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Hawai’i: Uluwehi Falls Kayak & Hike

The King's Pool at the bottom of Uluwehi Falls is deeper than it looks and is vulnerable to falling rocks

The Secret Falls aren’t so secret anymore.  With as many outfitters as there are along the Wailua River, Uluwehi Falls, also known as Secret Falls, are seldom without a crowd.  These falls are only accessible by kayak and then a hike, which I suppose keeps the crowds down slightly, but it is still a popular tour destination.  I usually try to avoid guided “tourist tours” (avoid them like the plague), but every now and then concessions have to be made.  And it saved me some time that I would have spent backtracking after getting lost on the trail.

The narrow fork in the Wailua River, leading to the beaching area to access the hike to Uluwehi Falls. The "beaching" area is actually thick jungle and not beach

The trip starts with a 2.5-mile paddle up the Wailua River.  The Wailua River starts at Mount Waialeale (the wettest spot on earth) and ends 20 miles downstream on the east side of the island near Kapa’a.  This was and still is a very historically significant area.  It was first settled by a Tahitian priest in the 12th century and the entire region was considered royal land.  The remains of seven different temples sit along the river, including a place of sacrifice and a stone bell used to announce a royal birth.  The river is wide at first and follows a highway for a short while (the King’s Highway) but soon narrows with tall foliage on the sides.  A small fork, as narrow as two kayaks, splits off to the trail.  Shortly after I took this fork, about 30 kayaks came into view, all beached wherever the jungle opened up enough to allow room for a kayak.

The trail to the falls follows this river most of the way

Uluwehi Falls is a great place to cool off after the hike up.

The trail hardly ever sees the light of day and is usually muddy.  The first obstacle is a stream crossing.  This stream is normally slow and low, but because of recent rains was high and moving fast.  Fortunately, a rope was strung across the stream and was very useful as the chest-high water wanted to sweep everyone downstream.  After this crossing, the slick trail follows the stream and can be quite narrow and precarious in some places.  Where the trail is steep, roots can serve as either a useful foothold or a slick obstacle if you use them incorrectly.  After a mile, the sounds of people talking and laughing can be heard, and you crest the hill as the falls come into view.

Uluwehi Falls is 112 feet high with a pool at the bottom.  The “King’s Pool” is said to be the place where royalty would go in order to change their destiny.  Today, tourists swim in there to have their picture taken at the bottom of the falls.  My guide pointed to the rocks sticking out of the water at the base of the falls and said “do you think that people put those rocks there?  Unless you want one to land on you, stay away from the base of the wall.”  Good advice that I guess others didn’t get.  Despite the crowd, it’s still a nice place to eat a lunch, cool off, and take some pictures before heading back to the kayaks for the paddle back.

Special thanks to Nate and the great folks at Kayak Wailua for the awesome guide and outstanding service.  Look them up if you’re in the area.

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One thought on “Hawai’i: Uluwehi Falls Kayak & Hike

  1. […] Wailua River starts at Mount Waialeale and ends some 20-miles downstream near Kapaa. The Secret Falls is located on the Kapaa end of the river. Although nicknamed Secret […]

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