It was now 1:30pm and the rain continued to fall. We knew the waterfalls we would be seeing would probably be raging. We were also curious to see that bypass bridge that had to be built due to the instability of the original bridge at Paihi Falls caused by the October earthquake.
Unfortunately when we approached the temporary bridge, the hideous-looking infrastructure to support it totally made for photographing Paihi Falls awkward and not worth the trouble (especially if you don’t want metal things in the photo). So we didn’t stop on the bridge to take photos like us (and many others before us) had done in the past.
Anyways, after crossing over the temporary bridge, there was a big traffic jam at the bridge before Wailua Falls. You could sense the road rage from the locals who had no patience for the circus-like scene. Within all this chaos, we miraculously found parking so we could linger at the falls a bit longer.
As we finished staking a claim to a spot to take photos and taking plenty of them, we finally continued driving towards the ‘Ohe’o Gulch – finally getting there at 2:45pm.
There was a ranger at the car park collecting National Park fees, but fortunately for us, our National Parks Pass still had a few more days left (we had bought it last February during our Yosemite firefall chase).
After parking the car and preparing for some hiking, we crossed the Highway 31 and took the Pipiwai Trail. Unlike our last Maui trip, we walked in Keens this time (instead of hiking boots), and it would turn out to be a wise move given the raging waters.
Speaking of which, we had overheard other disappointed visitors who had brought bathing suits only to discover that the Lower Pools were closed to swimming due to high water and flash floods. It was kind of a foreshadowing of the states of the waterfalls we would be seeing on this hike on this day.
It wasn’t long before we reached the overlook for Makahiku Falls. There was quite a crowd at the falls so both Julie and I took our glimpses but no photographs. We figured we could take the photos on the way back when there are fewer people around.
Beyond the falls, we noticed a sign discouraging access to the spur trail that led to the top of the waterfall.
“The Infiniti Pool’s closed,” I told Julie – once again reiterating the theme that everything’s closed.
Of course, this closure was certainly dictated by Mother Nature and was therefore legitimate. But the human-based closures for one reason or another were annoying.
As a matter of fact, we got this sense that over time, these human-based closures meant there probably wouldn’t be much left that was worth seeing or spending time on while touring the Hana Highway. We certainly hoped this won’t be true, but it was hard to ignore how things were progressing – especially when we compared our 2003 experience to today.
Anyways, we continued on the main trail past the gate. We had recalled on our previous trip that the trail would get confusing on the way back around this area. So with that in mind, we proceeded along the trail as usual towards the familiar banyan tree.
I didn’t recall seeing this sign on our previous trip, but I knew it led to a side waterfall that ultimately spilled into a watercourse that would go into a natural tunnel.
I guess the Park Service has added additional signage to enhance the visitor experience by noticing some of these other previously unknown gems. Good on them for doing that.
Julie opted to stay behind while I went back down the steps to the falls. When I took a look at the waterfall this time around, sure enough it was raging powerfully. Naturally, I took photos all the while wondering how it would compare to the falls nearly four years ago in more ambient conditions.
When I got back to the main trail by the sign, Julie was gone.
As I crossed over the familiar bridges over some small waterfalls falling in succession, I couldn’t help but notice how the falls kind of blended in together into a long series of churning whitewater. Each of the falls were certainly less distinctive than before.
Then, I entered the memorable bamboo forest. Still no Julie in sight.
When I passed by a pair of guys walking the other way, I asked one of them if he had seen an Asian woman up ahead.
To my relief, he told me he saw her way up ahead. Of course, I couldn’t totally be relieved since I worried about the possibility that there might be more than one Asian woman on the trail. Still, I quickly made my way forward amongst the heaps of bamboo shoots surrounding me on the boardwalked trail.
When the bamboo forest started to give way to the more familiar Hawaiian jungle scenery, I started to notice a very tall but thin waterfall up ahead. I knew it wasn’t Waimoku Falls, but I knew I was getting close.
Then, the trail started to cross parts of a side stream undoubtedly from that side waterfall. Up ahead, I could already see the towering Waimoku Falls in obviously greater volume than I had seen it before.
It was a good thing I had Keens on because the first stream crossing was about ankle deep over some slippery rocks.
But the trail then gave way to a longer and deeper stream crossing right in front of the awesome 400ft Waimoku Falls.
That was also where I finally saw Julie.
“What took you so long?” she told me.
“I was busy taking photos of that side waterfall. I didn’t know you had kept going,” said I. “I was worried that something happened to you or you were waiting for me still and somehow I had missed you.”
Anyways, Julie crossed the stream and it was immediately apparent that it was about knee-deep.
