Akaka Falls (and Kahuna Falls)

Hamakua Coast / Honomu (The Big Island), Hawaii, USA

Rating: 4     Difficulty: 1
Akaka Falls
Akaka Falls is a spectacular 420ft (though I've also seen 442ft reported as its height) waterfall and is certainly one of the most attractive of the accessible waterfalls on the Big Island. Not only that, but it also placed high on our Top 10 List of Hawaii's Best Waterfalls.

Usually, waterfalls this tall and gulches this steep remind me of the type of scenery we normally associate with inaccessible terrain seen on helicopter rides. So it didn't surprise me at all that it was popular, and I would certainly consider this waterfall a must-see attraction. Given that it was that rare Hawaiian waterfall that welcomed visitors as it sat within its own state park, there really wasn't an excuse not to see this wonder!

Speaking of the Akaka Falls State Park, that meant that there was infrastructure in the form of a well-developed loop trail as well as a fair-sized car park. The road to get here was also smooth and easy to drive with a possible view on clear sunny days of the peak of Mauna Kea (one of the twin shield volcanoes comprising the Big Island) and the Keck Observatory at its summit.

Upon our visits to the falls, we did what the majority of visitors here would do, and that was to go left (clockwise direction) to head straight for this waterfall first. This route that was signposted to be about 750ft long passed by some smaller cascades before getting to the viewing area overlooking a very large bowl-shaped amphitheater into which the falls tumbled. There was also a little shelter as well where we noticed someone peddle their wares to tourists.

We noticed that most people didn't bother doing the whole loop and turned back at this point. However, we continued with the loop walk another 800ft towards the Kahuna Falls, which was another waterfall in the state park that seemed to be just as tall as Akaka Falls.

Once we got to its overlook, we could see why this waterfall was overshadowed by its famous counterpart. While Kahuna Falls seemed to also be about 400ft tall or so, our view of it was limited to an angle that only showed the waterfall's profile. Thus, the watterflow had to be big enough to overshadow the trees growing on the cliffside in front of it to be satisfactorily seen. I'm sure that if this waterfall had been given a more direct view, then perhaps it would've gotten just as much fanfare as Akaka.

On a separate occasion, Julie and I saw both these waterfalls by helicopter, and that further reinforced our hunch that these were almost like twin waterfalls.

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Another look at the gorgeous Akaka FallsAnother look at the gorgeous Akaka Falls
Kahuna Falls - the other waterfall in Akaka Falls State ParkKahuna Falls - the other waterfall in Akaka Falls State Park
Akaka Falls was one of our waterfalling excuses to see the windward side of the Big Island, but it was well worth the adventure towards the southeastern side of the island to look for flowing lavaAkaka Falls was one of our waterfalling excuses to see the windward side of the Big Island, but it was well worth the adventure towards the southeastern side of the island to look for flowing lava
There's a reason why most people tend to stay on the leeward side of Big Island since it's usually drier and there are more tourist amenities as well as beachesThere's a reason why most people tend to stay on the leeward side of Big Island since it's usually drier and there are more tourist amenities as well as beaches
The car parkThe car park

Starting the short loop walkStarting the short loop walk

A small cascade on the way to the main fallsA small cascade on the way to the main falls

Another small cascade on the way to the main fallsAnother small cascade on the way to the main falls

Akaka Falls just up aheadThe falls just up ahead

Julie approaching the beautiful Akaka FallsJulie approaching the beautiful featured waterfall of the park

Sunny view of Akaka FallsThe first time we visited this waterfall, it was a sunny day so it casted shadows the split the waterfall. So the sun made for a nice day and nice views, but it made waterfall photography a bit difficult.

Akaka Falls under overcast skies so there was even lightingThe falls under overcast skies so there was even lighting

Kahuna FallsWe then continued the loop walk towards this overlook of Kahuna Falls

Kahuna Falls seen from the airKahuna Falls seen from the air

Both Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls seen togetherBoth waterfalls seen together from the air

Akaka Falls seen from the airAkaka Falls seen from the air

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From Hilo, take Hwy 19 north for about 20 minutes to the well-signed, mauka-side turnoff for Hwy 220 (west). The Hwy 220 turnoff is between the 13-mile and 14-mile posts. Follow the Hwy 220 signs through Honomu Town, after which the last three miles are wide open spaces (that were sugarcane plantations during the Hawaiian sugar trade heydays of the late 19th and early 20th centuries).

As mentioned earlier, one time when we drove the Hwy 220, it was a clear day, and we were able to see the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano until the forested mountains closed in and the road ended at the busy Akaka Falls car park.

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For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.

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What Other Visitors Have Said

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Akaka Falls - Big Island Hawaii April 2009 
I've been there ( Akaka Falls ) in Oct. 1988 / Sept. 1992 / June 1994 / Oct. 2000 & most recently April 2009 & it was very wet & rainy every time. …

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