 model was bought used for around $3,500. We chat for another minute and then I’m on my way. I’m on a singular mission before I head back home. I need to ride up Waimea Canyon Road one more time.

4:49 PM: I’m up at Kalalau Lookout again, 4,000 ft. This time I count the turns on the
way up. To be precise, I count each change of direction, totaling 230 turns as I reach the top. I actually found counting the turns added to my overall concentration on riding, as I was leaning further and pushing faster than I had earlier in the day. Sure, some of that comes with having ridden the road before, and some of it is motivated by having told my girlfriend I would be home already, but overall I’m surprised to find the level of riding concentration that this exercise produces. I like to be scientific about things, so I decide I’ll count on the way down as well to test my findings.

5:25 PM: Back down in Waimea, this time I count 208 turns. It’s safe to say that up and down is 400 plus changes of direction. Not bad, and definitely worth being late.

6:40 PM: I run into some traffic in Lihue and still make it back to Kilauea in a little over an hour. I’m back in time to catch the sunset and get dinner at the Kilauea Fish Market with the girlfriend. Fish tacos again, grilled ono this time. Everyone’s happy, but especially me. Just the right mix of ingredients turned the day into magic, and if you get the chance to ride a dual sport in Kauai, I think you’ll feel the same way too.

Andy Gregory is a teacher, motorcycle enthusiast and man’s man based out of Seattle, Washington. You can read more by him at Man’s Gotta Do.

  • The other Joe

    Who’s Andy Gregory? (no offense intended)

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      That funny looking guy about three inches up. A friend of ours from Seattle.

    • Scott-jay

      “… and man’s man…”
      And yet, none will ride with he who stops every 11.17 minutes and writes in notebook.

      • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ Andy Gregory

        Ha, that’s what voice memos on the iPhone are for. Didn’t even have to take off my helmet. Plus a couple of those times are estimations.

        • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

          Dedicated GPS units from Garmin — the ones sold to outdoor enthusiasts specifically — have great logging features built-in. And you can transfer/upload logs to various mapping and social platforms, including Google Maps and Google Earth.

          I still use a years-old Garmin Vista HCX as my primary GPS for motorcycling (as well as for hang-gliding). Even though I’ve had various smartphones with pretty much every turn-by-turn navigation application tried, and I currently have a smartphone mount right next to my Garmin’s RAM mount, I still find my old Vista HCX best for the kind of GPS’ing I do. I use the GPS to get me to planned destinations, but more often than not, I rely on it to help me explore new places without preplanned routes.

          • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ Andy Gregory

            I have been reluctant to buy GPS over the years, blaming it on favoring maps, but really I’m just cheap and have been putting it off waiting for the right one. Last year after MotoGP at Laguna Seca, a couple buddies and I rode back to Seattle via forest roads in Oregon and the WABDR in Washington. My friend had loaded GPS tracks and it was so nice to not have to worry about wrong turns, get off the bikes and look at maps, ask for directions, etc. A couple of times it really helped us out in exploring some unplanned stuff in Oregon. It definitely sold me on the advantages of GPS. I’ll always love paper maps though…

  • paul56
    • adam Hoff

      Well said paul56

  • Core

    Wow.. Some of those scenes.. JUST BEAUTIFUL!

    I might have to make my way to Hawaii one day.

  • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

    Great write-up and photos, Andy G! (I didn’t realize that when I was complimenting your blog a few articles back, you were going to contribute an article to HFL.)

    BTW, after my rented BMW blew up on the ridge, the rental-shop owner dropped off a Yamaha XT225 (which also happened to be a model I had owned myself). With my wife on back, we rode back up the ridge that day. Later, we took 4WD sand trails to a couple secluded beaches — one of which we had completely to ourselves. Dual sports are awesome, especially on Kauai.

    I love content like this on HFL. Thank you!

    • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ Andy Gregory

      Glad you enjoyed it. Lucky to get that XT225! Sounds like a good time.

  • jp182

    see now THIS motivates me to go to Hawaii. Is it easy to rent dual sports there and how much is it per day?

    • Bronson

      +1 on the question about rentals. I have an opportunity to go there this July and would LOVE to rent a dual-sport or motard for some off pavement adventuring.

      • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ Andy Gregory

        The research I’ve done has only led me to Harley rentals. You might try calling one of the non-Harley dealers in Lihue and see if they know of any. As of right now, unfortunately there’s not a lot options that aren’t scooters or Harleys.

