Nanue Falls (I’ve also seen it spelled Nanua Falls) is really a series of waterfalls on the Nanue Stream (or Nanua Stream).
For the purposes of this website, we’re only singling out the waterfall you see pictured at the top of this page, because I came to realize that just reaching a good view of that waterfall required a very tricky and awkward scramble inside the stream itself. I suppose it would be a reasonable enough accomplishment just to even reach this falls though it wouldn’t surprise me if there were more to be found further upstream.
As for the scramble itself, it wasn’t a very comfortable one as I frequently slipped and slid over slick boulders as well as broke several spider webs. Most of the webs belonged to crab spiders (so named because they actually looked like fat crabs with big white eyes), but I think there was a particularly large spider (maybe the size of a hand if you count its long legs) that managed to hitch a ride on my backpack, which Julie and I discovered later when we were driving! But arachnids aside, foremost on my mind was the everpresent danger of flash floods since I was pretty much in the stream the whole way.
From the informal pullout by the Nanue Stream bridge (see directions below), I descended a steep and faint path besides a guardrail and into the overgrowth. I definitely had to watch out for broken glass on this descent as they were strewn in places where I could’ve easily cut my hands and legs. Swarming mosquitoes also didn’t make the scramble any easier.
Once I got to the rocky bed of Nanue Stream, I had to scramble under the road bridge and proceed about 900 yards further upstream within the stream itself. Beyond the bridge, the streambed scramble became slow, awkward, and very slippery. After rounding a bend, I was finally able to see Nanue Falls and its nice plunge pool. By the way, that bend was the reason why it couldn’t be seen from the road.
By the way, had I done this stream scramble going the other way from the road bridge (i.e. going downstream), I would’ve ended up on top of another waterfall. For a frontal view of that waterfall, I had to drive back onto the main Highway 19 towards another road bridge (see directions below), and then view it at a distance from there.
The Nanue Falls scramble starts on the narrow Government Main Road (parts of which are also the Old Mamalahoa Hwy) near a bridge over Nanue Stream. The Government Main Road passes through quiet residential neighborhoods and over lush gulches spanned by single-lane Depression era bridges. We could tell when the bridges were built because the year (from the 1930s) was etched on many of them.
From the Hwy 19 and Hwy 11 junction by the Hilo Airport in Hilo, take Hwy 19 north to the World Botanical Garden (roughly 30 minutes drive or 18 miles; see the Umauma Falls page for directions to this location). Then, continue north on the Government Main Road for about 2.5 miles past the World Botanical Garden registration area. Look for a bridge over Nanue Stream where careful searching will reveal the word “Nanue” and markings such as “1930” and “32-1” on the correct bridge. About 75ft past this bridge is a guard rail with an informal one-car pullout beside it. A faint path to Nanue Falls starts its descent near the guardrail.
For a view of the lower waterfall seen from the main highway, you have to drive north on Hwy 19 towards a large bridge spanning the gorge carved by the Nanue Stream. This bridge is between mile posts 18 and 19 (about 18 miles north of Hilo). Before crossing the Hwy 19 Nanue Stream Bridge, look for a large pullout area on your left to park the car. Then walk on the bridge until you’re satisfied with your view.
To give you some geographical context, Hilo was 79 miles (under 2 hours drive) east of Kailua-Kona via the Saddle Road. Otherwise, taking the more conventional route along Hwy 19 through Waikoloa, Waikoloa Village, and Waimea, this drive would be 96 miles long taking over 2 hours.
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