I stood at a crossroads near the end of hiking by the Oheo Gulch on my way to the Waimoku Falls. On one hand, I would be risking almost certain death. But on the other I would be able to stand beneath the largest waterfall on Maui, admiring the spectacle as it dropped approximately 400 feet straight down. Unsure of what to do, I debated the decision while standing at the rushing river’s edge. To get closer to the falls, I would need to cross through it against my better judgement.
The Road to Hana doesn’t necessarily end in Hana. The argument could be made, yes, but it really continues on its present windy and narrow state to the back entrance to Haleakala National Park. I had stopped to stay in Hana, but was delivered by private shuttle the next day to the entrance of the park and the trailhead up to the Waimoku Falls by the staff of my resort, Travaasa Hana.
“Are you sure you want to go?” I was asked by the driver. “It’s raining out.” I wanted to thank her for pointing out the obvious. I knew it was raining. It’s always raining on this side of the island. So I couldn’t let a little water stop me, since it’d be raining the next time as well. I just needed to quickly run into the gift shop and grab a poncho for the hike. Then I wouldn’t need to worry about the rain. Although, the same could not be said about my camera. Thankfully the ranger took pity on me by also supplying me with a trash bag to cover my camera gear.
I was not deterred by the prospect of climbing nearly 1,000 feet in elevation along the trial. It practically started at sea level, and I still had my Colorado lungs. And thanks to living in the Mile High City, I no longer have problems hiking in lower elevations. It’s a treat, really, when I see a much more slender and in-shape person huffing and puffing up a hill as my big butt zips on past them; the look of astonishment is priceless.
No such Mastercard moment presented itself, though, on this hike. The trail was virtually deserted. Sure, there were a few people here and there, but most everyone whipped a u-turn in Hana and headed back toward the more touristy parts of Maui. And so I treasured the peace and solitude, happy they missed out on some of the best spots in all of the Hawaiian Islands – including the hike through the bamboo forest toward the Waimoku Falls – that surround the little town of Hana.
The trail cuts up through tall grasses and the rain forest. It was slick from the rain, but nothing a good pair of sneakers couldn’t handle. My only concerns came when hiking on the spur trails to get closer to the smaller waterfalls along the trail. There were a couple of overlooks to see them without the additional hiking, but that wasn’t good enough for me. I was there to hike, to see the area, and to challenge myself, so there was no way a little mud was going to stop me. And thankfully it didn’t, as I was overly cautious with each step.
For my stupidity of hiking on slippery mud near a cliff’s edge I was presented with several stunning views of thundering waterfalls. The rushing water through the river calmed me, almost forcing me into some sort of Zen-like moment. I didn’t fight it, either, but instead trudged on with a big grin on my face. I was loving every minute of the hike, even the rain; thankfully, though, it had started to subside in favor of a little sunshine.
I blew past a large banyan tree. Had I still been in my youth I probably would have spent hours climbing its branches. Instead now, at over six feet in height, I marveled at the size and shape of the massive tree as I walked under its lowest hanging branches. I would like to think of it as a spectacular natural creation, but such was the case with everything I was seeing on the trail with one exception – the bridges crisscrossing the gulch. They were obviously man made, yet no less amazing for the views they presented.
After crossing the first bridge I came into the first part of the bamboo forest. It looked nice, yes, but this couldn’t be what I had heard so much about before my Maui Visitor Bureau trip. There had to be more. And sure enough there was, just immediately back across the second bridge. From there a huge forest of bamboo standing over 30-feet-tall towered over me and the trail snaking through it. I stood agape for a few minutes before a large grin spread across my face and I hustled into it like a kid in a candy store.
This is what I had traveled all this way to see. This is why I hiked through the rain. And this is why I felt happier at that one single moment than I had in months; the bamboo forest was stunning in a way that cannot completely be explained in videos or photographs. Nonetheless, I took a bunch. More than a bunch. I took gobs and gobs of photos, and even a couple of videos. And then I hid my camera in the large trash bag, refusing to take it out until I reached the waterfall. I instead wanted to enjoy this moment for what it was: special.
I was happy so many people turned back at Hana. And quite frankly, I’m a little hesitant to let all of the great secrets, including this one, out of the bag about such a wonderful place for fear Hana, too, could be overrun by crowds. But with the natural deterrent of the Road to Hana combined with a steep hiking trail and the rains, I feel the secret is relatively safe from anyone but the most intrepid of travelers, those who really want to get into and explore such a spectacular area as the bamboo forest.
Sadly, though, my hike came to an end in the form of a rushing river and the dilemma of whether or not to cross it. The Waimoku Falls were easily visible through the trees. But it was through the trees. I couldn’t get a clean photograph of it. No matter how I zoomed I’d clip it off and make it look no more impressive than the other waterfalls I had seen on the hike up. And so I stood at the water’s edge debating. Was risking my life really worth seeing the falls close up? No. Not when I could happily skip back through the bamboo forest! So instead of continuing on with the chance of being washed over several waterfalls and out into the Pacific Ocean (below), I snapped one last photo of the falls through the trees and continued back happy and content with my decision and the experience of one of the best hikes on the Hawaiian Islands.