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How To Get To Sacred Falls (Kaliuwa’a) and the Legend of the Demigod Kamapua’a

Note: Sacred Falls Park and Sacred Falls trail has been closed since May 1999. The State of Hawaii has no plans to re-open the park. It is illegal to hike this trail and to do so would be cause for citation or arrest. There is also a risk of falling boulders, landslides, and drowning. As our disclaimer partially reads: “I’m not your daddy, these are dangerous as sh*t hikes, even the simple ones, if you got club feet don’t even think about it yo, and if you or your estate tries to put this on me for damages I will F*ck your Sh*t up, I know some Samoans who can do it too.”

Before the tragedy of 1999, Sacred Falls was one of the top tourist attractions for those visiting the island of Oahu. This all changed the month before I graduated high school, Mother’s Day 1999, when eight people were killed and 50 more were injured from a massive landslide. At its height, the popular trail and waterfall received up to 55,000 visitors annually. Since 1999, the park and the waterfall trail has been closed to visitors and hopeful waterfall seekers. In 2003, the State of Hawaii reached an $8.56 million settlement with those injured and the families of the victims. Regardless, Sacred Falls continues to flow and thrill-seekers continue to visit her.

This rusty yellow gate marks the entrance to the closed Sacred Falls Park.

Eventually, you will a fork in the trail. Take the path going left.

You’ll be trekking about 2 miles into the valley to see the falls.

Follow the path straight between those two warning signs. This will lead you down to the stream.

Accessing Sacred Falls is not difficult. In fact, if you grew up in Hawaii then you probably know of its exact location and may have visited it prior to the 1999 tragedy. Odds are that if you visited Oahu before the tragedy then you too might be familiar with the falls as well. You would simply need to jump on Kamehameha Highway and drive toward Punaluu. It’s useful to use the Kim Taylor Reece Gallery (53-866 Kamehameha Hwy) in Hau’ula as a landmark. You will need to find parking along the residential roads. Once you’ve found an ideal parking spot, back track on foot toward Punaluu, crossing a white wooden bridge (the bridge is on the mauka, or mountain side, of the road). Shortly, you will reach a rusted yellow metal gate. Beyond the gate looks to be a park, however, there is no signage at this particular park. You’ve reached Sacred Falls Park. It will be eerily empty.

At 55,000 annual visitors, Sacred Falls trail received roughly 150 daily visitors – many of whom were tourists. With that said, the trail itself to the falls is not a difficult one. In terms of terrain, it’s similar to the Manoa Falls trail (fairly wide with little elevation gain) but longer and with a couple of stream crossings. Don’t let the Manoa Falls comparison fool you, though. The Sacred Falls trail can be quite dangerous. You should definitely not even consider this trail if it has been raining recently, simply because of the stream crossings that need to be completed. Also, the valley will narrow considerably once you are deep in the valley. To be stuck in the stream while the water is raging would be very bad. And let’s not forget, there’s always the danger of you getting cited for trespassing. There are rumors that residents near the park will call the police if they see people entering the park. Other people have said that sometimes there is an officer/state official waiting along the trail to issue citations. I did mention above that the park has been officially closed since 1999, right?

The trail is unmarked, other than the many warning signs placed strategically along the trail. They’re like pink trail ribbons but made out of metal and are there to deter you from continuing on.

The trail is very well manicured. Someone out there maintains this closed trail.

A well placed KEEP OUT sign.

The potential physical dangers are not the only things that you should be worried about. Make no mistake, Sacred Falls is indeed sacred to the Hawaiian people. The falls, known to Hawaiians as Kaliuwa’a, means “leaking canoe.” And according to Greg Cleghorne, this place is filled with legend. Folklore says that the valley’s name is derived from the story of a mischievous demigod known as Kamapua’a. This demigod was able to take the shape of man and pig. Legend says that this demigod would often steal food from a local village. The village people became tired of the mischief and set out to hunt the demigod. The demigod then ran into the valley to create a double-hulled canoe to help with his escape. The demigod was only able to finish one-side of the canoe, leaving the other unfinished. The unfinished hull is what is now known as Sacred Falls.

Meanwhile, ghost hunters believe that the falls is the starting point for night marchers on the Koolauloa side of the island. And let’s not forget the many people that have died here. Let’s just say that the mana in this area is strong. I could definitely feel it as it sent chills down my spine.

As I crossed the old and rusty yellow gate and into the abandoned park, every internal alarm went off. It’s as if my superego, as Freud had intended, was telling me that it was not morally acceptable to be here. That I should not be messing around with the mana here. And yet I continued on.

