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The Hidden Manoa Waterfalls Tour: Exploring The Depths of Manoa Valley

Note: All of the waterfalls posted here are on non-sanctioned trails and are not open to the public. 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.”

This past weekend I had the chance to meet a notable figure within the Hawaii hiking community. His name is Baron Yamamoto and he is known as “dacrazybastid” and “mistah majah rajah.” Okay, I made that last nickname up. I can’t for sure confirm whether people call him that or not, but it does fit. Baron’s specialty is off-the-beaten-path waterfall hunting and he has an affinity for “majah rajahs,” or waterfalls with a strong flow. So, when Baron invited me to tag along with him on a trip to visit 4 of the 6 major waterfalls in the Manoa area, a trip that he dubbed the “Manoa Waterfalls Tours,” there was no way that I could turn down that opportunity. I was all in.

The start of our journey began by taking a detour off of the Manoa Falls Trail and crossing Waihi Stream. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The group checking out Waihi Falls, or what we later learned was officially called Kahuwaiiki Falls Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Of course, the requisite group shot. I’m not sure what Christian is doing here. I told him to look at the camera! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Mr. WST. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

This about the same time that we were all laughing at Chrisitan, because he had torn his shorts! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

I mentioned that we would be visiting 4 of the 6 major Manoa waterfalls. So what are the 6? In order from the westernmost waterfall we have:

  1. Aihualama Falls
  2. Manoa Falls (also referred to as Waihinui Falls)
  3. Kahuwaiiki Falls (also referred to as Waihi Falls and nicknamed Nanoha Falls)
  4. Luaalaea Falls (also referred to as Luaaulaia Falls)
  5. Naniuapo Falls
  6. Waaloa Falls (also referred to as Queen’s Bath)
  7. Waiakeakua Falls

Wait, that’s seven, but didn’t I say that we would be visiting four out of the six (not seven) Manoa waterfalls? Conventional thought suggests that there are six major waterfalls in Manoa. A fellow hiker that joined us on this day was convinced that there are seven rather than six major waterfalls in Manoa. The controversial seventh waterfall refers to, I think, Waaloa Falls (also known as Queens Bath). With a little research, it looks like she might be right. Sort of. This blogger seems to believe in there being seven waterfalls, while Keahi Kaawa, a local hiker whose specialty is the Manoa area, seems to believe that Waaloa is a spring rather than a waterfall. In this post dated August 30, 2011, Keahi says:

“I think I’m very close to finding Waaloa Spring, which I think is off a side trail from Naniu’apo. I have been able to connect Wahi, Lua’alaea, and Naniu’apo without trespassing on private lands. With some help of the greater hiking community, we hope to make all of them interconnected a complete reality in short order. When that time comes, I promise to share that with all of you, that way, we all can care for these treasures that were once hidden, but deserve to be seen.”

Less than a month later, Keahi confirmed that he found Waaloa Springs and that there is no waterfall attached:

“Waaloa Spring is amazing! The water is fresh, and it comes right out of the mountain. As I sat next to it, I began to envision my Hawaiian Ancestors, sitting at that very spot, filling their gourds, thanking their ‘Aumakua for protecting them and this valuable resource. I’m guessing that there might not be many people interested in this, especially since there is no waterfall connected to it, but I find this place to be serene, calm, and full of mana.”

And fortunately for us, we had passed it (Waaloa Falls), on the way to Waiakeakua Falls. In any case, prior to this hike, I had been to just the first two major falls, the two that EVERYONE and their aunt visits, Manoa Falls and Aihualama Falls. I’d never set foot on the trails leading to the other, more obscure, Manoa waterfalls. With that said, I have been researching the area for the past few months or so, but never found the time to go and hunt for these hidden waterfalls. And if I did, I would have probably gone about visiting them individually on separate hiking trips. This was my chance to pump out all of the hidden falls in one trip.

