Punalau Falls

Hana Highway (Maui Island), Hawaii, USA

Rating: 2     Difficulty: 2
Punalau Falls


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Punalau Falls is a relatively hidden yet gorgeous 100ft waterfall. In fact, it's not visible from the road (we missed this on our first two Hana Highway excursions) so in order to see this waterfall, I had to earn it with a real tricky and nontrivial 800ft stream scramble over a bunch of volcanic boulders. I definitely had to watch my footing and go slow for it was real easy to turn an ankle or get cut on one of the sharp rocks (watch out for leptospirosis if that's the case). The waterfall itself blocked any further upstream progress. In hindsight, I wish I had brought a hiking stick and sticky rubber water shoes to negotiate the slippery and sometimes submerged boulders in the stream.

I think it took me about 15 minutes each way though it could've easily been as little as 10 minutes or as much as 30 minutes I reckon, depending on stream levels. It was in pretty low flow during my visit.

Given the nature of stream scrambling and the narrowness of the gulch, I really had to watch out for flash floods and falling rocks. If it’s raining or you notice dark clouds upslope (even if it’s fine along the Hana Highway), do not attempt this scramble! You’ll have nowhere to go if a sudden wall of water comes rushing towards you! The whole time I did this scramble, it was always on my mind.

By the way, I suspect just about every gulch in the windward slopes of East Maui (comprised of the Haleakala Volcano) has at least a waterfall. That's because volcanos tend to leave behind very hard rock layers that are more resistant to erosion by water than most of the softer rock layers. Thus, you have the conditions necessary for waterfall formation.

So even though Punalau Falls is being pointed out here (thanks to the Blue Bible pointing it out), I'd imagine stream scrambles in other gulches would yield similar results. I have to believe that was what the authors of that book had the time to do and subsequently did. And that's why they were able to trailblaze and identify many of the obscure waterfalls this side of Maui.

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One of the more notable non-waterfall attractions of East Maui was Waianapanapa State ParkOne of the more notable non-waterfall attractions of East Maui was Waianapanapa State Park
If you can make it all the way around East Maui, we definitely recommend doing so, especially for sights like the Pokowai Sea ArchIf you can make it all the way around East Maui, we definitely recommend doing so, especially for sights like the Pokowai Sea Arch
View of boulders fronting Punalau FallsView of boulders fronting the falls. This photo perhaps best tells you the awkward scrambling required to get here.

A closer look at Punalau FallsA closer look at the falls

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The Punalau Falls pullout is just beyond the far side of the Punalau Stream bridge, 0.25 miles past the 13-mile post. A primitive path leads from the pullout right down into the stream to start the waterfall scramble.

For some context, the drive to get here from Ka'anapali or Lahaina was at least 52 miles (2 hours drive). Coming from Hana, it would be 21 miles (an hour drive) going northwest.

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For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.

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

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