The Wailuku River, which defines the western limit of downtown Hilo, is 18 miles long, making it the longest river in the Hawaiian archipelago. Wailuku, which means 'destroying water', had a fearsome reputation because it was so difficult to cross during periods of high rain. The river is now safely traversedby three charming road bridges, the first at the bottom of Waianuenue Avenue, a main thoroughfare in downtown Hilo.
Waianuenue, which means 'rainbow seen in the water,' leads up to its raison d'etre, the natural wonder, Rainbow Falls. The roaring water falls 80 feet into a large pool almost a 100 feet in diameter. Behind the falls is a deep cave, a legendary home of Hina, mother of Maui. When the cascade hits the water far below, the mists throw flocks of rainbows into the air. The best time to catch a rainbow is in the early morning sunshine, before the clouds back up into the looming mass of Mauna Kea.
Many people are content to view the falls from a vantage point near the parking lot, from which a stone stairway leads to a special viewing area directly over the falls. Follow the same path slightly farther away from the falls, and you'll be in the shade of a gigantic banyan tree and a different vantage point. There is no access to the pond below, so do not try to scale the slippery slopes to get any closer to the thunderous torrent. The river was not named Wailuku for nothing.
Take Waianuenue Drive through Hilo and bear right on Rainbow Drive. A parking lot will be on your right. Make the short walk to a lookout and hope for a rainbow. There's no access to the pond at the base of the falls, so don't even think about scaling the slippery slopes to get closer. Use a long lens.
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