Hiking Maunawili Falls
“Show me a waterfall!” is the recreational battlecry of many a visitor to Oahu. After all, tropical paradises are synonymous with rainbows and waterfalls. Oahu does boast plenty of rain-fed, spurting beauties, but unlike some of the other Hawaiian islands, none of them offer drive-up viewing. A thorough deluge will leave the Ko‘olau range awash in a spectacle of gushing cascades, but to actually submerge in a fall-fed, cool mountain pool, the most accessible is Maunawili Falls. Because of that, weekends find the trail flooded with foot traffic.
Areas of the path resemble a lava mudflow because of the steady stream of slip-sliding feet that wear away at the vegetation. Some sections of the trail are so wet that they trickle with running water and puddles. Nevertheless, the greenery is satiating, as is the stream that runs alongside much of the trail and which necessitates a few crossings. Yoga lessons come in handy here, because hopping those rocks is a test of balance. Sometimes I take my shoes off to relish the feel of the flowing stream and the coldness of the rough rocks, but more often I wear amphibious shoes so I can trudge right through any mud and water without pause.
At the first crossing, the stream is wide and shallow, followed by an uphill climb. Arriving at a set of stairs signals that I’ve nearly arrived. Up, up, up I go onto a low ridge where the shady overhang suddenly opens to a sweeping view of the Ko‘olau range. Soon thereafter, I watch for a staircase on my left-hand side that descends into the valley. I’ve gotten lost in the past following random, small trails, but the correct path continues at the foot of the stairs at a boulder-strewn river that must be traversed to arrive at Mauanwili Falls. Some choose to carefully pick their way across the rocks. Once again, I slip my feet directly into the coolness and move right along.
Climbing out of the bank, a short, wet rock trail takes me to the prized pool that makes all the drudgery worth every trepidatious step. An echo of rushing water is heard before I actually see the white spout shooting forth into a wide, deep, welcoming pool overhung with giant ferns from millennia past. Just like I did when I was a kid, I swim to the far side of the pool, climb several feet up the side of the waterfall and then leap into the air. When the water envelops me with a giant splash, in that moment, whether surrounded by crowds or just a buddy or two, I’m at the best place on earth.
TRAIL: Maunawili Falls Trail
LENGTH: 2.5 miles round trip
HOW TO GET THERE: From Waikiki, take Kapahulu Avenue to H1 West. Take the Pali exit (Highway 61) and follow the Pali through the mountains as it turns into Kalanianaole Highway. Pass Auloa Road on your right, and turn right at the second Auloa Road. At the fork, veer left onto Maunawili Road and keep going until you reach a residential neighborhood. You’ll see signs for the trailhead on your left.
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