In a nutshell: An easy 30-minute hike can turn into a spectacular multi-hour moderately easy-going hiking adventure. Graded un-paved access road passes for miles through an undeveloped Eden of Maui rainforest and watershed.
Minuses: Access may require permission from EMI. On weekends you might encounter boar hunters and their pit bulls.
Sound-bite: “Yesterday I found the best hike on Maui that I’ve done.”
You can make this hike what you want of it. You can dip in a cool, fresh pool complete with dramatic waterfall in as little as a half an hour round-trip. Or take the better part of a day to hike into largely untouched and spectacular rainforest.
This location is little more than a side-note in guidebooks – in fact, to my knowledge only the first set of falls have been detailed in print, and as a result virtually all turn back at that point.
If you continue, the Wailua and Ke’anae valleys slowly unfurl an endlessly changing panorama so spectacular, it almost feels as if you’ve stepped into a dream. Steep valley walls, countless cascading waterfalls, tropical flowers and plants in every hue of the rainbow are painted onto scenic vistas that are so vast, and so awe-inspiringly beautiful, they’re sure to invoke a special feeling inside that can only be accurately described by invoking Hawaiian: This is Aloha O Ka ‘Aina.
If you’re a nature lover, without a doubt you should be staying somewhere close to the Road to Hana for at least a few days. So if you have made the time, devote at least a couple of hours here. When I visited this Eden for the first time, I was transported to a place where there was no where else in the world
I wanted to be. The hike, as it revealed itself was narcotic. I did, in fact, have somewhere else to be, but I kept finding my pulse quickening, and my desire to just go a bit further irresistible.
Important Notes: Please be aware of unsafe high water or flash-flooding that commonly occur in East Maui streams. Portions of this hike are on EMI easements leased from the government. Please see the EMI page for more information.
[The following is excerpted from a 2001 newsgroup post by hiker Eric Stelene]
Yesterday I found the best hike on Maui that I’ve done so far and I’ve named it Wailua-Keanae. This 12 mile round-trip hike on easy dirt roads takes you past no fewer than 20 waterfalls as it parallels the Hana Highway then descends gradually down the sheer pali into Keanae Valley. A short walk along the broad valley floor then leads to a stunning climb straight up the back of an amphitheater on a long-forgotten trail to a notch in the pali with thundering waterfalls. You’ll also get an up-close view of the East Maui irrigation system that takes water to central and upcountry Maui. All you’ll need is a wavier from East Maui Irrigation to access the land (not that I had one or anything)
The trail for this hike is actually a century-old 4WD road (Wailua Iki Rd.), which is still used by EMI and (more regularly) by wild boar hunters. (Even if you’re a PETA member, understand that hunting wild boar is a greater good for the environment here. They are an invasive introduced species, and are responsible for significant destruction to the native ecosystem.)
Follow the trail uphill until you see another well defined path/road on the left. Keep right at this juncture. You will soon start downhill and be treated to a scenic view of two large pools, and at least one set of roaring falls just prior to where the water is diverted. Compare these falls with the almost dry streambed just after the diversion. Now you know why environmentalists and Native Hawaiians in the Taro fields of Keanae and Wailua (downstream) have been fighting long and hard to have some of the East Maui watershed flow restored to the streams.
As you continue downhill toward this first diversion, you will come to a concrete bridge, and a closer view of interesting water diversion structures and ditch system. This pool is cool and refreshing, and there are several places to jump should you be so inclined. (It should go without saying, but I’ll repeat my mantra anyway: always check landing areas before jumping.)
As you continue on the hike, the path will zig and zag at around 1200′ elevation for about three miles. (There are elevation changes, but nothing major.)
After you pass the second bridge, the valley starts to really open up, and you will soon begin to have vantage points of a chain of falls that will make you realize how utterly limited my photographs are at conveying the majesty and awe-inspiring beauty of this valley. Depending on the cloud cover, you will also begin to be able to view Ko’olau Gap and the ridges that form Haleakala Crater.
Throughout this hike you will pass various implementations of water diversion, all feeding the main artery of the EMI ditch system. Much of this construction is very interesting – especially considering it was originally built by hand, without the aid of heavy machinery (as were the road you’re hiking, and the bridges you’re crossing.) Speaking of bridges, by their design, they appear to be constructed by the same folks that made the older Hana Hwy bridges. Most are marked with “A.D. 1923.”
As you continue, you’ll pass many more waterfalls and pools until you reach Waiokamilo Falls, which is raging most of the time. Views from the bridge are stunning and expansive. Ke’anae Peninsula and the deep blue Pacific Ocean beyond, beckoning. Eric Stelene noted that this bridge had the year 1922 on it, and deduced that the road was constructed beginning at the valley floor, and up steep cliffs (rather than down into the valley from above.) I would agree – and, from this perspective, I marvel at the impressive ingenuity, combined with a work ethic of kryptonite that must have gone into accomplishing this engineering feat.
After the 1922 bridge, the incline (which you have been slowly descending) begins to become more significant. Thanks to the increase in grade, you’re soon on the floor of the Wailua Valley. A good place to continue Eric’s perfect description of his hike:
Go around the gate and reach the junction with Piinaau Road. There is something that looks like a headstone here with Chinese writing on it…Turn left onto Piinaau Road and follow it up a short ways. Another road comes in on the left by a concrete bridge. Go left and cross the bridge, you’ll soon see waterfalls hundreds of feet high cascading over the valley walls. Follow this road to the back of a deep amphitheater. The road suddenly ends. Look carefully and you’ll notice a faint path leading up the embankment just before the end of the road. The path widens a bit and starts to switchback up and up. 600 feet straight up the pali. It’s overgrown and very narrow in places. I could just tell that I was the first person to use this trail in a long time. The blanket of leaves on the ground looked undisturbed, so did the thick carpet of moss on the loose rocks. I decided to name this the Lost Pali Trail (LPT). In less than 30 mins I came to the last switch back and a notch in the pali with a powerful waterfall. Above that, two waterfalls tumbled about 200 feet from the plateau above in to a plunge pool which fed the lower waterfall. There were some parts of the irrigation system all the way up here – a small concrete structure and and tunnel leading into the mountain.
For the unobservant hiker, the pool here would be great to jump into after the steep climb. You may notice all the water flows into the pool yet none flows back out. There must be some kinda of tunnel in the pool itself that could suck a swimmer to his death.
I rested here a while, it only took a little over 2 hours to get here. I waived at a tour helicopter flying low overhead. The pilot circled around and came lower apparently to see if I needed to be rescued! I bet he was a little surprised to see someone all the way up here.
I had my rest then headed back down the the LPT and got to the bottom in about 20 minutes. I was soon climbing back out of Keanae Valley and at the Waiokamilo Falls bridge. I took another short rest at the top then was back in the Jeep in less than 5 hours total. Thanks to the easy roads, I was in very good condition considering the distance I traveled and the terrain I crossed.
Now, looking at a terrain map, it would seem one could continue downhill, down Piinaau Rd. to Hana Hwy at Ke’anae – but I’m not actually sure how far that would be, and then you’d have to hitch-hike ~3 miles back to your car as walking on Hana Hwy is not advisable. I’m going to do that in the future and I’ll post my findings.
View Wailua & Ke’anae Valley Hike in a larger map