All Trails lists 179 trails on the island of Oahu alone. And I’m sure there are a number that aren’t included on this official app. So why Maunawili Falls is in my Top Five, I really don’t know. Maybe because it was the first official hike I tackled when I moved here. Or because it incorporates everything I love about hiking: views, challenges, water. It’s just become one I’ve done over and over and it never gets old. The jungle is lush and the chatter of the Maunawili Stream is great company. There’s such great variety over the 3 miles. It is a trail for those who appreciate the journey as much as the destination. While the falls are accessible they’re not particularly breath-taking. It’s small compared to postcard-worthy waterfalls you’ve come to expect from Hawai’i. Pretty, but not impressive. But if you can get past the leptospirosis risk it’s rejuvenating and a great way to finish the hike.
The tree roots are some of my favourite. I feel like I’m in Middle Earth on a great quest. Even if it’s a quest to finish the hike without taking a great spill in the mud. The dirt around the roots is so eroded that it really is a challenge to find a place to step without twisting an ankle or tripping. I did see a group of teens racing across the tops of the roots barefoot, like a scene from Lord of the Flies, but I’m content to pick my way across sure ground, with the least amount of mud. It’s not all tangled tree roots, the foliage is magical. Rain is common in the mountains and the fingers of the palms glisten. During a particularly heavy rain (not always advisable as the stream can become rather swift) the patter across the broad monstera leaves seemed to muffle any other noise. We ducked under the protection and listened, transported to a undiscovered rainforest. And seeing as this trip my sweet hubby accompanied me, it was quite romantic. What isn’t very appealing are the bugs, and a wetter trail, means more mosquitoes. So while bugs really aren’t much of an issue for me, this trail requires bug spray.
After climbing over slippery tree roots and through puddles and slick mud there’s a “fork” in the road. A lower path and one that requires a short but steep climb up to the right of what seems to be the main trail. The views from the upper trail are inspiring. Sunshine highlights the brilliant blue water in the distance, and the layers of green in the expanse below. A rainy day will render a somber mood with low hanging clouds and quiet shadows. There is no bad day.
I did not expect the stairway that signals the waterfall is close. Certainly not the hardest forest stairway on the island, but what a challenge to finish off a mile and half hike. Just a short scramble, traversing the boulders up the stream and I could hear the waterfall ahead. Because I make a point of getting on the trail early, I usually have the area to myself for a short time. The pool is pretty with fern and moss surrounding. It’s nearly entirely in the shade so it’s enveloped in beautiful foliage. I know now, but the first time I took a dip I was entirely shocked by the icy water. But it was worth swimming to the other side. The climb up was treacherous and I was glad I wore my water socks for grip and traction. I have jumped off the shorter side (further around and up there is a small rope where braver souls climb) and it was fun. But you cannot see the bottom and even if it was safely free of rocks and logs the week before there’s just no telling what has tumbled into the water since, so it’s always a risk. Aside from the jump a climb further up the side of the waterfall reveals a second one above. I personally like this one even more. The pool and falls are encased in ebony lava rock, saturated moss and low overhanging trees and fern. It has a mystical, otherworldly quality. Quiet, dim and mysterious. A place of elves and sprites and mermaids. Plus, fewer people is always a bonus for me.
Although there is more exploration to be done, I have always made the trek back after the second waterfall. By this time the crowds have begun to join in and that signals my departure. By this time the sun is at full strength, filtering through the thick humidity and the trek back is more direct and purposeful. By the time I get back to my car I’m a hot mess of black smudges and sweat. And a deep, contented sigh.
- The only way to see this one alone is to start early. I’ve started about 7:30 AM and that seems to about right. But the earlier the better.
- Spend more time at the second, upper fall.
- Enjoy lunch or a snack at a spot away from the actual water. Most people will congregate around the pool, leaving nice flat boulders along the river empty. A perfect spot for an apple and cheese or whatever your favourite hiking food may be.