Lost in the woods just above the Honolulu city lights is a mystical place. Deep within the crevices of the Palolo Valley, there lies a trail to the top of the Ko’olau ridge overlooking the entire southern and eastern sides of the island of Oahu. Pristine beaches, lush forests, bustling cityscapes and views like no other are spread out in wonder simply waiting for a lucky soul’s eyes to feast on.
A heavy rain made this flow at the second fall quite spectacular.
H1 East to 6th Avenue exit, Left Crossing H1 then beyond the first light to Waialua Ave, Follow Waialua Ave down four roads and turn left onto 10th Avenue. 10 Avenue will fork after a mile and you will follow the right fork. The end of this private road will be a Diamond Sangra Zen Temple. Park on the outside of their property along the one-lane road or near the entrance in the parking spot. Below is the map.
This is the only section of the falls deep enough to wade out. Brown murky water.
What to Bring:
Three big bottles of water or more, shoes/boots and maybe extra socks, small lunch, backpack or something light to carry all the snacks and water in, hat, sunscreen, bug spray, camera. Swimming is only really possible in the first falls, but you would simply be wading as none of the falls are deep enough to swim submerged in.
Description: This is the adventure that awaits you on Ka’au Crater.
Watch your step up the third fall as you will be climbing rope after rope.
Located in the Palolo Valley off 10th Avenue off the H1 highway, the hike begins at the start of a private road near the end of Waimao Road. 10th Ave forks about a mile and a half down from the Waialae exit. Take the right fork all the way until Waimao becomes a single lane. At the end is where the Palolo Zen Temple rests with the behemoth mountains rising to her back. Parking along the road and at the trailhead is minimal (maybe five or six vehicles can fit), and the approach to begin the trail is even tinier as you may think you are entering the rabbit hole with Alice and friends. Look for a mailbox at the opposite side of Waimao Rd. There is a little opening next to a large tree behind the mailbox.
This is the location of the trailhead. You head behind the mailbox and straight down into the jungle. Not heeding the warnings of the private road signs will see this hike closed. Be respectful.
The course of the trail will lead you along multiple stream crossings, up and around the forested valley floor until you cross the large water pipe which you will follow for the next hour. This pipe pumps the life force of water down from the valley’s water source and through the cluster of mountain slopes to the residents below. After an hour of hiking in the trees and breaking the canopy to view luscious landscapes of healthy green foliage along steep hillsides, you will skirt the slopes on small paths until you again reach the next treeline and meet the first giant waterfall. The slope has steep portions with several hundred foot drops at spots.
Finding your footing is key in navigating the boulders and rocks littering the riverbed as you make your way up to the ridgeline section.
The first waterfall will have you thinking that this alone is a destination worthy of an hour trek. The cave cut from the water erosion forms a gourd which cradles the waterfall in a rocky terrace. Settled into the rock face will prove a photogenic opportunity for pictures as this “waterfall cave” is filled with the trickling of filtered water seeping through the rocks.
Rope section at the end of the pipeline section of the trail. This rope leads to the top of the first fall.
After relaxing in the misty haven of the first fall, the second is only a five minute trip; directly up the side of the first. Climb back up to the water plant’s cement container and make your way to the left of the falls. Rope climbing up the ropes left behind by fellow hikers and groups, you will grip and work your way up a small rock face to the top for a scenic view on top of the water flowing down into the ravine you just came from. Continuing to the second waterfall, bigger than the first, you will encounter a shallow brook thinned by the smooth stones placed ages ago by nature herself. Another stint of upward climbs, this time to the right of the second waterfall, will have you clammering for the next and last of the waterfalls on this trip.
The last waterfall is located deeper into the brush over rocks and streams another ten minutes from the other two. The 400-yd cascading waterfall sits on a gradual hillside no more than a forty-five degree angle. Ropes will aid your steep approach as crossing the stream occurs more than once. The ropes hold strong, and you will enjoy the cool water mists and beautiful views of the vegetation and stream. Be sturdy on your foothold and maintain three points of contact often and you will be fine.
The top of the waterfall leads up into the artesian well fondly nicknamed the “Raptor Fields” by yours truly for the thick and tall saw grass which grows densely in the middle of the craters water source. Stopping here at the top of the third falls is in itself a feat, and nothing to be ashamed of if the ridgeline doesn’t seem to be the ideal adversary to confront after mastery of such a rigorous and strenuous hike. About two hours will be needed from the top of the third falls to traverse the often muddy, slippery, or brittle ridge line to the summit of Ka’au. Rope sections, loose gravel, and crumbling sections will make for a hairy experience; then comes the part where you head back down.
This is the beginning section of the longest falls. This will take you up to the Raptor Fields a little more than two hours into your journey for most.
Head back to the start of the ridge section near the end of the last falls and cross over the stream to find a steep incline marked by orange markers. This will lead you up to the split on the hill above all the difficult climbing and rappelling you may have undertaken. You will have beaten the monster of a trail and begin your journey back above the falls to your starting point and completion point. Not feeling fatigued, tired, exhausted, and accomplished will mean you didn’t actually do any of the hike and waited in the car for the rest of the adventurers to come back.
Climbing up the ridge is a dangerous undertaking. Not that the entire hike doesn’t have an element of danger, but falling here can mean serious injury or death. Do NOT do this hike alone, and not as a first one on the island.
This is the thrill of the hike for most. Wet conditions make for slips and spills, so footing and maintaining balance is key. Pictured are hikers heading down as the Raptor Fields spread out in the background.
Here are some of the forest canopy from the hike. Makes me want to just sit in the forest and enjoy the peace.
Looking Out Over the Eastern Side of Oahu