From the yellow metal gate, I walked toward the back of the park and then veered left. At the back you will find a gravel road in front of a facilities building. Turn left at this gravel road. This gravel road will eventually turn into a dirt road. Continue on this dirt path for about 15-20 minutes until you reach a fork in the road. The left fork will lead you to Kaluanui stream, at the end of which will be Sacred Falls waiting for your arrival. We found the trail from the fork to the falls to be very straightforward. It was surprisingly well manicured and defined. Note that there are no ribbons in place to guide your way. There are, however, “KEEP OUT” signs strategically placed throughout the trail, from beginning to end.

You’ll be walking alongside the stream most of the time.

Large boulders. You wouldn’t want to have been here when these fell.

The valley narrows a lot the deeper in you go.

It should take you about 45 minutes to 1 hour to reach the falls. You’ll notice that the farther in you get, the narrower the valley becomes. The narrower the valley becomes, the greater the risk of a falling rock or boulder striking you. You’ve been warned.

Toward the end of the gorge you will reach a large dry chute on your left. This is the finished hull of the demigod Kamapua’a. At this point, you’ll need to jump down into the stream and do some rock and boulder hopping. If the stream is flowing hard and heavy then I would suggest you resist jumping in and come back another day. If the stream is relatively dry, then you should have no problem reaching the falls and the pool beneath it.

Sacred Falls looks heavenly. However, the vibe I felt while I was there was far from heaven sent. I had this really odd vibe. Normally, whenever I do a waterfall hike I love to just sit and enjoy the falls. Waterfalls normally evoke a serene feeling. Not this one. Almost as soon as I reached the falls I had this gut feeling that I needed to leave, that I needed to get out of there. Still, I lingered.

You’ll reach this dry chute just before reaching Sacred Falls. This is the completed side of the demigod Kamapuaa’s double-hulled canoe.

Just to the right of the chute will, hopefully, be a dry stream bed. If it’s flowing hard then I recommend that you do not continue. The falls will be just around this bend.

Deep in the valley it’s very beautiful.

Sacred Falls from a distance.

As soon as we started to settle down, my friend notified me that he felt his bag lift. He was wearing his CamelBak and he told me that it felt as if someone had lifted the bottom of the bag and then let go. He tried to replicate the feeling but he could not. Eerie. I had chicken skin. I waited for something, supernatural maybe, to happen to me. Although that supernatural experience never came, I still had this weird feeling boiling inside of me.

We snapped a few photos near the pool, but never jumped in the pool of water. I even dragged along my tripod hoping to experiment with some long exposure, but, I didn’t have the patience. That boiling feeling inside of me only strengthened. I felt as if someone, or something, was watching us. My friend felt the same way. We packed our things up and left, having only spent about 10 minutes at the falls. If you know us, you know that once we reach the destination of a hike we like to sit, relax and break. Not this time. Sacred Falls was different. It didn’t feel right being there. It felt like we were disturbing something. Of course, this could have been all in my head, however, having grown up in Hawaii I know better than to doubt the mana.

As soon as we started our trek out of the valley and away from the falls, the heavy weight over my shoulders began to lighten. I no longer felt as if I was being a disturbance. I was relieved that I was able to leave Sacred Falls physically untouched and unharmed. Mentally, I could still feel eyes following me up until I crossed over the rusted yellow metal gate. Once I crossed over the rusted yellow metal gate, I breathed a sigh of relief. I was fortunate to have experienced the mana of Sacred Falls and I know now what it feels like to be both in awe and terrified of something that looks so seemingly innocent.

The closer you get, the more in awe you will become.

You’ll need to hop along some very large rocks to access the falls. You know where these rocks came from? Up above. Falling rocks and boulders are common and insanely dangerous.

This gives you an idea of just how narrow the valley gets.

The last trail marker, errr, KEEP OUT sign.

Total Time: Roughly 2.5 hours roundtrip.

Directions to Sacred Falls Park: Coming from Waikiki, you will head west on H1. Continue on H1 and then take exit 20A to merge onto HI-63 N/Kalihi St toward Likelike Hwy. You will drive about 7 miles and then take the exit 20A to merge onto HI-63 N/Kalihi St toward Likelike Hwy Continue to follow HI-63 N. Merge onto HI-83 W (signs for Kahekilli Highway). The landmark to keep an eye out for will be the Kim Taylor Reece Gallery in Punaluu. The address to the gallery is 866 Kamehameha Highway. Look for parking around the residential areas nearby. Be cognizant of where you park and be sure to follow all parking laws. Once you’ve found your parking spot, you will reverse back along Kamehameha Highway and cross the white wooden bridge. Just past the bridge will be the yellow metal gate pictured above. You’ve found Sacred Falls Park. Remember, access to the park is closed.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii, Blogger, Hiker, Foodie, Apple Aficionado, T-Shirt Enthusiast, Psychologist, and Rogue Scientist.

