#Kaua’i: Kipu Ranch Ultimate Ranch ATV Tour

Looking out to Kipu Kai beach

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.

Denise, Brett and I have our helmets on and are ready to roll!
We rode with one of the guides, which allowed us to focus on all the beautiful scenery versus concentrating on the road . . .
. . . which became challenging pretty quickly into the tour

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.

Grazing land runs right up against the mountains. Four of the five Jurassic Park films were filmed in this location, near the mountains.
Mt. Ha’upu (also known as the Hoary Head) is the most imposing feature of the ranch. The tour took us up the face of the mountain and over one of the cuts to get to the ocean side of the ranch.

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.

Yes, there was LOTS of red mud. We didn’t get too dirty, but some of the other drivers came back coated in the stuff.

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.

Looking back down over the ranch from the mountainside.

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.

The overlook view of Kipu Kai Beach, the highlight of a tour of highlights.

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.

Looking down at the city of Lihue from the highest point on the road, the last breathtaking view before finishing the tour.

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!


7 thoughts on “#Kaua’i: Kipu Ranch Ultimate Ranch ATV Tour

    1. We had such a good time with Denise, and also got to have breakfast with her Monday morning. She is a busy gal, so it was special spending time with her. Did you know that we met via this blog? She was a reader, came to Kaua’i a couple of years ago, we connected and have been friends ever since.

      The ATV tour is worth every penny!


  1. Hi Laura, You are probably getting tons of questions about the flooding. I am a news junkie so have been concerned about you guys. Are you dry? Do you have power? I love following your blog! Hope all is well,


    1. Hi Sandi – we are thankfully high and dry. We live on a hill, so when it rains the water runs down the road in front of the house. We have hills behind us, but our landlord installed an impressive drain system so we don’t get waterlogged. The rest of the island hasn’t fared so well though. It looks like the flooding has ended, and work has shifted to clean-up and restoration, but there is still a risk for landslides. It’s been amazing to watch the aloha spirit at work here, people helping people, contributing what they can. It’s going to take a few months, but Kaua’i will be back!


  2. Great pictures! And I want to go back and watch The Descendants again now. I loved that movie. Thanks for the pictures and the history background. Very interesting.


    1. I had no idea for a long while that the Kipu Kai beach and the view were private. I’m glad the ranch land has stayed undeveloped, but sad that so many local residents have never seen the beach or the view. It was gorgeous.

      There are parallels between the story in The Descendants and the Kipu Ranch trust.


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