of the Gods
by Veronica S.
The Rare Iiwi Bird
The word for wealth and prosperity in the Hawaiian
language is 'wai-wai', 'water-water' or 'abundant water'.
Young Pele might well reside over the fire of the volcano;
with the life-giving power of water the old gods continue
their legacy in the wild rainforests and remote valleys
of Hamakua and Kohala. Here, with supernatural force,
they summon down the rains, sheltering Mauna Kea in
a blanket of snow which in due time will melt. Gushing
waterfalls and magnificent torrents pour down to the
ever thirsty taro plant, older than man and woman, the
staff of life for the Hawaiian people.
The mountains that channel this sacred water are inaccessible
and dark; the coastline is stark, with sheer and forbidding
cliffs, permanently eroded and ribboned with silver
liquid drama. The waterfalls of Hawaii, filled with
the splendor of nature and dizzy with the legends of
mythology are often hidden, but there are some breathtaking
openings, cloistered in the wilderness, quietly inviting
those who wish to view the ancient mystery.
A new secluded location opened up only five months
ago. South from Waipio, about 14 miles before Hilo on
Highway 19, the World Botanical Gardens now offers access
to the dramatic and gorgeous Umauma Falls. The 300 acre
Garden Project is still in its first stages but has
the potential to change this desolate sugarcane field
into an exciting botanical venture. The owners envision
30,000 species of plants, as well as a unique Wedding
Grove where newly-weds and not-so-newly-weds can plant
their own memorial native Hawaiian Tree. Umauma Falls
shows the immense power of erosion at its peak: The
three separate falls cascading down will soon merge
into one tremendous torrent rivaling neighboring Akaka
Falls. In the background, staged by Beauty itself, the
sharp outline of Mauna Kea's summit, rolls toward you.
On a clear day, Umauma's valley walls appear as mere
side curtains for the grandiose play of Falls and Mountain.
Further down Hwy. 19 toward Hilo, Rd 22 leads to Honomu.
Follow this road to nowhere, through deserted ghostlike
cane fields and past an occasional lonesome horse. You
will suddenly drive into the 65 acre Akaka Falls State
Park. Here are the famous Akaka Falls which drop 442
feet into a fairylike plunge pool. The edges are cradled
by lush heleconia, orchids and ferns. Bamboo, striped
bright yellow and green and as thick as a man's wrist,
shields it from the sun and rain. Gingerplants, 15 feet
tall, tower toward an ever-changing sky. The Akaka Falls
are twice the height of the Niagara Falls. The dense
basalt of the rock's wall has resisted the forces of
erosion while the pool below, supported by softer stones,
has eaten a deep cavity. Akaka Falls can swiftly change
from furious steel sheets to misty silver ribbons of
rainbow liquid. An easy trail over wooden bridges and
past bubbling creeks leads to Kahuna Falls, tumbling
400 feet down. Secluded by cliffs overgrown with wild
orchids, they are truly the 'hidden falls of the wise'.
Just before downtown Hilo flows the Wailuku river.
It gently cascades over a total drop of 200 feet, rushed
forward by three dramatic falls. Wai-anuenue, or Rainbow
falls, drop an enchanting and spectacular 80 feet into
a deep, large pool. With its enormous lava boulders
and hollow deep caves, it invokes visions of times before
humans ever set foot on Hawaiian ground. When the torrent
of water hits the river below, the reflecting mists
throw myriads of rainbows in the air. Morning light
creates magic. Underneath the pool, so it is said, lives
Hina, the mother of Maui.
Further upstream, at Pe'epe'e Falls State Park, water
and fire continue their never-ceasing ribaldry. The
park, despite its treasures, lies mostly deserted. A
lonely golfer hits a practice ball. A few children play
on the grass. Behind them, long ago, hot molten lava,
as if it had giant paws, pitted the riverbed. The water
spills over these deep imprints as if to extinguish
the fires in the belly of the earth. This bizarre interplay
appears as a series of bubbling rapids. Boiling Pots
we call them today. Pe'epe'e Falls itself, just upstream,
augments the drama. In three to five separate ribbons
it spouts into Wailuku River, crashing over the pools,
to join the impatient ocean in the distance. The third
true fall in Wailuku, Waiale, gushes down, further up
toward the bridge. The narrow road leads you deeper
and deeper into the heart of old Hilo's farms, where
time ceased long ago.
Hamakua is the land of tall cliffs and abundant rain.
Hilo averages 128 inches of rain per year! All along
its coastline back to Waipio, invisible waterfalls,
in their never-ceasing motion, tumble down. At Honoka'a,
follow Rd 240. Here, the fearless traveler can hike
down into deep and broad Waipio Valley. Look up at its
immense falls and sense the deep mystique that surrounds
old Waipio, valley of the kings. In the far back tumbles
Hi'ilawe, 'lift and carry', the highest free-fall waterfall
in Hawaii and one of the highest in the world. It drops
1200 feet into a stream which meanders over the valley
floor, merging with the ocean at a large black sand
beach. Long, long ago the god Lono came to Hi'ilawe
to find himself a bride. When he saw his beautiful maiden,
Kaikilani, living in a breadfruit tree at a pool in
the distance, he cast a rainbow to her heart and traveled
down to carry her away. Hi'ilawe's water has been diverted
for irrigation, so that only one of its two spouts cascades
All over, however, Waipio's 2000 feet of towering lava
walls are bejeweled with green emerald trees and silver
threads of water, the marriage of forest and falls.
Closer to the beach, facing the stream and looking upward
to the look-out point, tumbles Ka-luahine, 'the old
lady', in a majestic 620 feet drop.
At Waipio the Kohala mountains start, its valleys so
deep and rugged that no road leads through. Here too,
awe-inspiring waterfalls cascade down the harsh mountain
sides. These mountains, now unforgiving, were once immensely
populated. There are traces of old taro terraces in
the remote depths of this rugged land. In Pololu, on
the Kohala side, and Waimanu, on the Hamakua side, people
continued living up till the 19th century. Then the
prospect of easier lifestyles lured even the strongest
farmers away. To go through these mountains today, the
traveler must drive from Waipio, via Waimea, to the
town of Kapaau on the other side.
At Pololu, one can see on a clear day the immense falls
of Oniu, Ohiahuea and Waikaloa. Chiseled by the winds
and pounded by the waves, the cliffs of the Kohala mountains
offer a fierce glimpse into the heart of the Hawaiian
wilderness. The sometimes gentle rivers and falls of
Hamakua and Kohala can also ravage and kill all life
The water that gives life and brings food, belongs
truly to the wild forests of the gods.
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appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and
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