        My friend Jim at Kauai Paradise Inn is looking into what it would take to legally rent his bike (insurance, liability, etc.) as well as potentially get another to be able to rent a couple out. However, I believe he is only interested in coupling bike rentals with a stay at the Inn. I can highly recommend his property for a vacation, http://www.kauaiparadiseinn.com/ (the website is dated). You basically get your own house for the price of a hotel, there’s an organic garden to pick greens from, chickens to get fresh eggs from, and a great view of the mountains from your bedroom door. Plus Jim loves to talk bikes.

      • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

        Years ago, I rented an F650GS (which broke down a couple hours into the rental) and an XT225 (the replacement which I mentioned above) from Kauai Harley-Davidson on the main road just before the city of Lihue (approaching from the SW). If I recall correctly, the shop specialized in motorcycle rentals and t-shirt sales — no motorcycle sales.

        The owner of the shop was originally from Brockton, MA (a heavy-metal and motorcycle-friendly town south of Boston) and his wife owned a hair salon (named Boston Hair, I think) upstairs from the shop. The owner and his son went out of their way to make my rental experience easy and fun. After the BMW broke down, they immediately trucked out the Yamaha to us and let us keep it for 3 days but only charged us for 1.

  • ontheroad

    Excellent stuff, thanks for contributing!

    Having been on Kauai without a bike, I can empathize with the guys on the roadside giving jealous looks. I wanted a DS of some kind so badly! All I managed to find available were, as you said, scooters and Harleys. Waimea Canyon Road, while still spectacular, was a very different experience in my buddy’s bombed-out $400 Toyota with shoddy brakes.

    • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ Andy Gregory

      My pleasure, glad you liked it!

  • CG

    Wandered out to Polihale in my rental one time, local goes tearing past me in his aging pickup, hits one of the little “bridges” wrong and leaves his rear axle about 45 degrees off from the rest of his truck. Oops,after checking with him to make sure he was ok, and had a cell phone, smirked at his extremely pissed off girlfriend and left him to wait for his uncle to come tow him away. Hint, some of those roads are a bit tough…

  • dux [87 CBR600, 95 XR600R]

    My XR600 is jealous. That’s the kind of riding it deserves.

  • Chris

    nice guest article. i love hawaii, i’m sure i’d love it even more on a bike. hope the rest of your trip is just as rad.

    • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ Andy Gregory

      Thanks Chris. It was an awesome trip, we had originally only scheduled a week but ended up staying for two.

    • Scott-jay

      “… nice guest article.”
      You bet.

  • Edward

    I’m going out to Hawaii later this summer and was definitely thinking about renting a bike before this article sealed it for me. The question is, are there motorbike rental shops in the islands and specifically on Kauai if you don’t have a helpful friend to lend you a bike?

    • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ Andy Gregory

      Hey Edward, see my and Miles Prower’s responses to jp182 and Bronson above. Good luck and have fun!

  • Brad

    I did Waimea canyon in a crappy rental Mustang back in 1994. We ran out of brakes on the way back down. It was exciting in all the wrong ways. My Aunt owns a restaurant in Hanalei called Postcards, BTW.

  • Danielsohn

    Great write up and I’ve bookmarked your tumblr.

    PS. what boots are those? Look like red wings

    • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ Andy Gregory

      Thanks! Yep, Red Wing 877′s. I had to sacrifice a little safety on this trip. After packing our extra bag with two helmets there wasn’t much room for other gear.

      • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D [EX500]

        Any tips on packing gear for a plane ride? About to take as much of my gear out to southeast Asia, and I’m not really sure how I’m going to go about it.

        • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ Andy Gregory

          Oh man, just depends on your luggage and willingness to check an extra bag. My girlfriend luckily had an old Samsonite hard shell suitcase that fit 2 helmets (with gloves and other miscellaneous items stuffed inside), my jacket, and folded up boots. That’s all I could get in there. If you are just packing one helmet, I imagine you could fit proper boots, armored pants and jacket, and your helmet in most normal sized checked luggage.

          • Devin

            Wearing your gear during the flight is an option. Is it a long flight?

            • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D [EX500]

              SF -> Hanoi, sadly. But I might wear my boots, that’s not a bad idea.

  • MG

    Excellent write-up Andy – thank you for sharing it with us. I see a future RideApart episode on DRs, with Andy, in Kauai…

    • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ Andy Gregory

      Thanks MG. Sign me up!

  • craha

    Great story. Really brought back memories. I went to Kauai on my honeymoon about a year and a half ago and we loved it. I do remember thinking how nice it would be to see it by bike but I too only encountered the Harley Rental. After passing that about a dozen times, I almost broke down and cruised… The DR would be the perfect bike for that island.