Time: 4-5 HOURS
Distance: 4 MILES
Elevation Gain: 650 FEET
Foot Traffic: LOW
Challenges: Requires Guide, River Crossings, Muddy, Overgrown
Sights: Halawa Valley, Mo'olua Falls
What to Bring: Water, Snack, Swimsuit for the falls
One of the most secluded and sacred places in all of Hawaii, this hike takes you deep into Halawa Valley, one of the first places in the Hawaiian Islands settled by the Polynesians. You will cross rivers, brush up against beautiful native plants, and see some of the remains of the ancient Hawaiian Heiaus (temples). The highlight of the hike is when you reach Moa'lua Falls, a beautiful, two-tiered waterfall at the end of the valley with a massive swimming hole. Legend has it, a giant lizard lives in the bottom of this pool. If you place a native ti leaf on the water's surface and it floats, the lizard accepts your presence and you may enter. An incredibly mystical and unique place, there's a lot to love about the Halawa Valley Falls Hike.
I'm a planner, there's no denying it. When I take these little solo trips, I have a pretty solid idea of what I want to do each day. I am never opposed to a little spontaneity, but more often than not, I am able to stick to my plan. The sequence of events that led me to experience the Halawa Valley Falls Hike were not at all part of that plan. I am very grateful it happened, because it led to a memorable adventure.
My day began at sunrise in my AirBnB as I watched the sun gradually illuminate the visible islands of Maui and Lanai. After a quick PB sandwich for breakfast, I began the scenic 28 Mile Drive to the eastern end of Molokai.
About an hour later, I found myself at the end of the road at the beautiful Halawa Beach Park. I decided to get out to stretch my legs. I figured I would wonder around for a little bit to soak in the scenery and take some pictures. Here's a shot I took right at the edge of Halawa Bay. You can barely make it out but there's a waterfall all the way at the end of the valley.
Here's proof with a stronger lens if you didn't believe me. Despite never having been here, I knew this to be Mo'olua Falls, the waterfall at the end of the Halawa Valley Falls hike. I knew about this hike before coming here, but from what I had read, the only way to get there was to do a guided hike. You had to travel on private land to get to the falls. I had looked into booking the tour, but according to the information I found, they didn't give one on Sundays. Still, I was intrigued. I decided to wander around and see if there was another way to get to the falls.
I ventured into the valley a little bit, but came up empty. There really wasn't a way to get there without having to circumvent some serious obstacles or trespass. Oh well. There were supposed to be some pretty awesome nature preserves in the center of the island. That had been my original plan anyway.
As I began my drive back, I passed Halawa Park, which I knew to be the meeting spot for the hike. I saw a group of people hanging by their cars who had not been there previously. I poked my head out of my car and asked if they were doing the hike. They said no, but they pointed to a woman and her daughter and said they were about to do it.
I parked and started chatting to the mother (Candy) and the daughter (Katie). I learned that they had already paid for the guided hike and had booked it through their hotel over a month ago. They were just waiting for the guide to show. I asked if they minded if I tried to pay the guide when he got here and join them. They said certainly!
40 minutes later... no guide. There was zero cell service (we are deep in a valley after all) so there was no way to contact him. After some discussion, Katie and I decided we would try to do the hike anyway. Our rationale was two people had already paid to do this hike. The worst thing that could happen was we'd have to turn around... right?
And with that, we were off! The first thing we passed was this cute little church on the side of the road. I could already tell this was going to be an interesting adventure, regardless of if we reached the falls.
With a little trial and error, we managed to find what looked to be a trail that led to this river. I won't tell you how to get there, you really should book the tour. I know I'm a hypocrite. If you really want to do this hike without a guide, you can probably figure it out with the use of technology.
We were forced to cross that river in the above picture. It didn't have that strong of a current, but as you can see it was about knee high. No better way to learn a stranger's character than being forced to cross a river! Well that and venturing deep into a valley with them without knowing where you are going. Nothing sketchy about that either, right? Anyway...