Ahnate decided to go barefoot for 95% of the hike. Hardcore. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The group working their way to Luaalaea Stream to see Luaalaea Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Along Luaalaea Stream, Baron spotted this fallen tree. A few of us decided to climb atop it, of course. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Barefoot Ahnate on the fallen Luaalaea Tree. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel on the tree. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The crew for this day hike included Baron Yamamoto, Aaron Toma, Christian Young, Janice Duldulao, Aprille Manzano, Lhisa Babu, someone named The Sandman, and Exploration: Hawaii regulars Ahnate Lim and Joel Sabugo. The hike started off at the Manoa Falls trailhead. We made our way through the gravel covered and well manicured trail until we reached a junction, which Baron called the “right fork,” that would lead us to Kahuwaiiki Falls. This particular falls is also referred to by many as Waihi Falls, probably because it’s located at the end of Waihi Stream. Another hiker even nicknamed it Nanoha Falls. The hike to Kahuwaiiki Falls was the most rough compared to the other waterfall trails that we would be heading down this day. I say that it’s rough because, well, there really isn’t much of a trail. We spent most of the time rock hopping across a slippery stream, while ducking in and out of fallen tree branches. Getting to Kahuwaiiki Falls was a pain, but totally worth it. Kahuwaiiki Falls was huge and definitely looked to be much larger than its more popular neighbor, Manoa Falls.

Once we had our fill of Kahuwaiiki Falls, we reversed track the same way that we came. Eventually, we made our way back on to the Manoa Falls trail. With my shoes muddy and pants caked in mud up to the knees, the clean hikers stomping on the gravel covered Manoa Falls trail stared at me wondering what laid ahead for them. One even pondered out loud whether they even wanted to continue on the Manoa Falls trail! I told them not to worry and that we had done some exploring off the main trail. They seemed happy about that. Not long after we made it back on the Manoa Falls trail, we hit the junction to Luaalaea Falls. The junction is near the beginning of the Manoa Falls trail and is part of a restoration project. This is when our group of 10 dwindled to 9, as Christian left to join some other friends for a jaunt up Mariner’s Ridge.

Joel and Ahnate checking out lower Luaalaea Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Dirty. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Lhisa and The Sandman in front of Luaalaea Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel enamored by Luaalaea Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Luaalaea up close. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Baron making a funny kine face. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Exploration: Hawaii Crew. Photo by Baron Yamamoto.

The trail to Luaalaea Falls was actually well maintained compared to the trail leading to Kauhuwaiiki Falls. You’ll cross Waihi Stream and work your way towards Luaalaea Stream. From there, the trail will follow the stream bed toward the falls. This particular trail also had a lot of ribbons, many of which looked particularly new. We found a tree that had fallen perpendicular to the stream, right across of it. Of course, the daredevils, starting with Baron, couldn’t resist climbing on top of it. Admittedly, it did make for some cool shots. What’s interesting about Luaalaea Falls is that you get to see the lower falls before reaching the upper falls. The lower falls looks almost man made and is about 15-18 ft. tall with a small pool below. The upper falls was considerably dry, with just a small pool below. There was a lot of debris below the falls, fallen rocks, branches and tree trunks. When waterfall hunting, always be aware of your surroundings because you never know when a falling rock will have your head as a target.

We spent about 45 minutes sitting around Luaalaea Falls just relaxing, snacking, and talking story. Ahnate shared some tales from his adventurous completion of the Waianae Summit Trail, which he completed in one go a few weeks ago, over a three-day period. Following our mini-break, we once again reversed track with our sights set on Naniuapo Falls. As we worked toward Naniuapo Falls, I pointed out a bunch of mountain apple trees. Ahnate and I plimmaged as many Mountain Apples as we could get our hands on. They were juicy and addictive. As I write this post I sit here craving a freshly picked, deep red and ripened Manoa mountain apple.

Ahnate trying to not break Janice’s DSLR. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Luaalaea in the background. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Da Crazy Bastid. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Baron sharing some hiking stories. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Nature. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

At this point, we were quite far from the Manoa Falls trail, so instead of jumping back on to Manoa Falls Trail, we continued pass a junction that hooked a left to Luaalaea Falls. With that said, one could easily access Naniuapo Falls by hopping on the Luaalaea Falls trail that jets off from the Manoa Falls Trail and then hook a right and this critical junction. Not long after we passed the junction, we began to hear music thumping from the seemingly nearby neighborhood. This is also when the trail began to get rough again. The cross over from Luaalaea Falls to Naniuapo Falls was overgrown and filled with mosquitos. We all immediately began spaying bug spray all over our limbs. Once we got on the Naniuapo Falls trail, it was yet again, surprisingly, quite clear and open. Unfortunately, the falls was also dry, with just a trickle of water falling down. I imagine it to be quite the sight during periods of heavy rain. We didn’t spend too much time at Naniuapo Falls, and honestly, it’s probably my least favorite of the four falls that we saw on this day.

