If you are making a trip to Rainbow Falls in Hilo, you might want to consider hopping back in the car and driving another five minutes a mile-and-a-half up the road to Pe‘epe‘e Falls (pronounced Peh-eh Peh-eh).
Also known as “Boiling Pots,” Pe‘epe‘e Falls is a section of the 18-mile-long Wailuku River, of which Rainbow Falls is also a part. The second longest river in Hawaiʻi, Wailuku River flows along the line where lava from both Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea meet. The river eroded a gorge in the two lava flows, which were also filled twice by younger lava flows from Mauna Loa.
At Boiling Pots, the lava created spaced, nearly vertical columns that formed as the lava cooled in the river bed.
When engorged with storm water, the river rises, and water in the terraced pools or “lava pots” becomes turbulent and appears to be boiling.
On a sunny day, when the water is serene, you might be tempted to jump in for a swim. This is not advised. Flash floods can occur at any time, and even when it might be sunny where you are standing, it could be raining farther up the mountain.
There are no lifeguards, and many people have perished in the river where the water conceals long lava tubes and caves. People commonly get sucked in and trapped.
A cemented overlook is the safest viewing option and is a short walk from the paved parking lot, (which has room for more than a dozen cars and several tour buses). Once on the platform, you can see Boiling Pots and Pe‘epe‘e Falls, which are to the left and upstream of the overlook.
Pe‘epe‘e, which means “hiding,” is a fitting name for these falls, as they are partially hidden by a tall, rocky island of old lava.
The Hawaiian mo‘olelo (story) about Hina, the Hawaiian goddess of the moon who dwells beneath Rainbow Falls, continues at Boiling Pots.
The legend goes that Hina’s son Maui saved his mother from the vengeful lizard Mo‘o Kuna, who was trying to drown Hina. Maui chased the mo‘o (giant lizard) from Rainbow
Falls, upstream to the pools just below the Boiling Pots overlook.
Maui couldn’t get a good shot at the mo‘o, who was hiding in the potholes. So he called upon Pele, the goddess of fire, who gave Maui hot stones to throw in the river. The stones made the river boiling hot, which drove Kuna from his refuge.
How to Get to Boiling Pots, Hilo
To get to Boiling Pots from downtown Hilo, follow Waiānuenue Avenue away from the ocean and follow the signs to Rainbow Falls. Continue past Rainbow Falls for approximately one mile (1.6 km) and turn right from Waiānuenue Avenue onto Peʻepeʻe Falls Road. Look for Wailuku River State Park and continue to the parking lot on your left. There are bathroom facilities available within the park.
Where to Eat Near Boiling Pots, Hilo
Head back down the road to the oceanfront for the best meal options. You won’t find any restaurants by Wailuku State Park as it sits in the middle of a residential area. But downtown Hilo is just minutes away and a great spot to eat a variety of local cuisine from pizza to bentos to sandwiches and more.