There were some trail markers along the way, but they were few and far between. For the most part, we were going in blind.
There was this long bendy pipe along the ground that we followed. Despite being in such a remote location, I noticed the houses we had passed earlier had modern water systems. I wondered if it was this small pipe that was supplying the houses or if it was something else. Sometimes it requires a walk in to the wilderness to start pondering these questions.
We came across a large pile of rocks that lined our trail. We believed these to be the remains of one of the ancient Hawaiian Heiaus (temples). The spiritual nature of this terrain was beginning to show itself.
The plant life along this trail was quite impressive. I know Hawaii is known for its scenic landscapes where the mountains meet the Pacific. It's easy to overlook the beauty of some of these thick green forests. I always try to take some time to appreciate them.
And of course take some time to photograph them. I forget what it's like to have a hiking partner sometimes since I typically hike solo. It really is great to have someone who can take pictures of you so you can show your friends how cool and outdoorsy you are.
Of course that requires a little quid pro quo. Here's a shot of Katie looking at these huge leaves. Seriously, these things were massive. While looking at these, I fell into a brief daydream where I imagined someone fanning me with these as I lay on a big comfy chair and ate some pineapple. And...I'm back! Moving on.
At times, the trail got a little overgrown. But if you've hiked anywhere else in Hawaii, you are probably used to it.
But then it would open up to some more beautiful plant scenery.
After wandering around in the brush for a while, the path led us back to the stream. We began to hear the sounds of heavier water flow in the distance. We were getting close! I think...
We had to cross the river once again to get to the falls. Special mahalo to Katie for letting me take these action shots.
Another photo of some of the beautiful plants lining the trail. I really need to get better at naming these things.
We made it, Moa'lua Falls! Since moving to Hawaii, I have ventured to quite a few waterfalls (check out all my Waterfall hikes). I always try to find something that makes the waterfall unique in my memory. For this one, the strong flow and two-tiered nature of the falls were the characteristics that caught my eye.
A little composition I was going for with the vibrant yellow flower in foreground #forthegram
We decided to venture down to the pool and go for a swim. We were surprised to find that we were not the only ones here. There was a couple there already, enjoying its beauty. This guy was trying to climb up to that little cave. That is about as far as he made it.
After relaxing and soaking in the moment for a bit, I decided to hop in the water to clean up and cool off. As is typical, the water was a bit chilly, but it felt great after the 2+ mile hike to get here.
I decided to swim close to the waterfall to get my patented close up shot. I was only able to linger in this spot for a few seconds. As soon as I stopped swimming the force of the water jetted me back out to the center of the pool. This was the first time I'd experienced a waterfall with so much power at its base that I was actually physically unable to stay below it. Really impressive.
A nice wet lens shot looking back into the valley. I will never get tired of spots like these.
As I got out of the water to towel off, a large group of people arrived at the falls. From the looks of it, it had to be one of the guided tours. After they settled in at the falls, a man who appeared to be the guide, approached us. He asked how we had found the falls. We explained the situation, how we had been waiting for a guide but he never showed up so we just went for it, not wanting to miss out on this magical experience. The man revealed that he was in fact the guide we had been waiting for, he had just shown up a little bit after the rendezvous time (roughly an hour and a half after if you must know).
Instead of being hostile, the man was friendly, saying those who venture here without a guide often never make it. He proceeded to say "your unconscious must have led you here and thus you have earned your right of passage." You can take that however you want. For me, I was humbled and grateful I managed to find and experience such an incredible and sacred place.
After a few more minutes, we decided it was time to head back. There was plenty more of Molokai to explore. With one last look at the falls, we began our trek back through the magical Halawa Valley.
What a morning it had been! I had hiked to and swam in a sacred waterfall, earned the respect of a local Hawaiian man, and made a new friend in the process. Not one of theses things had been on my agenda for the day. Sometimes, it seems, it's those days that never go according to plan that make for the most rewarding experiences and memories.
Check out my video of this hike!
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Also Check Out:
- The Official Website for booking a guided tour
- This great write-up about the hike and its history