Joel and Coty in front of Naniuapo Falls. Photo by Baron Yamamoto.

The Naniuapo Haunted House. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

An abandoned car on the Seven Bidges on Manoa Trail en route to Waiakeakua Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Janice climbs over the fallen tree. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

And out of nowhere this stairway pops into view. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate taking a deep in Queen’s Bath. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Probably more interesting than Naniuapo Falls was the trail leading from Naniuapo Falls to Waiakeakua Falls. I was totally stoked to do this portion because we would be using the Seven Bridges of Manoa trail in order to reach Waiakeakua Falls. The story goes:

“People have reported hearing a banshee in the thick, deep foliage along the trail. Phantasms of various sorts have been reported along the Seven Bridges Trail. Also, some locals say that if you hike across the seven bridges and count them, on the way, you’ll number 7. On the way back, however, you’ll only be able count 6 of them.”

Along the way, we passed what Baron called the Naniuapo Haunted House, as well as abandoned cars, and old metal street signs of years past. And yes, there are old wooden bridges. I can’t say that the walk down the Seven Bridges trail was particularly eerie, however, I’m sure that if I were alone, things would be different. I could easily see how one could allow their minds to wonder, imagining banshees and phantoms with every little blow of the wind or creak of bamboo shoots.

Once we reached the Seven Bridges junction, we hooked a left toward Waiakeakua Falls. Along this trail, we encountered a large fallen tree that we had to climb over. I was quite surprised by how well-manicured this trail was. Just past the fallen tree, you’ll reach a seemingly out of place stone staircase. After a long day of hiking, this relatively short staircase felt like an eternity to summit. Once at the top, the trail will continue to meander, passing more mountain apple trees. In fact, the mountain apples here were much easier to pick! I grabbed a few while the others trekked forward.

Eventually, you will reach a junction of sorts. This portion is notably because on both sides of the stream will be what looked like old locked up doors to maybe some old water tunnels. Down below will be what everyone called “Queen’s Bath.” I never heard of this particular location before, but further research suggests that this might be what some consider to be “Waaloa Falls.” Though, it might be a stretch to call this a “waterfall.” Although the pool below was quite deep, the “falls” was maybe just 3 feet tall, or so. Needless to say, Ahnate took a dip in Queen’s Bath and thoroughly enjoyed himself.

Ahnate enjoying life. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

We found more mountain apples! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Injured hiker just below the lower tier of Waiakeakua Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate hanging out on the lower tier of Waiakeakua Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate and Joel on the middle tier of Waiakeakua Falls. Ahnate’s climbing up to see upper Waiakeakua Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Follow the trail that goes to the left of Queen’s Bath and you will be about 30 minutes from Waiakeakua Falls. The final waterfall of our Hidden Manoa Waterfalls Tour was probably my favorite of the bunch. It was so much fun. You’ve got a lower pool that is very inviting and deep enough, about 6-7 feet, that you can jump in for a swim. At this waterfall we also met two other people, which was a big surprise for me. I didn’t think that we would be meeting other people on this hike. One of these guys actually slipped as he worked his way to the lower Waiakeakua Falls pool and hit his head. Fortunately, he was okay. One of the guys turned out to be a good friend of a fellow Exploration: Hawaii reader, Sebastian Marquez. Both Sebastian and Dylan help to maintain the Manoa Cliff Trail.

Once I reached the lower portion of Waiakeakua Falls, I sat for a bit and then decided to join the rest of the crew on the upper portion. To do this, I contoured the waterfall on the right side barefoot. The climb up was fairly easy and in no time I had reached the upper portion, or as I would find out, the middle tier of Waiakeakua Falls. This middle tier consists of an even larger pool that Janice, Aprille, Ahnate, and Joel decided to test out and swim in. Aaron and I decided to sit back and stay dry. The more daring of the group decided to venture even further up by climbing the left side of the falls in order to reach upper Waiakeakua Falls. There are two ropes situated to the left of the middle tier waterfall chute. Both Ahnate and Janice took this route up. Baron, took a second route up that contours up the left of the middle falls.

