Moaula Falls (or Moa’ula Falls; I’ve also seen it referred to as Mooula Falls or Mo’o’ula Falls) is one of two major waterfalls nestled in the back of the legendary Halawa Valley on the eastern end of the island of Moloka’i.
We managed to see this waterfall both by helicopter (from Maui) or by hiking. For the hike, we had to book a guided cultural hike because Halawa Valley is on private property.
Regarding the ground view of the falls, the main visible plunges of Moa’ula Falls is said to drop a total of 250ft. But from seeing the falls in the air, it was clear that there were many more tiers that belong to the Moa’ula Stream and waterfalls. I believe this waterfall is permanent as the drainages feeding the Halawa Valley have not yet been tampered with by mass developments (in the form of water diversion, deforestation, etc.). We certainly hope it stays that way.
The cultural hike that we did wasn’t cheap, but it was certainly a very fulfilling way to spend a half-day or so of our day trip to Moloka’i from O’ahu.
From this cultural hike, we learned that money from the hike helps to restore traditional taro farming. This practice was once a very important part of Moloka’i culture dating back to the island’s original settlement by Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands of modern-day French Polynesia in the 7th century. For reasons detailed in the tours (i.e. economic, cultural, modernization, etc.), the taro farming and local cultural traditions had been threatened with extinction in recent decades.
The hike we did was a pretty easy 4.5 miles return across mostly flat terrain with two stream crossings and annoying mosquitoes that swarmed us when we weren’t moving during breaks. Our guided hike began at 9:30am and ended at around 2:30pm.
As much I was hoping to see Hipuapua Falls, our tour only focused on Moaula Falls. The reason was that since we were in the Wet Season and Hipuapua Falls required a bit more of an involved hike with stream boulder scrambling, the flash flood danger made it too risky to do it. So the only views of Hipuapua Falls we got on this tour (aside from a very distant road view as we descended into the valley) was a partial view of it towards the latter part of our hike.
There’s a little bit of logistics we had to manage ourselves in order to go on the cultural hike. We first did it by figuring out when we could do one of the frequent day flights from O’ahu (since we stayed in the greater Waikiki / Honolulu area) to Moloka’i and back in a day. We managed to catch one of the first flights out of O’ahu and one of the last flights back to O’ahu.
Once on Moloka’i (a laid back island with stop signs but no traffic lights), we picked up rental car at the Ho’olehua Airport and drove to the Fish and Dive shop in the small town of Kaunakakai. We got there by turning left (east) onto Hwy 460 and drove 9 miles to Kaunakakai. Once in town, we turned left at Ala Malama Ave (we noticed a gas station at the street corner on the left) and found the dive shop, which opened at 8am. While at the dive shop, we paid for and picked up our tour paperwork, which had to be done by 8:15am to ensure our arrival in the Halawa Valley by the start of our tour at 9:15-9:30am.
As we left Kaunakakai heading east, Hwy 460 became Hwy 450. It took us about an hour for the 28-mile drive from Kaunakakai to Halawa Valley Park where the hike started. The scenic drive featured ingenious fish ponds (strategic openings that take advantage of the East Shore high tides to capture saltwater fish as well as to facilitate breeding) as well as a few hairy stretches of narrow road where we could envision waves crashing onto the road every once in a while. On the final descent into the valley, there’s also a lookout providing very distant views of Hipuapua Falls.
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