23 comments

  1. Wow. That “random fellow” sure was brave. (;

    Thanks for the guide and wonderful pictures of Sacred Falls. I have done a few of the other nearby gulches (which are just as beautiful) but have always avoided this one because of the stories I’ve heard. I’ve heard of DLNR trucks randomly appearing and officers handing out citations on the weekends (where the trail forks). Sometimes Federal workers go in there as well and the parking gate is monitored for folks parked by the trailhead (I’ve heard).

    But, I’ve also heard that it’s quite a beautiful place, if not the most beautiful on the island. Congrats to that “random fellow” for making it there and thanks again for the pics. (:

  2. Hey Punynari! Glad you enjoyed the post!

    Luckily, there were no DLNR trucks or anyone monitoring the trail. The “random fellow” told me that he ran into a couple on the trail as he was leaving and they told him that they didn’t encounter any guards or DLNR workers either. I guess my random friend got lucky ;)

    • Yeah Yosapon, your Sacred Falls photos made me jealous!

      Not too sure how the woman hurt her leg. However, when doing these types of hikes you need to be extremely ,extremely careful. Granted, accidents do happen. However, if I “hurt” myself on the trail, unless it was a broken leg, I would make every attempt to get out of there on my own. The last thing that I would want to do is call 911 to rescue me on a closed and dangerous trail. And let’s not forget, by calling 911 for this type of emergency, you are putting the rescue crew at risk as well.

      Before attempting a hike like this one, you need to be completely aware of the risks and your own abilities. If you have any doubt, don’t do it.

  3. Mahalo for the guided tour, with colonial signs of KEEP OUT!
    Impressed to know how sacred the falls can be if somthing is not feeling right about being there. The sign of first knowing,…something does not feel right? Is all sacredness of the Po, Oma`o, Kumu La`au warriors who guard heavily of this sacred realm. These entities are rare to visualize in the natural naked eye view. In fact, almost impossible to view as these warriors are from the ancient realm,…the Po, darkness. Oma`o ma`o, green. Kumu La`au, Trees. Po, reflects the Po-haku faced walls and, river boulders. Warriors who guard the ancient realm are stewards, protectors of the Wai, which brings life to the land. Kamapua`a, is the elusive guardian, he is seen in many of your photos. Luckily, you listened to the spirit realm, perhaps,… the Oma`o warrior clan, as they are more forgiving to have led your path out,…or at least your thinking. In respect, to your writing and photos, your lucky going into a sacred place without Ho`okupu or Kahea observance,…your walking into the unknown,…or you have been until now.

    • Hi John, thanks for the great comment. This particular hike is definitely one that can play games with your head. If you go into it knowing, even just a little, about Hawaiian culture and the events that have occurred here in the past, you can’t help but feel a little nervous.

      You mentioned that “Kamapua`a, is the elusive guardian, he is seen in many of your photos.” What do you mean by this. Are you referring specifically to the photos of the falls? Would that ve the Kamapuaa?

      • Hey Cody,
        I am currently doing a thesis on the Spiritual realm of Paeahu here on Maui. Actually, its name is Wailea. In particular, the Wailea Blue Golf Course, and other areas surrounding Wailea and Makena. Its a rich neighborhood mostly white people who have their 2nd homes. Anyway, I have been studying the ancient ancestors of old Hawaii, and how they appear through different light measures of the Sun, Moon, or light reflections through trees, brush, dark light, shadows of trees, clouds, rain, mist, wind,…and believe it or not…sound. It has never been proven,…yet, as for now it is in the imaginative stage of first knowing what it is,…that might be looking back at you.
        You mentioned in your writing that there were eyes looking at you.
        In your photos’ there are many eyes looking at you from the very beginning. The difficult part of this study is trying to grasp a visual with the naked eye,…it is almost impossible to view. The picture may appear visible in the icon stage, as the picture gets smaller, the pixels are condensed to give you clarity. However, it is not always visible. Kamapua`a is the elusive guardian of the spirit realm, he is seen many times in your photos. If I was to show you….you would think I’m out there! The spirit realm hides in the density of the forest, or right beside you in the dark crevice that has no light. The spirit realm is staring right at you from the brush to your left and in many Oma`o features, green trees, bushes, leaves, weeds and the green Oma`o back drop including the entire hills of Hau`ula. The form of which they choose to present the spirit realm is KAPU….it is not meant to be seen. So, this is what I have chosen to study. Your research and writing is brilliant, continue forward and share this with others, who knows,…I might be wrong,….but what if I’m right,….and why did you decide to leave the falls,..when you felt odd,…it means something sacred from the spirit realm has informed you. How spiritual is that!

