Papalaua Falls

North Shore / Maui County (Molokai Island), Hawaii, USA

Rating: 4     Difficulty: 1
Papalaua Falls
Papalaua Falls is an impressive 1200ft waterfall (though I have seen one claim it's 1700ft) sitting on the rugged and steep north shore of Molokai.

I've been on two different helicopter rides over a span of four years that have visited this particular waterfall. So that seems to suggest that this one can be reliably seen. And of course it doesn't hurt that it's just a spectacular and breathtaking waterfall. It's certainly one of my favorites in all the Hawaiian Islands.

There has been a bit of misinformation floating around, and I witnessed this firsthand when our latest helicopter tour over West Maui and Molokai perpetuated false claims that this is Kahiwa Falls. I knew this wasn't correct based on the topo maps, but I have to wonder how many other unsubstantiated claims are floating around out there given that few people could test those claims with a combination of field observations and maps; especially considering how remote the north shore of Molokai is.

Anyways, as far as I'm concerned, this is pretty much a helicopter waterfall unless you're one of the few folks who can boat to this part of Moloka'i. And even if you do go on a chopper ride, seeing all the major waterfalls (including this one) on such a tour is far from guaranteed.

You see, the catch-22 is that the November to March wet season is when water flows are highest, but it is also when clouds tend to cause changes in helicopter routes and prevent overflights of the best waterfalls (not to mention turbulence and sudden downpours adding further complications). There is also the luck of the draw when it comes to helicopter seating – front seats are best for waterfall viewing, but go to passengers with the lowest body weights (see this article that we wrote about helicopters).

So I guess the bottom line is that it's that uncertainty of outcome is what makes attractions like these rewarding and memorable. It also adds that sense of mystery for those wanting to come here as well as nostalgia for those (like us) who have been fortunate enough to have seen it with our very eyes.




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PHOTO JOURNAL
Papalaua Falls was in one of the short valleys facing the rugged and steep cliffs of the North Shore of Moloka'iPapalaua Falls was in one of the short valleys facing the rugged and steep cliffs of the North Shore of Moloka'i
Aerial view of the reefs and fish ponds facing the drier southern shores of Moloka'iAerial view of the reefs and fish ponds facing the drier southern shores of Moloka'i
Looking back towards the mouth of Papalaua Valley while flying besides the steep sea cliffs of Moloka'i's North ShoreLooking back towards the mouth of Papalaua Valley while flying besides the steep sea cliffs of Moloka'i's North Shore
Checking out the drier leeward slopes of southern MolokaiChecking out the drier leeward slopes of southern Molokai as we approached the island's north shore in 2003

Approaching Papalaua Falls on a tour that took place in September 2003Approaching the falls on a tour that took place in September 2003

Flying over the top of Papalaua Falls on a flight that took place in September 2003Flying over the top of the falls on the same flight that took place in September 2003

Looking down at reefs and fish ponds as we left Molokai on our September 2003 tourLooking down at reefs and fish ponds as we left Molokai on our September 2003 tour

Back at Papalaua Falls on a tour in February 2007Back at the Papalaua Falls on a tour in February 2007

Papalaua Falls seen from a different angleThe falls seen from a different angle

Looking back once again at Papalaua Falls as bad weather forced us to fly around the east side of Molokai instead of through the middle of itLooking back once again at the falls as bad weather forced us to fly around the east side of Molokai instead of through the middle of it


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS



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DIRECTIONS
This is primarily seen from West Maui and Molokai Helicopter Tours leaving from Maui. See the Honokohau Falls page for directions on getting to the helipad there.


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MAP OF THE FALLS

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




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES




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NEARBY WATERFALLS


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Papalaua Falls 
I am extremely familiar with Papalaua Falls . I used to run kayak trips down Koolau Moloka'i and will again someday. I also made two documentaries …

Papalaua Falls (part 3) 
Excuse these photos. They are 25 years old. Mo'o - giant man-eatling lizards - are reputed to live in this pool. Hawaiian legend says that Hi'i'aka, …

Papalaua Falls (part 4) 
More Papalaua

Papalaua Falls (part 6) 
More Papalaua

Papalaua Falls (part 5) 
John "Caveman" Gray

Papalaua Falls (part 2) 
Hiking to Papalaua Falls John "Caveman" Gray

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