Kulaniapia Falls

Hilo, Hawaii, USA

About Kulaniapia Falls

Hiking Distance: 1/4 mile round trip
Suggested Time: 15 minutes

Date first visited: 2008-02-02
Date last visited: 2008-02-22

Waterfall Latitude: 19.7233
Waterfall Longitude: -155.13624

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Kulaniapia Falls is a private 80-100ft waterfall (the height is just a guess) on the Waiau Stream situated on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea not far from Hilo.

According to the owner Lenny, the film crew for “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” actually came over to his property to film the waterfall.

Kulaniapia_Falls_105_02232008 - Kulaniapia Falls
Kulaniapia Falls

After seeing a made-for-TV re-run of the movie, I didn’t recall seeing this waterfall appear in it.

But then again, it could’ve made an appearance only in the full screen version as opposed to the made-for-TV version.

I’d imagine that it would have been the very first waterfall that the main characters tumbled over before going over the Devil’s Throat of Iguazu Falls.

Anyways, we found Kulaniapia Falls to be one of the more attractive waterfalls that we’ve seen on the Big Island.

Kulaniapia_Falls_001_jx_02012008 - Our room within the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls
Our room within the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls

We also felt the Asian-themed accommodation nearby the falls suited us as a nice place to relax and sleep to the sound of the falling water (as long as the mosquitos didn’t bother us).

Julie and I actually visited Kulaniapia Falls on two separate occasions.

On our first visit, we had to hunker down during a real soggy and unusually drenching Super Bowl XLII weekend storm in February 2008.

On that eventful day, the heavy rain swelled the stream and made the waterfall appear menacing.

Kulaniapia_Falls_006_02022008 - Kulaniapia Falls in a menacing state during a heavy rain storm that caused flooding on the windward side of the Big Island
Kulaniapia Falls in a menacing state during a heavy rain storm that caused flooding on the windward side of the Big Island

Therefore, we came back for a second visit nearly a month later to experience the falls in a more normal state.

Visiting Kulaniapia Falls

From the Inn, we had to walk around the property on grass (on the car park side) before finding the descending trail to waterfall’s base.

The path passed beneath the balcony of the Inn with the waterfall clearly in sight practically the entire way.

We were told that Lenny worked real hard (along with hired assistance) to clear that path as jungle once completely the entire area around the stream.

Kulaniapia_Falls_121_02242008 - Julie approaching the Kulaniapia Falls on a path that was once completely covered in thick jungle
Julie approaching the Kulaniapia Falls on a path that was once completely covered in thick jungle

In addition to the convenient access to the base of the waterfall, apparently the falls also provided localized hydro power for some of the electricity on site.

Moreover, I noticed a bamboo garden further downstream from the inn though we never really got a chance to experience it.

I guess one of these days, we’ll make a return visit and see the rest of Lenny’s work.


As mentioned earlier, Kulaniapia Falls is on private property and is not open to the general public. If you would like to visit the falls, please visit www.waterfall.net to book a waterfall rappelling adventure or to reserve a room.

Guests without reservations will be turned away (something they’ve had to do more frequently in recent years).

Inn_at_Kulaniapia_002_jx_02232008 - Inside the Inn
Kulaniapia_Falls_015_02022008 - Kulaniapia Falls in an angry mood as seen from the balcony of the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls on our first visit
Kulaniapia_Falls_010_02022008 - At least the trail to get closer to Kulaniapia Falls looked pretty short despite the heavy rain
Kulaniapia_Falls_014_jx_02022008 - It was still pouring rain when we went outside and started to walk closer to Kulaniapia Falls
Kulaniapia_Falls_022_02022008 - Sign at a junction in the trail where we kept right to go to the Kulaniapia Falls.  One of these days, we would like to come back and take the time to check out the Bamboo Garden
Kulaniapia_Falls_025_02022008 - The walkway began on the other side of the Inn
Kulaniapia_Falls_037_02022008 - It was amazing to see just how violent the falls could be under such stormy conditions
Kulaniapia_Falls_040_02022008 - There was so much water on our first visit that the trail turned into a stream or cascade rushing towards Kulaniapia Falls
Kulaniapia_Falls_043_02022008 - Rain came down so hard that this lookout area of Kulaniapia Falls had some flooding
Kulaniapia_Falls_061_02232008 - This was the path to the base of Kulaniapia Falls under more benign conditions a month later
Kulaniapia_Falls_065_02232008 - Intermediate view of Kulaniapia Falls on the way down to its plunge pool during our second visit
Kulaniapia_Falls_017_02222008 - Direct late afternoon view across the plunge pool towards Kulaniapia Falls
Kulaniapia_Falls_058_02222008 - Profile view of Kulaniapia Falls in the late afternoon
Kulaniapia_Falls_119_02232008 - The following morning, we had another go at checking out the Kulaniapia Falls before checking out and leaving. This was taken from the balcony
Kulaniapia_Falls_142_02242008 - Julie at the base of the Kulaniapia Falls in the morning
Kulaniapia_Falls_156_02242008 - What the Kulaniapia Falls looks like under warm morning light from near the lookout half-way between the inn and the plunge pool

Finding the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls isn’t easy without directions.

Once after making a booking did we receive detailed driving directions.

In any case, we’ll try to provide directions here in case you lose them.

From the Hwy 19/Waianuenue Ave junction in downtown Hilo, drive west (mauka) on Waianuenue Ave for a block to the one-way Keawe St.

Turn right onto Keawe St and look for Ohai St just past the bridge over the Wailuku River.

Turn left onto the narrow Ohai St then go straight past Wainaku St as Ohai St narrows even more and becomes Amau’ulu Rd.

Inn_at_Kulaniapia_009_jx_02242008 - Signs pointing the way
Signs pointing the way

As you continue going west on Amau’ulu Rd for about a mile, you’ll start to see Kulaniapia Falls signs indicating that indeed you’ve headed the right way.

The first sign is at Maikalani St, where you turn left.

Follow Maikalani St for a little over 2 miles to a three-way junction with Pu’ueo Mauka Dr (and another sign for the falls).

Turn left at this junction and follow the curving road south for a little over a half-mile before turning left again at another three-way intersection and sign.

About a third of a mile east of the intersection, you’ll be at the Inn.

Kulaniapia_Falls_021_02022008 - The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls
The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls

There is a car park for guests just beyond the main building’s canopy.

To give you some context, Hilo was about 76 miles (90 minutes drive) via the Saddle Road. If you take the longer way via Waimea, then this drive would be 96 miles (under 2.5 hours drive). From Waikoloa, the drive to Hilo via Hwy 19 through Waimea would be about 75 miles (under 2 hours drive).

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Right to left sweep from the balcony

Right to left sweep of the falls from a lower lookout platform

Right to left sweep of the swollen falls from the patio of the Inn

Tagged with: hilo, big island, hawaii, waterfall, waiau stream, indiana jones, lenny, private, inn at kulaniapia

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Kulaniapia Falls March 7, 2010 10:46 pm by Mark Lindberg - Private, Serene, and Magical. Our pick for the most beautiful waterfall on the Big Island. ...Read More

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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