Journey through Hana’s wilderness and you’ll be hard-pressed to name your favorite place. Between jungles thick with rainbow eucalyptuses to beaches framed by dramatic sea cliffs, Hana inspires awe after every single one of the 620 turns it takes to get to its heart.
But despite its many gems—including black, scarlet, and golden sand coves and a state park filled with grottos, caves, and blowholes—one of Hana’s most cherished and spectacular spots is, hands-down, Hanawi Falls. Located right after mile marker 24 on the famed Hana Highway, this epic wonder functions as a reminder of Earth’s immense, nearly incomprehensible splendor: Water at the lower falls cascades from a height of two hundred feet, rainforests glisten in the oft-seen rain, and the Pacific booms and beckons just below.
Hanawi Falls—whose Hawaiian translation remains unknown—is sustained by the Hanawi Stream, a spring-fed river that tracks into the ocean nine miles downslope. Given the surplus of water at its base, the falls—both Upper and Lower—cascade year-round, rendering it one of the most prodigious and photographed waterfalls in Hawaii.
One of the best places to views its magnificence is right off Hanawi Stream’s bridge, which, completed in 1926 (and comprising one of eighty bridges constructed between 1908 and 1940), emphasizes the sense that one is traveling back in time the deeper they voyage into Hana. With a couple of narrow pull-offs before and after the bridge, you can pop out of your car to near closer to its magic, snap pics, and listen to the roar its plunge creates. Adventurous travelers, meanwhile, ought to trek to the pool to view the erosion created by the torrent, or hop into the water for a swim. (Do note the water can be icy-cold.)
The imagery may be astounding, but the water itself—and the luxuriant jungle it nourishes—is something astounding as well. Surrounded by rainforest and copses of hala—a culturally significant tree distinguishable by its pineapple-shaped fruit—Hanawi Stream is part of a larger system, wherein 450 million gallons of rain per day empty into the tunnels and ditches of East Maui Irrigation Co. (Water pours into the ocean as well.) Hanawi Stream also houses Megalagrion pacificum, an endangered damselfly that’s endemic to the marshes and freshwaters of Hawaii, and feeds plants that range from white ginger and koa to ‘ohia lehua and sandalwood. Deemed one of the most pristine streams in the state of Hawaii, it flows down into the village of Nahiku.
Known by some as the former home of Beatles member George Harrison, this fertile, remote outpost is dominated by the sight of rubber trees—the result of an effort from 1905, when 25,000 Hevea brasiliensis were planted by the Nahiku Rubber Company to fill the nation’s growing need for tires. While the rubber plantation temporarily succeeded as the first of its kind in North America (Hawaii, at the time, was a U.S. territory), disappointing returns forced the company into closure in 1912. Years later, 40 prisoners incarcerated at the Ke’anae Prison Camp nearby were sent to Nahiku to revive the trees, but the plan, put into place by the Territorial Governor of Hawaii Ingram Stainback, ultimately failed—leaving behind a gift for us today in the giant, gorgeous rubber trees that line the area.
Coming from the term “Na Ehiku,” or “the seven,” Nahiku is an ahupua’a (or land division) that served a chief role in the ancient cultivation of taro—a starchy Hawaiian staple that’s consumed most commonly in poi. The ahupua’a also served as a leading destination for weekly coastal steamers, which would pull into Nahiku Landing; there, passengers would disembark and head out to Hana’s valleys on horseback.
During its prime as a rubber plantation, Nahiku—serenaded gently by Hanawi Falls—housed a post office and general store, as well as Mormon, Protestant, and Catholic churches and a schoolhouse attended by twenty children. Its tropical forests, teeming with ti, ferns, and native birds (including the endangered po’ouli), were also tapped to grow bananas and roselle—a type of hibiscus used to create bast fibre for matting and cords. And prior to Western colonialization, ancient Hawaiians used the land nearby to build the Pi’ilanihale Heiau. With construction beginning in the 13th century, the heiau was once the largest place of worship in Polynesia; today, it remains one of the most significant archeological sites in the Hawaiian Islands.
Today, the lush hamlet at the bottom of Hanawi Falls is home to Nahiku Marketplace—a cluster of eateries and shops that’s mainly characterized by its eclectic, colorful ambience (to say nothing of the fact that it’s the only stop of its kind in Hana). Here, you’ll find Nahiku Café—where hot coffee with coconut milk is a must for weary drivers—Island Style Tacos, Hana Highway Sorbet, My Thai, and Island Chef, all of which are served by an assortment of picnic tables in the shade. The array of flavors offered in this bazaar reflects the diversity of Maui itself (coconut shrimp, lavender candy, roasted breadfruit), while the artwork, composed by locals, is Earthy and vibrant. (Bonus tip: It’s also a great place for picking up rare souvenirs, from semiprecious jewelry to funky Hawaiian décor.)
Should you choose to hike around Hanawi Falls—which was featured on the Travel Channel’s “Dive Into Summer” series—know in advance that these are slippery parts. (Indeed, as one of the wettest regions on Maui, Nahiku and Hanawi Falls are vulnerable to flash floods.) Meaning: exercise safety, be mindful of the weather, and watch where you step. Additionally, as part of East Maui Irrigation Co. and its massive watershed, portions of the land surrounding the falls are prohibited from hiking and trespassing. And for good reason: merely peering into this verdant land—and at the falls themselves—provides us with one of the last glimpses into Hawaii’s pure, untouched beauty. With the Hanawi Falls roaring above and the ocean crashing below, is it any wonder, then, why this place is so beloved?
Much thanks to Van James with Ancient Sites of Maui, Moloka'i, Lana'i for the additional insight into Wai'anapanapa. We recognize the use of diacritical markings of the (modern) Hawaiian language including the ʻokina [ʻ] or glottal stop and the kahakō [ō] or macron (e.g., in place names of Hawaiʻi such as Lānaʻi). However, you may notice these diacritical markings have been omitted on some parts of this website to ensure the best online experience for our visitors. We recognizes the importance of using these markings to preserve the language and culture of Hawaii and respectfully uses them in all communications beyond the online platform.
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