        • John,
          Everything you have said reminds me of the stories my grandpa used to tell me when I was little, where are you finding your research? I wish I had retained all of the stories from my childhood to pass on to my daughter, and would really like to learn some of them again.

          • Aloha Te`a Kanakaole,
            I would never have expected to receive a note so short and so powerful,……..I started to cry. In all honesty, I don’t know, where I am going with this because I started to show some of my pictures to my cousin Kehau, and she said, “I cannot see what you see, but I can feel the presence of something there.”
            Te`a, just the mere fact that you mentioned your grand parents, has re-kindled the flame of this research. For now, I seek a visionary blueprint of a place called Paeahu, on Maui. Where I have encountered Kamapua`a, and many other unpronounced spiritual entities relating to our ancient culture. The sun is the power behind this elusive spiritual realm, and during the winter months it lines up with Kaho`olawe, rises in the east over Haleakala, Ulupalakua and over Paeahu (Wailea). This study is a personal synopsis, thesis, hypothesis, to engage in a story of ancient Hawaii which certainly runs counter to the ancient stories being told by Fornander. Is it possible to stay the course?
            I say, “Yes!” This research is based on my interpretation of what I see in the pictures, and how and what occured while I took the pictures. Like the Sun, wind, shadows, sound (Bird), rain, clouds, trees, reflection of light, tree reflections, and the merging of trees to draw an entire entity…which appears as a warrior…..so, so difficult to reveal its content in the physical….for its appearance is first, in the spiritual or spiritual form. As difficult as it is to write and study this ancient realm, it is also elusive to evaporate and appear as if you are going around in circles. They are intelligent, to posture the modern thinkers and create a haven of specific modern designs to suit their on going existance. Clever.
            So simple to make such a broad statement,…as I search…I have to reveal what it is that I find, in truth first, as it is a spiritual matter. This study is about an ancient culture, of which, is our culture, this is where we come from, so simple…so spiritual.
            Mahalo
            johnf7

        • Mahalo for sharing, John! You stories and research questions are very interesting to me. Please let me know if you’re ever interested in sharing your photos and research here. Maybe as a guest post? If you’re on the neighbor island then maybe you can share some of you thoughts/photos on the sacred places there. Get in touch with me (via the Contact page here) if you’re interested in sharing your writing/photos with this website!

          Mahalo,
          Coty

  4. Cody,
    Thanks for inspiring me. Instead of using my pictures, lets use yours. The first comment to add is the sign. PARK CLOSED DUE TO HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS KEEP OUT. The sign is stamped with graffitti and nailed to the trunk of the tree…how convenient I might add. Here is a simple hypothesis to ponder…..a colonial sign…..nailed to a tree…..what appears to the naked eye could possibly be…..a face from the ancient realm…maybe? The Oma`o colored moss paints a front view feature, the kumu la`au (Upland Forest tree). Can you see? A straight mouth appears to signal the unwanted nails posting the Hazard sign however, the tree in its natural power absorbs its abuse.
    This is a clear sign of warning,….or welcome…or proceed with caution….how was your journey so far….should I continue forward…or withdrawl.
    Look at this picture,….its right in front of you adjacent to the Hazard sign….look at the tree bark…..look at the trunk…look at the moss….paint a thesis with its straight mouth observance…if you can view this….your view is in spirit….its also sacred…..very important to remember….sacredness of Kaliuwa`a. The research will encounter an endless travel…to reach the realm…it is KAPU to enter…however, the proximity lands your photo inches from its discovery.
    The tree warrior of Kaliuwa`a. He inoa no na kumu la`au `O Kaliuwa`a.
    johnf7
    PS. There r other photo interpretations I would like to post. If it gets to heavy….no worries…we can go back to where we started………. just sharing.

