AIRE Kayak Kohala Ditch Adventures in Hawaii

Ali - Hawaii Kohala Ditch AdventureThis past winter I did a fair amount of traveling and was fortunate enough to spend six weeks on the Big Island of Hawaii. I had been to the Big Island before but only for a brief visit to Volcano Village. This time I got to know the whole island and really fell in love with everything it has to offer.

The Big Island of Hawaii is truly a scenic wonderland. The landscape changes every 5 to 10 miles as you enter a new ecosystem. Consequently there is lots to explore from lush rainforests, beautiful sandy beaches, an abundance of waterfalls, the possibility of snow at the top of Mauna Kea Mountain, volcanoes, jagged cliffs, and all the marine life you could possibly imagine.

Besides enjoying the surf and sun I also did a lot of touristy stuff. One of my favourite adventures was the Kohala Ditch System eco tour.

Mountain Kayaking – The Kohala Ditch Adventure

Kayaking in Hawaii is a must but usually it is done on the ocean. This adventure was going to take me kayaking through the Kohala ditch trail high up in the mountains. It is rated as one of Hawaii’s top cultural and historical adventures and I could see on the website that the company that ran these tours used inflatable kayaks so my interest was piqued even more.

To really appreciate what the tour has to offer it is important to know a little bit of history on the famed Kohala ditch system.

Facts about the Kohala Ditch System

Built in 1905 and 1906 by more than 600 Japanese laborers the ditch system is over 17 miles in length. It is an intricate system that consists of cavernous tunnels, flumes, open ditches, dams, and reservoirs all winding its way through valleys, mountains and open pastures.

The Japanese laborers worked day and night in dangerous conditions to build this ditch system and seventeen men died during the eighteen months of construction.

The Kohala ditch trail was originally used to channel ground and stream water to a local sugar cane plantation. Up until the earthquakes in 2006 – measuring 6.7 and 6.0 on the Richter scale – the ditch still carried 8 to 10 million gallons of water per day across North Kohala.

However there was much damage with the earthquake and in a matter of mere seconds, many towns and farms on the coast below were without water. The Big Island community rallied hard to save the ditch and eventually raised over 6.5 million dollars in public and private monies as well as in federal funds and construction began to repair the damage. It is now once again responsible for moving millions of gallons of water every year.

My AIRE Kayak Ditch Tour

When I arrived at the meeting point for the tour I was thrilled to find out that the company was using AIRE inflatable kayaks for paddling through the ditches. AIRE is known to produce some of the top inflatable kayaks on the market. They are incredibly tough and I was not surprised that an eco tour company chose to use them for their daily adventures.

These kayaks were different than the regular AIRE inflatable kayaks that you or I would use to paddle in. These were longer models designed for group paddling.

The tour started with a safety briefing and we were given these weird yellow life preservers that belted around the waist. Then we loaded into cool 4×4 vehicles to start the climb up the mountain.

Kohala ditch adventure 4x4

A 5th generation Hawaiian family runs the tour with a huge amount of knowledge about the area, the ditches, and about Hawaii in general. Once reaching our destination we did a very short hike over a 150-foot flume that overlooked a waterfall. This is where we entered our kayaks.

Kohala ditch bridge

The kayak part of the tour is only 2.5 miles long. However within these 2.5 miles you cruise through a wild jungle, cross water flumes, go through 10 crazy earth tunnels and learn all about the native plants.

Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and we even got to try some of the herbs that were growing alongside the flumes.

Aire kayak Hawaii

Kohala ditch adventure Hawaii

The tunnels were amazing. They were very long and very dark so we had to wear head lamps. We also had to duck down so as not to bonk our heads as the tunnels were so low. It is hard to imagine the labor that went into constructing these cavernous tunnels. There are a few spots where some Japanese writing was carved into the side of the tunnel.

Low Kohala Ditch Tunnel

Kohala Ditch Tunnel

Coming out of one tunnel we crossed over a large waterfall. It was stunning. There is a zip line that goes right over that area but no one was zipping as we passed by.

When the kayak portion of the tour was over we were picked up by ATV’s and made our way down through the Kohala macadamia nut orchards. The view of the ocean from up there was just stunning!

AIRE kayak

ATV with kayaks

Overpriced but Worth the Adventure

I really enjoyed the Kohala Ditch Eco Adventure and would recommend it to anyone visiting the Big Island of Hawaii but to be honest I did feel that the tour was overpriced. For an adult the price was $129 and for a child under twelve years of age the price was $65 plus tax. The tour was extremely educational and the staff were very knowledgeable but it wasn’t actually all that long and I felt at the end of it that it really should have cost half the price that I paid.

However they are very popular and obviously there are many people who are willing to pay the price like I did… and it truly was a lot of fun!

Me with our tour guide taking a goofy shot


The AIRE kayaks were really fantastic, they truly are the best. They can really take a beating and are capable of lasting a lifetime.

To view the different AIRE kayak models please see our list of AIRE inflatable kayaks.

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