Speaking to Baron, I found out that he, Keahi Kaawa, and Cory Yap took the time to clear this area from overgrowth (of course, no native plants were harmed or removed). Because of this, you can now see the middle tier while down at the lower falls. It’s beautiful and a great place to feel LOST. I appreciate the hard work that these guys put into making these falls as unobstructed and visible as possible. Much kudos to these guys, especially Keahi, who researched and shared these various routes with Baron, who in turn shared it with us on this day. Such an epic hike with such a great crew. We all meshed well and spent a lot of time laughing, which is always a good sign. The Unauthorized Hidden Manoa Waterfalls Tour was an epic hike with an epic crew and one that will not be soon forgotten.

Explorers: Lhisa Babu, Janice Duldulao, Coty Gonzales, Ahnate Lim, Aprille Manzano, The Sandman, Joel Sabugo, Aaron Toma, Baron Yamamoto, and Christian Young.

Total Distance: 6.96 miles.

Total Time: 7 hours and 30 minutes.

Directions to the Manoa Falls Trailhead: If heading east on H1, you will take the Exit 23 (Punahou) or if heading west on H1 you will take the Exit 24 (Wilder). Continue on Wilder to the third light and take a right on Punahou. Continue up Punahou, toward the mountains. Punahou turns in Manoa road by staying left at the fork in the road. You will soon come to a five way intersection. Stay on Manoa road. Manoa Road continues into the back of Manoa Valley and ends at Paradise Park. Follow the road and park in the Manoa Falls parking lot. The parking charge is $5. Follow the road, on foot, uphill and to your right. You’ll reach a fork in the road, to the left will be the entrance to the Lyon Arboretum and straight ahead will be a gate indicating the start of the Manoa Falls Trail.

Da Majah Rajah Huntah. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Aaron on the middle tier of Waiakeakua Falls looking down to the lower tier. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Taking the Seven Bridges Path home. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

About Coty

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

18 comments

  1. Ah man I wish wen go with you guys. I probably couldn’t go because of my kid’s baseball game. but I want to learn the routes for the waterfall system there. Was Christian adjusting his nipple in the one of the earlier shots? Where is a pic of the tall Waiakeakua Falls? I want to climb up it one day and I wanted to see an honest pic of it. I’ve seen it from different angles, some make it look easy, some make it look scary dangerous. Anyway you lucky you had the hiking bastid guide you. What a privilege.

  2. Awesome write up and very vivid photos, Coty…But just to be clear, the plants we cleared near the falls were not native plants. They were leaves and stalks from the ginger that grows over and around the pools…Great times in Manoa!!!

  3. Flattering words, Coty but I am just an average hiker who is still honing my hiking and climbing skills. I learn from everybody whom I hike with whether it’s a hiking trail/tip, new tools or equipment or even talking story about past failures that help a hiker learn from their own mistakes. I try to convey some of the many many mistakes that I have made and compare notes with others…I have learned many lessons from my close hiking buddies Giovanni Acosta, Cory Yap, Joshua Serrano, Troy Takara, Reanne Solomon, Jeremy Kreis, Jenelyn Castillo, Jen Liu, Katie Ersbak. The list of hikers I have learned from other than my close friends are too numerous. I am grateful that Hawaii peeps have such a great love for hiking.

    • Hey Baron! It’s the local style to be humble! But you definitely got skills ;) It’s good to learn different techniques from different people. Glad to have hiked with you and hopefully we can meet up again for some future hikes! Stay crazy.

  4. Great post. I was hoping someone would correct me since I wasn’t that satisfied with my list. The Queen’s bath version makes sense for Waaloa. I’d wondered about that and It makes more sense it would get a separate name if there’s a spring associated with it (which I now have to find)

    The question of how many falls is always open to debate since there are dozens if all the ones along Waihi and Waiakeakua streams are included – as they are when people refer to the 8 waterfalls of Mo’ole valley.

