Spin-drifting into oblivion

Michael Wayne
Tubing downstream is a great way to enjoy the dramatic scenery of Kauai, Hawaii

To some, the thought of floating down a mountain in a freezing stream in a tube sounds like chaos. Luckily, as we stand in line to be lowered into our brightly-coloured rings, we're informed there's one rule to live by.

"Any time you mention the word 'cold', we splash you."

Given the choice between zip-lining or inner tubing, it felt like no choice at all. Zip-lining is a moment in time, over in seconds. We may as well tube, take our time and enjoy it. After all, what's the rush?

It still seemed like the right choice during the rain-drenched drive up the mountain. Our tiny bus felt insignificant compared to the majestic terrain around us - the leafy wilderness of Kauai, Hawaii's wettest island. And Mount Waialeale is one of the wettest spots in the world. The water comes from the top of the mountain and runs through the former Lihue sugar plantation.

Our jovial guide Supreme points to a small clearing at the side of the road. "See that?"

His captive audience of six can clearly see it; there's nowhere else for us to look. The guide's pregnant pause for effect is stillborn.

"That's where they filmed the T-Rex attack in Jurassic Park!"

Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg's ode to dinosaurs, acted as a kind of Trojan horse when it was released back in 1993. Although the film is set in Costa Rica, Spielberg filmed much of the action on Kauai, showcasing to the world another side of the Aloha State.

Many films have been shot here since, but none cast Kauai as a character quite as successfully.

"But don't worry," Supreme adds. "They took all the dinosaurs home with them."

A pause. "Jokes!"

So prehistorically convincing were the film's locales that it may as well have been the Jurassic, let alone Costa Rica. Let alone Kauai, Hawaii's fourth largest island.

Or as our guide says, the rainiest place on earth. "The ocean is of course the wettest place. Jokes!"

Fair point. Although in Hawaii, the ocean is never too far away.

Kauai's contentious symbiosis with water has brought it as many misfortunes as benefits. The Hawaiian islands were unknown to the western world when the tide brought Captain Cook and his posse to land at Waimea, on the south coast of Kauai, in 1778.

Even today, the inlet where Cook landed, on the town's outskirts, looks like a mouth wide open in a silent scream. If Cook heard it, it didn't slow him down - he just sailed right in.

The natives, too, would have had no idea what lay ahead of them as they drifted down the inlet to meet history head on. The relationship the Hawaiians would forge with Cook would be volatile, and end in death and decimation on both sides.

Our tour guide is wrong; Lihue is certainly the wettest and rainiest place on earth. We're soaked through even before we embark upon our aquatic adventure, the age-old art of toobin'.

Supreme lays out for us the history of the plantation while we gear up. Here, the stream flows down the side of the mountain through a series of disused canals originally built as infrastructure for harvesting sugar cane. The practicality of inner tubes isn't readily apparent, but back in those sweeter days, tubes made it easier for the workers to get downstream in a way that relied on gravity, not power.

Infrastructure that works in harmony with the natural surroundings? I know, I couldn't believe it either.

Long after the sugar days were over, adventurous locals would tube down the disused aqueducts. When entrepreneur Steve Case bought the land in 2003, he allowed the tubing to continue.

It's finally my turn to throw my ass into the ring. I'm lowered into the tube, which looks large enough to suspend me above the chilly water. In this case, looks are deceiving.

I can't help it. "Oh, so cold!"

Thank goodness for rules.

After a supreme splashing, my tube catches the current and soon I'm off downstream. It's hardly the white-knuckle experience I expected, despite the occasional collision with a wall or another tuber. Gradually, I fall behind the group.

While it's possible - and recommended - to use all-terrain vehicles, helicopters or boats to explore the rugged Kauai, toobin' may be the best way to explore yourself. A unique serenity quickly envelops you as you're carried along the island's aquatic veins, and your mind suddenly isn't so preoccupied with the cold, or the rain, or even the destination.

When Cook arrived in Kauai, his cargo was modernity. The native Hawaiians were sucked into the now, the kinetic immediacy of the modern world, and they've been trapped in that whirlpool ever since.

Up ahead, my fellow tubers are desperate to capture the moment, wielding selfie sticks and posing for the tour company's photographers. Supreme says something about a tunnel coming up. I only catch the end of it - "Jokes!" - because my mind hasn't caught up with them.

Instead it's here, unhurried, spin-drifting down this stream into oblivion. There's no moment to be captured.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: For flights to Kauai's Lihue Airport via Honolulu, and travel all over the Hawaiian archipelago, Hawaiian Airlines is your one-stop shop. For more, www.hawaiianairlines.com.au

STAYING THERE: The resort villas at Marriott's Kauai Lagoons (Kalanipu'u) are a comfortable, spacious base of operations for any activities on Kauai, and the pool's perfect for kids. Just make sure you get yourself a car to make the most of the island. For more info visit marriott.com.au

PLAYING THERE: Kauai Backcountry Adventures offers tubes and tunnels in the old Lihue Plantation, and zip-lining for the thrillseekers. Visit kauaibackcountry.com for more info.

The writer travelled as a guest of Hilton and Hawaiian Airlines.