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Kaluahina FallsKaluahina Falls (13087 bytes)

kuluahina.jpg (12118 bytes)

Location: On the north coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, HI
(see Map).  We also spent some time visiting the volcano on the south side of the Big Island.
Details: When we first saw Waipi'o Valley from the bedroom of our rental unit, we thought we had died and gone to Waterfall Heaven. We had arrived after dark in a torrential rainstorm which lasted until 5 AM. Then the sun came up and gave us a view of the lush green valley, deep blue sky and ocean, black volcanic rock, and six brilliant white waterfalls--all falling 600 feet or more. We spent the next week relaxing and exploring the valley and its waterfalls.

Our daily hikes took us 1,000 feet down to the valley floor on the steepest, paved 4WD road we've seen. Then out to the beach where we could scramble along the rocks to Kaluahina Falls, about 600 foot free fall. The stream feeding this falls had almost taken out the driveway to our rental the first night. This waterfall also has the distinction(?) of having been Kevin Costner's landfall in Water World.

Nanaue Falls
Nanaue Falls and taro fields(9136 bytes)  Nanaue.jpg (12895 bytes)
Papala Falls

On other days we crossed the river to the west (back) side of the valley. Wading the river was impossible on the first day, dangerous the second, and exciting the third, thanks to rain swollen current going out and and a vicious rip tide coming in and across. Once across our choices were to go up the cliff on the Waimanu Valley Z-trail (permit needed for overnight camping) and a fantastic back-view of the valley, or to go into the valley on the primitive trail along the back side. The latter leads to Waiamea Falls, Na'alapa Falls, Nanaue Falls and Papala Falls. All four are continuous cascades of more than 1,200 feet. We visited the base of Naalapa Falls with a final 100 foot cascade and 30 foot fall separated by a small pool. You can't see much of this waterfall from the base due to the dense jungle and steep cliffs. We also visited the base of Papala Falls.

The trail along the back of the valley is not so great -- it's poorly marked and maintained and wanders around through thick jungle to avoid private land. We got the distinct feeling that hikers on this trail are tolerated, but not welcomed.

Hiilawe Falls
Hiilawe Falls (13534 bytes)  Hiilawe Falls from the Tea House (10691 bytes)

Hiilawe up close (9232 bytes)

View from Teahouse
Waipi'o Valley from the Tea House (8493 bytes)
The valley gets wilder as you go further back in but even though we were more than two miles from the beach, we were still below the 20' contour line. You can imagine what a 100' high Tsunami would do (and it has done it repeatedly throughout history). We gradually worked our way out from the cliff onto a network of jeep trails which eventually crosses the multiple stream channels and connects to the county "road" on the east side of the valley. Then, the climb back up to the Waipi'o Overlook and our rental feeling somewhat superior to the tourists riding up in the many 4WD jitneys doing business there.

The prize hike was to Hiilawe Falls, actually two hikes. The first was up the stream to the base of the falls, a demanding hike and much longer than it looks since your sense of scale is somewhat twisted. The main part of Hiilawe Falls is 1,300' and we estimate that there is an initial drop of 150 feet above that. The second hike was to the abandoned, very surrealistic "Tea House" with its formal gardens almost totally reclaimed by the jungle. It's about 1/4 mile from the base of the falls with a commanding view of the falls on one side and the Waipi'o Valley and ocean on the other. Evidently it was a millionaire's folly left to rot when it turned out that his wife wouldn't even stay there the first night. (This happened about 20 years ago although the locals were somewhat vague about its history.) Both of these hikes are on private land and we understand that hikers are strongly discouraged unless you hire a local guide. We couldn't find either a guide or anyone to ask permission... nor did we encounter anyone on either hike.

View from "Z-trail"waipio2.jpg (12863 bytes) 

Following image courtesy of Scott Rowland and NASA's Virtually Hawaii project, borrowed with permission.
kohala1_ap_643x320.jpg (10206 bytes)
Awesome as it is, we couldn't help contrasting the Waipi'o Valley's waterfalls with our approachable and friendly Finger Lakes waterfalls. It is amazing to us that Hiilawe Falls, which has to be one of the highest waterfalls in the United States (and double the height of Akaka Falls which is dubbed the highest waterfall in Hawaii), is so unknown and inaccessible even though hundreds of tourists visit to within one mile of it every day.



Akaka Falls
AkakaB.jpg (14149 bytes)

  UPDATE: From Sally Williams, Mar 26, 06

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Last modified: 28-Mar-2007