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25 Years of Holo Holo Charters

It started with a boatbuilder and a niche idea for a new ocean adventure—a Kauai boat tour that went all the way around Kauai and to our neighbor island of Niihau and back, all in one day.

Niihau boat tours

Our company’s founder, boatbuilder Kevin Millett, secured the permits and got the loans. He drew the plans, ordered the materials, hired a small crew, and built the company’s namesake 65’ power catamaran Holoholo right here on island, at the old pineapple cannery in Lawai.

Eventually, the very first official Holo Holo Charters tour (with paying guests that is) happened on December 2, 1997– exactly 25 years ago. The two guests (yes, there were only two guests!) were Carl and Mickey Shock, and for being the very first couple to ever “Say Yes to Adventure with Holo Holo,” they scored a private tour with Captain Chris Bane, Holo’s original captain. Auspiciously, they saw manta rays that day!

At that time (the olden days that is), our guests checked in at Anchor Cove, and the tour departed from Nawiliwili Harbor. But by that next year, we’d begun departing from Port Allen and had moved to another small office (more like a closet) near the Big Save grocery store in Ele’ele. To put the time frame in perspective: those were the days when Kauai’s current mayor, the honorable Derek Kawakami, was a teenager selling shave ice in the parking lot!

It didn’t take long to realize and accept that our original itinerary of circumnavigating Kauai AND going to Niihau was a “bit much” for many of our guests, so we adapted and settled into our signature Napali-Niihau Super Tour. This tour voyages daily up the Napali Coast, across the Kaulakahi Channel to Lehua Crater and the “Forbidden Island” of Niihau, and back to Port Allen. This route proved significantly more user-friendly than our original itinerary, and still highlighted the very best of Kauai and Niihau. It’s the tour that set us apart from the other Kauai boat companies, steadily earned us our reputation as one of Kauai’s most spectacular activities, and continues to be our flagship tour to this day.

Niihau tours

Around the—gasp—turn of the 21st century, a catamaran that Kevin Millett had previously built for another company became available and we couldn’t resist taking her under our wing. Leila is a gorgeous and trusty sailing vessel, and has been taking friends and families snorkeling, sightseeing, and sailing on the incredible Napali Coast every morning and every afternoon for more than twenty years now. Fun fact: an episode of The Bachelor was once filmed on Leila!

Not a minute too soon, we moved out of the undersized office in Ele’ele and upgraded to our “forever home” at the Marina Center in Port Allen—the light, bright, much-more-comfortable two-floor space that serves as our guest check-in office and the home to our sales, marketing, reservations, and administration departments.

In 2012, two permits to run Napali Coast tours departing from Hanalei Bay became available. We nabbed ‘em and added two rigid-hull inflatable bottom boats to our fleet. We built the twin vessels right here on Kauai, and they’ve been taking people on epic Napali Coast snorkeling and cave/waterfall exploring excursions every summer since.

In the 2010s, we really started finding our groove and racking up mentions, accolades, and certifications including:  United Airline’s Hemisphere Magazine – Bucket List, United Airline’s Hemisphere Magazine – 3 perfect days, Best of Kauai 2017 – TGI – 1st Place–Best Kauai Boat Tour, “Good Samaritan Award”  by the United States Coast Guard 2017, Best of Kauai 2018 – Hawaii Magazine, Trip Advisor Certification of Excellence, 2017 Viator 5-Star Travel Award, Kauai Made, NOAA Dolphin Smart, Hawaii Ecotourism Certified, Ocean Friendly Restaurant by the Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Friendly Sunscreen Certified, Travel and Leisure – Best Hawaii Charter Company 2018.

Hawaiian values

When we came under the leadership of our General Manager Chandra Bertsch, it became a priority to conduct business in accordance with a principle called the “three Ps”–  people, planet, profits. Basically, it’s measuring a company’s success not just by its financials, but also by the positive social and environmental impact it makes on the world. In this spirit, we joined the Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaii, and began implementing changes, such offering reef-safe sunscreen on our tours and upgrading from paper to digital waivers, just to name two examples.

Things were sailing along quite merrily until….(Dark, foreboding music) COVID-19 of course!

Overnight, the pandemic ground our business and the entire tourism industry to a halt and forced Holo Holo’s three owners Kevin Millett, Chandra Bertsch, and Adrian Bertsch to reevaluate and recalibrate well, everything.

Best Kauai Hawaii Boat Tour

Under their leadership, our company survived, and in fact, thrived. In the spring of 2022, we were awarded the flashiest feather to tuck in our company cap yet when we earned the title of #1 Best Boat Tour in the USA by the USA Today Reader’s Choice 10Best Awards. Achieving this national recognition was a tremendous honor!

And that brings us to today, reflecting on 25 years of unforgettable Kauai boat tours. We’re thinking about the thousands of people, the smiles, the engagements, all the celebrations, and moments of inspiration. The thousands of turtles, spinner dolphins, humpback whales, monk seals, the squalls, rainbows, and sunsets. The actual tears of joy!

At this milestone, we wish to extend a sincere thank you to the thousands of loyal customers, supportive vendors, and short-term and long-term employees that have together weaved the tapestry of our first 25 years. Indeed, our success is a direct reflection of the blood, sweat, tears, energy, creativity, dedication, and support of the thousands of souls that have worked with and voyaged with Holo Holo Charters.

Our company was built on a solid foundation of integrity and now, going into our 26th year and under the bright leadership of company shareholders Chandra and Adrian Bertsch, we’re confident the best is yet to come.

We’ll be over here continuing to find creative ways to elevate every aspect of our guest experience. As we’ve always done, we’ll be proudly maintaining the cleanest and safest commercial vessels on Kauai. You’ll find us looking for ways to actively reduce harm and make positive impacts on our ecological resources and the community of Kauai. And we promise to use the reputation we’ve built to lead by example, pushing industry standards in the right direction.

Thanks again to every single person that’s been a part, big or small, of the Holo Holo journey so far. Here’s to 25 more glorious years of fun in the sun and inspiring ocean adventures with people we love!

Holo Holo Pono Pledge

And P.S. one more thing— this seems like a great time to express some extra appreciation for our “oldest” employee, Shannon Daliva, who has stuck with us through thick and thin since 2002. As our Human Resources Director and so much more, there have been times when Shannon has been the glue that’s held it all together. Shannon, thank you for being an even keel in stormy waters, we have so much appreciation and respect for you!

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