During our Hawaiian travels over the years, we’ve enjoyed a variety of accommodations, including condos, hotels, timeshares, and even a bed and breakfast on our honeymoon. None were quite as unique or as enchanting as our home-away-from-home at the Fern Grotto Inn.
This secluded collection of a 1940s-era plantation house and river cottages in the Wailua River Valley is unique and perfect for the right kind of traveller. If you want to enjoy Kauai in your own independent way, Fern Grotto may be the little piece of island paradise you’re looking for.
The Fern Grotto Inn
Operating a resort of wooden plantation cottages built in 1942 in a humid, tropical paradise is no easy task. The history of the main plantation cottage – Ohana House – is incredibly interesting. Built for a Japanese widow interned during the Second World War, the house served as her family (ohana) home where she raised her children. Local workers and guests rented out the five smaller river and canal cottages on the property (then known as Fujita Camp), providing family income.
The house and cottages are all fully renovated and updated with modern amenities. The cottages make for charming units for couples or honeymooners. Owner Paul Juma refers to the ongoing effort to maintain the main Ohana House and River Cottages as a ‘labor of love.’ They are certainly worth the effort. We experienced a truly relaxing stay in Ohana House with our family of four.
The Inn is tucked away along the Wailua River, a 5-minute drive south of Kapa’a on the Coconut Coast of Kauai. The property is quiet and secluded. You wouldn’t even know it’s here if you didn’t know where to look. The Wailua Beach Park is just a 5-minute walk away. Most of Kauai is quite quickly accessible from here. You can reach Hanalei in 45-minutes, or Poipu to the south in about 30 minutes by car. The airport in Lihue is just 15-minutes away. Though you can get by without one, a rental car on Kauai is pretty much a must have to visit the island’s many gorgeous beaches on the north and south shore. Tip: If you head up into the Wailua River valley, you can reach a variety of off-the-beaten path sites, including hiking trailheads, the quasi-abandoned Keahua Arboretum, and Kauai’s unique and peaceful Hindu Monastery.
The property has free bikes to borrow if you want to ditch the car for an afternoon. The Inn stocks communal beach chairs, boogie boards, beach mats, toys and coolers. This makes it easy to head to the beach fully stocked to watch the sunset (or sunrise!). Kayaks and paddles sit next to the short canal that leads to the Wailua River. They’re also free for guests to use to paddle up Kauai’s only navigable river towards the scenic Opaeka’a or Secret Falls. Wifi is included and very strong, if you actually need to connect with the outside world. Our teen boys were well-satisfied. I was further delighted by the free laundry facilities on property, detergent provided.
I felt like family as soon as stepped up to the front door of this beautiful house. The spacious U-shaped family cottage features three bedrooms, each with their own bathroom. The cottage sleeps six people very comfortably. Each bedroom is in a different part of the house, so privacy is maximized. The bedrooms have their own televisions, AC controls and fans. You can set your own level of comfort. The interior furnishings are complete with local touches of Hawaiian design, including quilts, sculptures and paintings. The wooden furniture contrasts beautifully against the clean, white walls of each room. Original home decor elements like cupboard nobs and the pulley window systems make this home completely unique and special.
The full kitchen and large dining area are completely fabulous. The kitchen is spotless and well-appointed. There were even little flower petals decorating the sink when we arrived. Every appliance you could need is at your fingertips. Including dishwasher, full-sized fridge, gas stove, coffee maker and grinder, blender, waffle-maker, toaster, slow cooker. I could go on. Staff stocks staples like sugar, coffee, oil, salt, pepper and spices as a complimentary service. No need to shlep baggies of salt or sugar from home. or buy a 10-lb box from Costco in Lihue that you’ll never get through.
I mentioned to owner Paul how I impressed I was about the completeness of the kitchen and cottage supplies in general. He surveys each guest post-stay, and obtains an amenity for the cottages if requested by at least three guests within a three month period. That’s an attention to detail and guest comfort that more boutique hotel owners should heed.
Yes, you’re on holiday and eating out is great. BUT, eating out with a family gets expensive quickly. Having a superb kitchen for preparing easy family meals, snacks and breakfasts is so wonderful! My son and I cooked organic taco dinners together while enjoying our custom musical selections from the Amazon Echo. Bob Marley, in case you were wondering. (We also asked her about the weather every morning – very knowledgeable, this Alexa.) When the surroundings are this comfortable, dining in-house is not a holiday hardship in the least.
Is Fern Grotto Right for You?
Kauai is my favorite Hawaiian Island. I love it for its authentic aloha spirit, lack of crass commercialism, and its beautiful scenery. It’s not an island for the extrovert needing the whirl of constant activity. I found Fern Grotto to fit perfectly into this assessment, for those of us who enjoy the simple, quiet things.
As you can tell, we loved our stay at Ohana House and Fern Grotto. As in all things travel though, what might be fab for me may not be ideal for you. Fern Grotto has a handy 8 Step Compatibility Test to measure whether you’d enjoy a stay as much as we did. It’s an honest assessment, no judging, so take a peek.
- If you require room service or maid service or concierge services, Fern Grotto Inn may not be for you.
- If you are looking for a resort experience with pools and restaurants, Fern Grotto Inn may not be for you.
- Not comfortable with bugs, geckos, ants, roaches, lizards, spiders, snails and occasional big fat barely able to move frogs? Fern Grotto Inn may not be for you.
- If you are not comfortable with exploring on your own, asking locals for suggestions, and making your own arrangements, Fern Grotto Inn may not be for you.
- If you do not like lazy mornings spent sipping coffee in a tropical oasis, leisurely bike rides to the beach, or cruising the river with a complimentary kayak, Fern Grotto Inn may not be for you.
- Do you enjoy traveling but like to consume mainly brand names that you’re familiar with? Fern Grotto Inn may not be for you.
- If you do not wish to feel like you are coming home after being out and about all day, Fern Grotto Inn may not be for you.
- Finally, if you are someone who runs the air conditioner with windows open and/or leave it running while you are out and about, then Fern Grotto Inn is surely, absolutely, definitely not for you.
Hele on to Kauai
As the late, great Hawaiian singer Israel ‘Iz’ Kamakawiwo’ole sang, Hele on to Kauai. It’s a special island, and Fern Grotto Inn is a special place in which to enjoy it to its fullest.
Photos: C. Laroye
Disclosure: The Travelling Mom thanks the Fern Grotto Inn for its gracious hospitality during our stay. As always, our opinions on how much we love Kauai and Ohana House are honest and our own. This post contains an Amazon affiliate link.