Meanwhile, I was busy photographing the scene while trying to minimize the amount of mist from the falls getting onto the lens. With the wide angle of the lens on the EOS 20D, I was easily able to capture the scene that was more difficult to do on the previous trip with the point-and-shoot Sony Cybershot.
We would eventually have the falls to ourselves as those around us had left, and we took advantage of our moment of solitude. But it was getting late and we started to head back. There was still another fairly large group of middle-aged to senior hikers who had just arrived so we knew we wouldn’t be the last ones here.
So Julie and I quickly walked through the bamboo forest and then made it back to the banyan tree. It appeared the National Park Service erected a trail marker indicating the way to go after the banyan tree so it wasn’t nearly as confusing as it was on the previous trip.
A few minutes after getting by the gate, we were back at the Makahiku Falls overlook. And as expected, there was only a couple of people here instead of the crowd earlier in the day.
After getting our fill of the falls, both of us had terrible urges to go to the toilet. So we wasted no time hastily hiking the last half-mile back to the car park where we knew there were toilet facilities. The car park was noticeably less crowded by this time of day.
With the afternoon sun momentarily making an appearance between the patchy dark clouds to the west, we walked the loop trail to the Lower Pools of ‘Ohe’o.
We knew swimming was closed, but we had no intention of swimming there anyways.
It wasn’t long before we had reached the access trail that descended down to the pools. Of course, barricades were erected to prevent entry. The pools were clearly turbulent and they were a far cry from the way they were in our 2003 trip.
After taking a few photos from before the barricades, we continued onwards to the rest of the loop. It was during this stretch that we had found another side path that led closer to the ocean.
So we took this path and we ended up in an open bluff where we could look back at the Lower Pools and even the waterfalls below where the swimming area would’ve been. We could also see the violent waves crashing ashore with distant views of the coastline back to the northeast towards Hana.
Having been to the ‘Ohe’o Gulch (or the so-called Seven Sacred Pools) nearly four years ago, it was strange seeing the churning, brownish raging whitewater at the popular Lower Pools. Both Julie and I remembered how busy it was that late summer day in early September 2003. But on this day, there was hardly a soul here, signposts and barricades prevented access to the pools, and all you could hear was the loud constant clatter of rushing water interspersed with the thunderous swooshing of the violent ocean waves behind us.
We lingered here taking more photos and basking in the dramatic yet beautiful scenery that somehow eluded us on the last trip. But the fading light of the day indicated to us that it was time to go. And when we got back to the car park, there were probably less than a half dozen left at this point.
Besides, we knew that the road beyond Kipahulu to Kaupo was closed due to rockfall and instability resulting from the recent October earthquake.
So as we left the car park, there was still one last thing that was nagging at me.
I had read in the literature about Waihi’umalu Falls near Wailua Falls. We looked for it and couldn’t find it on the way to ‘Ohe’o Gulch, so we could try to spot it and photograph it on the way back to Hana, I thought. So when we rounded a turn at the top of a hill and headed down towards the Wailua Falls area, both of us spotted the falls way up in the distance at the top of the cliff.
There were no readily available pullouts here and I didn’t want to back up and hold up traffic so we gave up on trying to photograph it. Besides, I think a telephoto lens and some additional lighting than the twilight we were getting was necessary.
Darkness had fallen when we returned to the Hana Kai Resort. We still tried to figure out where to eat, but we would eventually just head into town determined to find the Hana Ranch Restaurant.
We knew the Maui Revealed book hated this place, but we certainly weren’t going to splurge at the Hana Hotel Restaurant. Especially after the expensive subpar meal (at least compared to Duke’s Canoe Club in Waikiki) we had at Kimo’s in Lahaina the night before. We also didn’t feel like buying groceries at Hasegawa’s and then cooking on the electric stove in our Hana Kai room.
Julie and I shared their so-called signature baby back ribs and poke at the laid back restaurant. Some live Hawaiian music was being played and the surprisingly cool tradewinds were blowing making for a chilly but not-at-all humid outdoor dining experience.
The ribs were a bit tough, but Julie’s poke was quite good. I probably should’ve stuck with my original choice of getting a cheeseburger. But in any case, I don’t think Hana Ranch was quite as bad as the Revealed book made it out to be.
And with that, we spent the night with the back door open so we could sleep to the sounds of the crashing ocean waves. It wasn’t quite like our Princeville condo experience in Kaua’i (where we kept the doors and windows open each night). The paper-thin walls meant we could hear kids and footsteps, which brought me back to my college days. But at least the sounds of the oceans drowned them out for the most part and we were able to rest our tired bodies…