A Quick Visit to Alapena Falls and Kapena Falls

You’re in town and you want a quick waterfall fix? And I mean really quick. Get your fix in Nuuanu, just a few minutes away from downtown Honolulu. Alapena Falls and Kapena Falls is the fastest waterfall hike on the island. Once you’ve parked your car, it will only take you about 3-5 minutes to reach the falls. Most of you won’t even break a sweat.

Since it’s been raining like crazy over the last few days/weeks, I’ve been out searching for as many waterfalls as I have time for. This time, I decided to bring Michelle along with me to Alapena and Kapena Falls so that she could add a few waterfalls to her Instagram repertoire. She was unimpressed by the hike to the falls, because, really, it’s not much of a hike. However, she enjoyed the falls. And so did I.

The best way to access these falls is via the Nuuanu Memorial Park & Mortuary. Park in the last lot at the very back of the park. facing the end of the parking lot, you will see a grassy trail leading to the falls. The trail will be on your left and will take you immediately to the stream. Almost instantly, you’ll spot Alapena Falls on your right. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it. Make your way down the short hill, swatting mosquitos along the way, and you’ll be rewarded with a small but pleasant waterfall.

Follow the short path beyond Alapena Falls and Kapena Falls will quickly come into view. The waterfall itself isn’t very large, but pool below it is. Many locals enjoy jumping into the pool, which is said to be anywhere between 15-30 feet deep. Of course, you can do the same, that is, if you would like to risk getting leptospirosis. In a 2010 assessment of the surrounding Nuuanu area, nearby Hawaii Baptist Academy mentioned:

“According the Department of Health, there is no law against swimming in Nu’uanu Stream and the pools. However, the Department of Health warns that the stream is a “hot spot” for leptospirosis, which can cause flu-like symptoms if it enters a person’s body from cuts or from drinking.”

Ancient Hawaiians have also been linked to Kapena Falls. Here’s a legend associated with the area:

“Once upon a time a couple of strangers came to Oahu and settled above Kapena Falls in Nuuanu Valley. The couple said they came from another island, but the folks who lived in Nuuanu began to suspect that they really came from Kahiki….The couple had five pet dogs. The larger of the five was called Poki. Each of the other dogs had names which have been forgotten. These dogs were much attached to the couple. They never left the environs of the couple’s home and they never allowed strangers to set foot within the grounds until either the man or the woman welcomed the visitors.

In time all friends of the couple became friends of the dogs and that was when people began to notice that these dogs were not ordinary dogs — they seemed to be kupuas in dog form, super-natural beings. The path to the Pali went by their home. Ordinarily the dogs did not stir when a stranger went by on the path minding his business. If the stranger tried to enter the home, the dogs set up a great howl, but they did not attack the stranger. Then there came a day when friends of the couple went by, journeying to the Pali. The dogs rushed out, set up a terrific howl and laid themselves across the Nuuanu path in front of the couple. One friend turned and returned to Waikiki, but the other friend patted the dogs and insisted upon going to the Pali. There he was set upon by robbers and killed.

The friend who had returned to Waikiki rejoiced that he had heeded the warning given by the kupua dogs. In time, the King of Oahu heard about the dogs and sent a company of men to the Pali to clean out the robber band which infested the place. After that, the people of Oahu realized that the dogs at Kapena Falls were really kupua dogs. When they journey by Kapena Falls, they got into the habit of leaving flowers, leis, ferns and food for the dogs. It was their way of saying ‘thank you’.”

So, if you visit Kapena Falls and you see a stray dog, say hi. The dog just might be one of the legendary kupua dogs.

Alapena Falls. The first waterfall that you encounter and a few feet from the Nuuanu Memorial Park back parking lot. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Alapena Falls. The first waterfall that you encounter and a few feet from the Nuuanu Memorial Park back parking lot. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Looks like I was looking for something. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Looks like I was looking for something. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Just upstream from Alapena Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Just upstream from Alapena Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Showing Michelle something. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Showing Michelle something. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Kapena Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Kapena Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Up close and personal with Kapena Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Up close and personal with Kapena Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Michelle Sagucio.

Alapena Falls and Kapena Falls Tips:

  • Instead of parking your car on the side of the Pali, like other websites suggest, simply park in Nuuanu Memorial Park & Mortuary. This will deter break-ins. Also, keep in mind that if you go on a Sunday morning, you’ll have the added protection of park security to watch over your vehicle.
  • Mosquito repellant. These falls are ridden with blood sucking mosquitos. You’ve been warned.

Total Distance: less than 0.5 mile roundtrip

Total Time: 5 minutes or less (to reach the falls).

Directions to Alapena Falls and Kapena Falls: By far, the easiest and probably safest way to get to Alapena Falls and Kapena Falls is via the Nuuanu Memorial Park & Mortuary. From town, get on the Pali Highway and head toward Kailua. You will take the Wyllie St. exit. The road will cross the highway. Turn left on to Nuuanu St and then follow the road and turn left into Nuuanu Memorial Park & Mortuary. Go all the way to the back of the graveyard and park in the last parking lot. Facing the end of the parking lot, you will see a grassy trail leading to the falls. The trail will be on your left and will take you immediately to the stream. You’ll see Alapena Falls first and then Kapena Falls shortly after.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

2 comments

  1. Go back to that area! There are some very prominent petroglyphs in that area…Mainly of Kaupe the mischievous dog spirit that haunted Nuuanu Valley and some human forms as well. The human form petroglyphs have arches that go from one shoulder to the other called the Kanaka Anuenue or the Rainbow Warrior….Most of them are located behind some rebar “enclosures” to prevent them from being vandalized.

    • I definitely want to go back, Baron! I’m actually planning to visit a bunch of Ancient sites throughout the island. Petroglyphs, Pohaku, Heiau’s , fishponds, etc. for the blog. We go one day!

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