I have always been drawn to running water, such as rivers, streams and the ocean. I just found something so fascinating and peaceful about running water. I could listen to it for hours. But my favorite natural water will forever and always be waterfalls. The best waterfalls never cease to amaze me, and they are one of my favorite places to visit when I hike or go on vacation.
Luckily for me, Hawaii is rife with waterfalls that will astound you with their beauty, and a good chunk of them are easily accessible from the road. We had visited most of the waterfalls on our first visit to Big Island, but of course we wanted to see them again.
Since the Hilo side of the Big Island is much greener and wetter than the Kona side of the island, because of all the rain, it stands to reason that the Hilo side of the island has the best waterfalls. And a few of the best ones are all within short driving distance of each other.
One of the best ones is Akaka Falls. This waterfall is 422 ft and set within a lush, green park. The trailhead to the waterfall is close to the road with pay parking within the parking lot, though if you don’t want to pay, there is plenty of parking on the road as well. Usually, there are a couple ways to access the viewpoint, because there is a trail that goes down and around and affords multiple views and obstructed views of another waterfall. However, at the time we visited, part of the lower trail was blocked off, due to trail maintenance, so only the most direct trail was available to the viewpoint. It’s less than .5 mile from the trailhead to the viewpoint, and the path is paved and pretty easy to traverse. You can’t miss the wide viewpoint that looks at the waterfall from the distance. The most challenging thing is jockeying for the best view among the throngs of tourists and their cameras.
Another readily accessible waterfall is Rainbow Falls. How powerful this waterfall is, depends on the time of year, since after plenty of rain, the waterfall with naturally have more water than during drier periods. This one is also very popular, so there is a large parking lot and the walk is short to the viewpoint. A farther away view of the falls is right off the parking lot, whereas there is a short hike that takes you to the overlook of the top of the falls. I saw some people walking out on the rocks to the top of the falls, but my fear of slipping and falling off the cliff prevented me from doing the same.
Since we were already in the area, we decided to drive the short way up the road to view Wai’ale Falls. They aren’t heavily advertised, and I wouldn’t consider them a “must do.” However, if you like waterfalls and are in the area, the falls are worth the minutes it takes to drive there on Waianuenue Avenue, past the junction to Hwy 200 (Saddle Road), and then just past the Wailuku River Bridge.
The view of the falls are located right off the road, with parking available just off the road. There is supposed to be a faint trail to get closer to the falls, and apparently the locals like to swim in the falls pool.
Even though it isn’t a waterfall, the last stop of the day before heading back to our hotel was a local lava cave, easily accessible off the road. The lava cave is called Kaumana Caves, with a well marked parking lot located between mile markers 4 and 5 off Hwy 200. If you like lave caves, it is worth your time, and the visit doesn’t take too long.
Even though the parking lot is across the street from the caves, we didn’t see too much traffic on Hwy 200, so it is pretty safe to make your way across. Once across the street, the sign for the cave is well marked, and there is no admission to the caves. Stairs lead down into the cave. There are actually two parts of the cave.
The left side of the cave is more like a small ampitheater and the opening has plenty of green plants.
The right side of the cave affords the opportunity to walk a bit ways into the cave before the way becomes too small. If you do want to make your way into the cave, make sure you have a light source, because there is no light in the cave.
Over on Kauai, a good chunk of the most beautiful waterfalls are easy to visit, though there are plenty of waterfalls that aren’t readily accessible to the viewing public.
Wailua Falls are probably the most beautiful waterfalls on Kauai, and there is a well marked road (Hwy 583) that literally ends at the parking lot for Wailua Falls. There isn’t a ton of parking spots considering how popular the falls are, but there are parking off the road, and turnover is usually pretty quick. However, if you are visiting Kauai during high tourist season, it might be worth your while to go earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon.
We had the opportunity to see a couple other Kauai waterfalls during a half day kayak and waterfall adventure. Mom and I enjoy kayaking, and there are opportunities for both sea and river kayaking on Kauai. We decided against sea kayaking, just because of some of the strong ocean currents in places, and river kayaking sounded very pleasant.
Even though you can do guided or unguided river kayaks on different rivers, we elected for a guided tour, the Kayak Waterfall Adventure offered at Island Adventures tour company, just because in many ways it was easier, and it also afforded an opportunity to view a couple of pretty waterfalls that are located on private property, so they aren’t accessible to the public.
After kayaking a few miles up the Huleia River (a generally easy and peaceful trip among a lush green setting), we were transported to the overlook site and hiked down to the waterfalls. The first waterfall was the 30 foot Bamboo Falls. We only had a side view of the falls, but they were pretty nonetheless.
After hiking a short time past that, we came to our destination, the 60 foot Papakolea Falls. We were able to sit and relax by the falls, swim in the pool, or climb up partway for pictures on a ledge behind the falls. The company also offers another tour that involves rappelling down the falls. I thought about doing the rappel tour, but since I figured my mom wouldn’t be into rappelling down the waterfall (I was right), we went with the gentler trip instead.
The last waterfall I visited on Kauai was Ho’opi’i Falls. These falls were a bit harder to find, and aren’t really considered a “must do”. However, I was looking for an easy hike, and this one fit the bill and was a short drive from our hotel. The falls are located just up the road from the town of Kapa’a. I initially had a hard time finding the trailhead. It is located on Kapahi Road in a residential area. However, the trailhead isn’t really well marked, and my guide book gave some confusing directions. Just when I was about to give up and go back to my hotel, I looked on other hiking sites for better directions, and realized where I went wrong. The trailhead might not be marked, but you can see the yellow gate on the side of the road, that is overgrown with vegetation, and a short way before the road ends. Just past that is the parking area on the side of the road. You aren’t supposed to park on private property, because your car will be towed, but there are enough spaces for several cars off the side of the road.
From the trailhead, it was an easy walk down to the river. Once you hit the river, take the trail to the right and a short ways after that, you will come to a turnoff that will lead you down to the upper Ho’opi’i Falls. These falls are nice and the viewing area affords some nice views and places to sit on the rocks. My guide book talked about lower falls, so I continued to follow the directions from my book, but I never did find the falls. At some point, I came to a fence blocking the trail and marked private property. I tried walking down to the river, but the trail along the river was hard to follow and eventually petered out. I tried walking around the blocked path, but never did find the lower falls. Eventually I turned back, because I was afraid of getting cited if I was caught on private property. Even though I didn’t see the lower falls, the hike was still pleasant enough.
So if you like waterfalls, the whole state of Hawaii affords so many gorgeous views, and Kauai and the Big Island have some of the best waterfalls. Don’t miss them if you are on the island.