Ever since I saw George Clooney look out over the Kipu Kai beach in the film The Descendants, and found out that the only way I could see it was by taking an ATV tour, the Kipu Ranch’s Ultimate Ranch Tour has been on my Kaua’i bucket list. The beach seen in the movie is part of a four-mile stretch of beaches on the south shore of the island. While the beach seen in the movie is public (there are no private beaches allowed by law in Hawai’i), overland access to it is privately owned by the Waterhouse family. Currently, the only way to reach the beach is by boat or kayak.
Besides the beaches, the Kipu Ranch contains an amazing variety of landscapes, from grazing land to mountains to beaches. The ranch runs several large herds of cattle, and the property is often used for movie locations, including the first four Jurassic Park films (the first one was being filmed when Hurricane Iniki hit in 1992), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and The Descendants among others. The ATV tour takes visitors to see many of the film locations as well as other breathtaking sights that exist on the ranch. The ranch also hosts several zipline tours.
The ranch land was originally owned by a member of Hawaiian royalty, Princess Ke’elikolani, granddaughter of King Kamehameha I. Land was the only thing of value that Hawaiian royalty owned, so when the princess wanted some money to live in Europe she first leased and then sold some of her land to William Rice, a rancher, with an agreement that it never be developed. Rice sold the ranch to Jack Waterhouse in 1948. Waterhouse was descended from early missionaries on Kaua’i, and was related to Rice through marriage. During his stewardship roads were built, irrigation was developed, and other improvements made, all while maintaining the original agreement that the land not be developed.
Most of the other tour members in our group drove their own ATVs, but we arranged to ride with one of the guides, and were glad we did. The roads were not in the best repair, mainly due to all the recent rain we’ve had here, and we were glad we didn’t have to worry about navigating all the bumps, ruts, potholes and hills, and could instead focus on the scenery along the way. It was still a very bumpy, muddy ride though.
Our two tour guides were very knowledgable – both were born and raised on Kaua’i, and had worked for the ranch for many years – and they added to our enjoyment of the tour. We made several stops along the way where they described different parts of the ranch, spoke about the ranch’s history, and pointed out sights we might have missed otherwise. About halfway through the tour we stopped for water and some very tasty homemade banana bread.
While everything we saw along the way was amazing, the highlight of the tour came at the end, where the sky cleared and we were rewarded with a stunning view of Kipu Kai beach. We learned that because the land is private most local residents never get to see the beach; the ATV tour is the only way to access the view.
Jack Waterhouse died in 1984, and deeded the ranch over to the state of Hawai’i. The heirs still control the property, and it will remain private until all the Waterhouse nieces and nephews are gone. There’s no way to know at this time what the state will do with the land, but many residents of the island are hopeful the land will remain undeveloped and use it for research. It’s an amazing place, and shows off the best of Kaua’i. Plus, the ATV tour is just a whole lot of fun!