Hawaiian legend has it that giant mo’o (lizards) live in mountain pools. You don’t have to believe that, but it would be wise to follow the mo’o’s rules: Before swimming in mountain pools make an offering to the resident mo’o and ask permission to enter. Just drop a flower or small tree branch into the water. If the offering is swept away and disappears, the mo’o is at home and doesn’t want to be disturbed. In other words, it’s not safe to swim in the water.
Myths, it is said, are always based on some measure of common sense. Local swimmers may not believe in giant lizards, but they know it’s wise to test water conditions before they enter. Tossing a stick in the water can tell you a lot. Checking with a park ranger is an even better idea.
On a bright, sunny day, the pools of Ohe’o Gulch, located off Route 31 about 10 miles past Hana in the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park, are a great place to sun, swim and hike. Though they were previously, and erroneously, referred to as the Seven Sacred Pools, there are actually at least 20 pools carved from volcanic rock and fed by Ohe’o Stream. The chain of pools, some large, some small, are connected by waterfalls or short cascades. But Ohe” Stream, like the mo’o, has many moods. In a bad mood, the stream can turn to a thundering torrent of white water burying the pools in its path as it heads for the ocean. In the rain forest above the pools, some 250 inches of rain fall annually. Flash floods can and do occur. No diving is permitted in the pools and don’t even think about swimming in the ocean.
Despite the risks and its remote location, Ohe’o Gulch is a popular swimming and hiking destination. To avoid crowds, arrive early in the morning or late in the day. Getting there is an adventure in itself. The most direct route is to navigate the 52-mile highway to Hana and continue beyond to the pools. And if you think the Hana Road was challenging, be prepared for much worse conditions on this barely two-lane road with its blind curves and sheer roadside drop-offs. Once you get there, you’ll be ready for a dip in a pool or a flop on the rocks to laze in the sun. Two waterfalls, Makahiku and Waimoku, are located within short hiking distance of the pools.
Drop in at the Kipahulu Ranger Station (open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) to check on hiking, swimming and weather conditions. When stormy weather threatens, think twice before swimming in mountain pools, the ocean, or hiking near streams. Sudden downpours in mountainous upper slopes can result in flash floods that could make your swimming hole dangerous.