Kīpahulu Hike: This Way To the Waterfall

Bamboo is not native to Hawai‘i; Polynesian settlers introduced the plant to these islands long ago. Still, bamboo is undeniably beautiful, and traversing the path through this “forest” can be a soothing meditation.

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Pipiwai Trail
Makahiku Falls can be a feathery curtain or a booming cascade. When conditions are right, its 200-foot face may wear a rainbow generated by sparkling waterfall spray.

Pīpīwai Trail starts at the visitor center, very nearby the famous pools that formerly—and erroneously—were referred to as “Seven Sacred Pools.” We followed the trailhead as it wended mauka (uphill, away from the ocean), past the yodeling of a Chinese melodious laughing-thrush, a Hawaiian hale (dwelling, shelter) in mid-reconstruction by park personnel, and a little stand of mango and banana trees. From there we crossed the road and began an easy walk along the stream, the path gently ascending as we stepped over a tangle of exposed roots and mud. The trail here is sometimes banked by fragrant laua‘e ferns with their soft scent of mint, and sometimes banked by not much more than a few trees and signs that hint strongly that you can, um, fall to your death here. The rainbow was still with us, a good sign in every culture, but sweeter to me was the light rain falling through the sunlight, creating an atmospheric shimmer that made the world seem slightly dreamy. I’ve always felt giddy in that kind of rain, which seems to me more like falling light than falling water. I’m not terribly woo-woo, but in Hawai‘i this has always felt like a blessing. The glittery air would stay with us for two miles as we hiked the gentle 800-foot rise to Waimoku Falls, dampening my hike notes and camera lens but keeping me cheerful.

Not far into the hike, a low stone safety wall marks the overlook for Makahiku Falls—though on this day it was functioning as a place to prop phones so that couples could get rainbow selfies. The falls drop a graceful 200 feet from a smooth stone lip. Many people, myself included, used to clamber to and climb on that lip. I have vivid memories of scooting on my belly over the waterworn, sun-heated stone to look down at the pool below, usually triggering immediate vertigo and a belly-scramble backwards.

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