    • Cody, In one of your photos it reads, “You will be walking along side the stream most of the time.”
      This picture has many Oma`o warriors, to the left side there appears to be one overall warrior entwined with 3 or 4 warriors in relation to the forest brush, including the leaves and branches…very difficult to see with the naked eye. To the left there is one Oma`o warrior tackling a huge dinosaur like Gecko…the gecko leans its head toward the sky as if something heavy has jumped on its back….very appealing to view this activity. To the center of the stream two geckos brown in color…seem to be in disagreement over something as they both stand upright on their back legs….is it a fight? Or did they catch something valuable. Towards the very front of the picture a women appears to shelter her presence with the river boulders…possibly taking a cool bath in the muggy still forest. The overall warrior to the left would include the entire left side of the picture,…the rocks on the bottom of the trees and bushes represent his teeth,…moving upward his eyes are entwined to include more then one Oma`o warrior looking directly into your camera, his appearance is a complete front view of his face laying down on the river bank with his jaw stretched out in front of himself….to cool off? Or inquisitive to the viewfinder? I don’t know….however,…this is what I see in your picture.
      With Aloha to Kaliuwaa,
      johnf7

  5. I have stumbled (?) upon this site while researching the Island of Maui. I have been to Oahu and absolutely loved it and would like to experience the other islands. I am from the upstate region of New York.We to have beautiful waterfalls, mountains and natural beauty. We are just not green year round and do have a considerable amount of snow and cold. In reading the posts I became intrigued by John’s posts. I too see the faces in the moss, outlines of the warriors in the trees and can feel the pain and forewarning in the pictures. I am amazed and deeply moved that the People have names for every aspect of this. I hope you do publish your thesis, hypothesis or explanation of spiritual awareness that seemingly very few people have contact with. I take a lot of pictures in the Northeast. Sometimes I take a picture then examine them more closely and there are indeed “faces of nature” (as I call them) in the pictures. Sometimes I see them first then snap a picture to capture them. Sometimes they appear later. An idea that I’d like to possibly interject is that maybe these entities occur everywhere in the world and that those that can see them or be lucky enough (or chosen) to capture them may have different names or lore to describe them. Maybe upon reading your findings and explanations more people in the world could become aware of these natural forces that they have been become blinded to. Mahalo

    • Hi Roger, and welcome! It’s great to hear that you’re from New York and have had the opportunity to visit Oahu! Have you visited Sacred Falls before?

      I’m a big fan of New York City, I’ve been there on a few occasions and really what the city has to offer. I haven’t been to upstate New York, though. Would love to visit one day and check out a hiking trail or two.

      Yes, John shares a very interesting perspective and I too find it fascinating. I may post a few more photos of Sacred Falls that I have!

      • Thank you Coty! Actually we had set out to go to Sacred Falls but had a feeling of intruding and didn’t want to seem disrespectful when we got there. We found plenty to do! We stayed in Waikiki but managed to put on over 700 miles on a rental car in 10 days. It was truly magnificent. We did hike to Kapena Falls & Wiamea Falls though and snorkeled everywhere possible
        Here , in Upstate NY is cool because in 3 hrs we can be in NYC, Boston or nearly Montreal OR in the middle of the several sets of mountains. We usually pick the peaceful mountains. YES winters are often tough with below zero temperatures and ice storms but we still make the best of it. There really are a lot of both natural and man made wonders here.
        We will be visiting Maui next year and can’t wait. The flights are killer though!

        Thanks for the pics!

  6. Halauepapa Kuuiwalakenikeni
    Reply

    I jus wouldn’t even mess wit it. See that day on mothers day it was said that everyone who got hurt was being very disrespectful. Its not made for the white man because when it comes to Hawaiian culture., only Hawaiians no what and how to carry the respect for such a sacred place. Hence the name sacred falls. I feel it should be kept sacred.

  7. Roger, Christina, Halauepapa, mahalo for comments, mythology has hidden boundaries for many who seek this unprofitable venue. I’m reminded, the taint delicacy of a subject acquainted by ancient history to exist before my eyes. Truly a gift…called, na`au au, just learned from our Kumu in halau class. Na`au po, including the kahako over the “o,” is the opposite.
    Its difficult to display the Oma`o warrior, the shadow warrior, or Kamapua`a…..he still visits Paeahu on Maui. He is ferocious!…….and……. After knowing his ferocity, it might be better to respect his presence. My thesis is coming along, I have to check in with you and show you a glimpse of my story. aloha john

  8. It is not just a ticket for entry into Sacred Falls. It is a crime with fines to $30K and imprisonment for 30 days. DLNR has a no tolerance policy and all violators will be cited for the crime. If anyone is injured rescuing you or arresting you, you could be subject to far greater criminal and civil charges.
    Please do not put officers and rescuers at risk at Sacred Falls.
    Much better to hike the legal trails at http://hawaiitrails.ehawaii.gov/.

    It would also be pretty cool if you did not post directions on how to violate.

    Mahalo,
    Ken

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