    BTW, that house isn’t haunted. In realtor-speak it’s just a fixer-upper that needs some TLC and imagination.

  5. Wonderful write up and thanks for mentioning “Nanoha Falls”! lol =p
    I absolutely LOVE Manoa Valley. It’s probably my favorite place on the island, especially after a good rain.

    Oh, also I saw an additional waterfall while I was out there by complete accident. It’s called “bamboo falls” because it falls off a small cliff with bamboo on the top. It’s just off the Naniuapo Falls trail, just before you get to the old houses. Not as exciting as the others but still kind of pretty.
    https://punynari.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/manoa-valley-31.jpg

    • Thanks Punynari! Yeah, we saw Bamboo Falls too! Not too sure what the water source for that one is though. Pretty neat! So now we’re at 8 Manoa waterfalls?! Let’s go find more!

  6. Aloha. FYI, in between Naniuapo and Waiakeakua strea, there is another stream called Waaloa. After passing the trail that takes you to Naniuapo, you will come to a brokeb fence and a missing gate. You can see the river ( Waiakeakua) flowing next to it and if you look carefully, there are two broken walls. There used to be a bridge here. Cross the stream. There’s a feint path that will take you to a broken bridge. Once you cross the bridge, it forks. I went as far as the ‘cave’/tunnel if you take the right fork. You can also see many empty ‘pots’ and some bottles. If you take the left, you will come across some blue ribbons…and bamboo forest. This is as far as I went. Will probably venture out again and see if I can find the Waaloa spring. :-)

  7. Hi Coty,
    On my recent journey near Waaloa, I was surprised to find that it is a waterfall system. My friends and I climbed it’s various tiers and up the steep chute. I believe the waterfall dries up quicker than any of the bigger Manoa waterfalls since it has no basin or bog to contain the rainfall. Someone has already been back there. We found various ropes on some waterfall tiers. Unfortunately most of the tiers do not have any formed pools. I think the spring Keahi is referring to is the the flow that disappears from the waterfall and reappears downstream. At any rate, the Waaloa Spring he shared with us is truly tranquil.

    • Right on, Baron! Man, I seriously need to join in on one of your hikes again! Bummed out that I missed the Maunawili/Goonies exploration! Maybe next time!

  8. We (touristy tourists LOL) were on a hiking tour in late June, going to see the Naniuapo Falls. There was a rock fall that occured that severely hurt my little girl and caused minor injuries to my neice and another gentleman on the tour. Several rocks fell, broke apart and hit my girl in the back of her torso causing 6 fractured ribs, a collapsed lung, lacerated liver among other inuries. We waited for an hour for her to be heli-lifted out near the falls. She spent 5 days in ICU, and 10 days total in the hospital. We were vacationing and wanted to see the landscape firsthand. My daughter is completely recovered now, thankfully, 4 weeks later amazingly — but the outcome would have been different if the 15lb chunk that hit her landed on her head and not her torso. We blame no one! I really liked all the informaton you posted here because since we are back to normal life, I’ve been researching where we were, just wanting to know more about the area (unfortunately we went in as blind tourists not really realizing there was real peril in hiking to a waterfall in the rainforest). We love nature, but I thought I’d share with you avid hikers who know the area — so that you are aware that the Naniuapo Falls recently experienced a rock slide (like the one that killed Gladstone Wright). It made the news but it was reported as Manoa Tunnel Trail — which was inaccurate after I researched further. So forgive my ignorance, but has anyone ever scaled the sumitt of Naniuapo (it’s just a rock wall pretty much) — what lies atop, where does that water come from?

    • Thank you for sharing! Yes, I remember seeing the incident on the news. I am very happy to hear that your daughter is recovered!

      Yes, we were all a little confused about the trail being called the Manoa Tunnels Trail. Are you sure that you weren’t on the Waiakeakua Falls trail? That one is slightly more frequented, unlike Naniuapo. And yes, these waterfalls do continue on much higher.

      • I just checked out some pix of Waiakeakua Falls and that wasn’t it. There is no interesting pool of water at the bottom. It was Naniuapo, because the tour company that took us on the trail has a video of the trek on their Web site naming it Naniuapo.

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