Wednesday, June 12, 2013

3-24-2013: Tubing Kaukonahua (North Fork)

I will, for this blog entry only, officially rename this blog to "DGC's Hawai'i Tubing Tales".  That's right, the highlight of this trek was tubing down a winding river, deep in the hills of Wahiawa.  According to sources, Kaukonahua Stream "is the longest river of the whole island group."  Actually, there are two forks that meet up at Lake Wilson, the north and south fork.  The Wahiawa Hills Loop Trail intersects with the north fork.  However, this is one journey that can't be done "on demand".  The weather in the upper reaches of the Ko`olaus feeding the stream determines the water level.  This water level determines whether if tubing can be done to it's fullest potential.  If the water level is too low, the stream will be too shallow and if it's too high, the fast currents may place tubers in a potential dangerous situation.  If it's just right, tube on!

In the months prior to this day, I have made a couple of attempts to tube with Baron Yamamoto but the stream level was too low on both attempts.  But the day finally came when the stream level held out just barely to allow for a near continuous tube excursion.  This requires a bit of staging.  One has to go down the exit trail and place some sort of a marker (ex. rope across the stream to act as a finish line) to mark the point where the tuber must exit the stream.  Continuing downstream will lead to Lake Wilson.  From there, it is technically possible to follow this river all the way to Kai'aka Bay at the North Shore.

To get to the stream on both start and end points, one has to navigate the confusing network of pig trails intersecting the Wahiawa Hills Trail.  I recalled a four way junction where one can easily get disoriented.  It is here where one person has to go down the trail to the stream to mark the end point.  Once that task is completed, the group can resume on the Wahiawa Hills Trail to the farthest point of the loop where the trail heads on down to Kuakonahua Stream to begin the tube excursion.  The hike from the start of the trail to the starting point of the stream is about an hour.  Since my D-SLR is not waterproof, it had to sit this one out so all photos were taken with either the GoPro HD Hero 3 or my iPhone 5 (equipped with a LifeProof Case).

The next task is to inflate the tubes.  I highly recommend a hand pump or pedal pump to make the task easier.  Once tubes are fully inflated, the actual tubing can begin.  The section of the Kuakonahua Stream is roughly around 3 miles so be prepared to spend nearly 3 hours on the tubing portion of the entire hike.  To spice up the experience, I highly recommend "arming" yourself with a personal water cannon or water gun.  Please be respectful to the land and surrounding ecosystems and make sure to keep all personal belongings on you and leave no trace behind.  When we went, we recovered two pieces of a broken water gun that was laying on the river banks just beyond the end point.

The tubing experience can be divided into two categories, both of which alternates with each other as the stream transitions from a calm lazy river like feel to minor shallow rapids and back again.  It is the shallow rapids where your speed will increase drastically.  Depending on the water level, your tube may or may not clear the rocks that are inches below the water surface.  For us, we had to manually walk our tubes over the rocks maybe a total of 3 times.  For this, I highly recommend an inflatable mattress as this will help you clear the shallow areas better, making your ride experience more enjoyable with less interruptions.  At around the halfway point, there is a curve in the river with a shallow shore area, making it a perfect lunch spot.

There are some obstacles (rocks if the water level is shallow, low lying tree branches over the stream, natural land barriers that split the stream down the middle before reconnecting a short few feet later) that one must contend with.  I used a retractable paddle to help with directional navigation although this can be difficult as using the paddle on one side of your tube can cause you to spin you in circles as you head downstream while paddling alternatively using a single paddle will tire you out quickly.  A double paddle may be the better choice, although it sacrifices portability.  Be wary of what's at the end of each shallow rapids.  I recall a long stretch of shallow rapids where it allows for rapid acceleration.  At the end of this stretch was a very large tree branch that broken off and was partially submerged.  I was going too fast to control my direction of travel with my paddle.  The result was me crashing nearly head on into this tree branch and causing a breach in my tube as part of it was twisted in the sharp tangle.  Fortunately, I had a backup tube (highly recommended) at the ready and I continued on my merry way.  When the water is deep and calm, speeds can be nearly a crawl so what does a group do during this downtime?  Blast the bejesus out of one another with high intensity water cannons.  Water cannons work best as simplicity (dip nozzle into water, pull, aim, and fire!) counts for the number of shots one can do to the unsuspecting tuber.  There is one portion where there is a big fallen tree where it's size can allow people to stand on it and fire down on tubers!  Or you can use it as a perfect scene for the "wild wild west showdown"  DRAW!!!!

After 3 hours of wet and wild fun, we spotted the old white t-shirt coupled by numerous ribbons marking the end point of the tube excursion.  By this time, we were cold and ready for warmth.  After a 10 minute hike back to the junction and another 10 minute back up the steep hill (think Cardiac Hill) to the starting point of the loop trail, we were at our cars.

Recommended items to bring:
Waterproof bag for all your electronics (waterproofing your electronics is a plus)
A paddle for means of thrust (double paddle works best)
Spare tube in case your first one fails (mine did)
Raincoat or other personal waterproof clothing for warmth (you're going to be in the water for hours)
A water cannon to wreck wet havoc on your fellow tubers!
GoPro to record your memories! (Caution: numerous GoPro cameras have been lost on Kuakonahui Stream, earning it the nickname: "The GoPro Grave")

Video coming soon!


  1. I NEED to do this!!! Thanks for posting!

  2. where is the start point? how to get there?>.<