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.
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:
- Aihualama Falls
- Manoa Falls (also referred to as Waihinui Falls)
- Kahuwaiiki Falls (also referred to as Waihi Falls and nicknamed Nanoha Falls)
- Luaalaea Falls (also referred to as Luaaulaia Falls)
- Naniuapo Falls
- Waaloa Falls (also referred to as Queen’s Bath)
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.