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Pipiwai Trail

Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

If you are up for a great adventure, and you are driving The Road to Hana on Maui, don’t miss the opportunity to hike the magnificent Pipiwai Trail. Located in Haleakala National Park above the Seven Sacred Pools of Oheo Gulch you will find the 4 mile roundtrip hike to the spectacular destination of Waimoku Falls. The Pipiwai Trail is one of those hikes that deliver spectacular views with every turn, so if you have made the effort to drive to Hana then you must make the effort to hike this trail.

     The Pipiwai Trail begins on the mauka (inland) side of the Hana Highway, just across from the Kipahulu Ranger Station. Follow the signs up through the often muddy pastureland to begin your adventure. The day we trekked the Pipiwai was no exception. As we began our hike the rain was coming down quite steadily, and had been for most of the day. This made for one slippery, muddy trek through the rainforest. But by the time we made it to the first highlight on the trail, Makahiku Falls Overlook at about 0.6 miles, the rain had slacked off and we were rewarded with a magnificent view. Makahiku Falls looks like it jumped straight out of a postcard. The scene is quintessential Hawaii. Makahiku plunges hundreds of feet off a lush, green cliff down into the valley below. Forests of bamboo and thick tropical vines cover the cliff-side providing the perfect backdrop for this jungle scene.

     Back on the trail a gate must be opened to continue, this proved mind-boggling for Karabeener, but she wasn’t about to let a hunk of fence get the best of her! After struggling for a few minutes with the latch on the right side of the gate, or at least what she thought was the latch, I walked up behind her and proceeded to open the gate by swinging it open from the left side. I wish you could have seen the look on Beener’s face…too funny. We all got a good laugh out of that one, including Beener, then it was off to our destination.

     Proving that the journey is often the reward, we were taken aback by the stunning scenery that the Pipiwai Trail has to offer. High on that list is a prehistoric looking Banyan tree that sits just off the side of the trail. Roots stream down from almost every limb, creating what appears to be a web of wood. The cloud cover of the rainy day added a dark and brooding feel to this already mystical looking tree. We posed for a group picture under its sprawling enormity and had no problem fitting all six of us in front of its trunk. Unfortunately, the photo turned out a little blurry, but you can still get the idea of how huge this old tree is from the photo. Next time I won’t be so lazy and I will carry my tripod.

     Continuing on down the trail we soon encountered an extremely muddy section. Puddles of water almost enveloped the entire trail, and to make things even more interesting the trail was on about a 45 degree angle. Doing the splits was becoming a serious concern at this point. We managed to shuffle our way down the trail, until disaster struck. Karabeener entered into a death slide down the muddy slope, granted the slope was only about 4 feet tall but nonetheless she skied down it quite gracefully. It was getting back up the slope that proved a little more difficult! Luckily, Dauster and Butchwacker had picked up a couple of bamboo hiking poles at the trailhead. These were invaluable in our quest to get Beener back on track. I was able to snap off a photo of this life-saving maneuver, but once again the lack of light dropped my shutter speed down too slow for an in-focus image…that or it was the fact that I was laughing my ass off. Anyway, we did manage to hike this section with little difficulty and a lot of comedy. If the trail is like this when you hike it, don’t give up, one of the coolest sights is just ahead!

     Make your way down a side-trail to an unbelievable view straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. Just a few feet from the main trail you will see a powerful, unnamed waterfall cascading over a cliff into an emerald green pool below. The force of the water has eroded the mountain creating a deep, dark cave. Thick vines and other vegetation hang from the top of the cave down over the entrance and into the pool below. It really is a magnificent view.

     Just a little further down the trail you will enter what everyone considers the best part of the entire hike---the bamboo forest. First you will cross over two bridges. The first spans Oheo Stream, and the second over Pipiwai Stream. Below the bridges is yet another jaw-dropping panorama. Tulip trees, with their flaming orange blooms, dot the landscape of tropical jungle and cascading waterfalls. This is a great spot for some amazing landscape photography. After crossing over the second bridge you enter the rainforest. Towering bamboo, packed so tightly together that it would be one hard task to maneuver through the forest, rises up above the trail nearly blocking all ambient light. The forest is cool and dark, and when the wind blows the trees clank together creating an eerie, yet musical sound reminiscent of an Asian wind chime.

     Waimoku Falls, your destination for this hike, is nearly in reach now. Boardwalks have been placed over the muddier areas of the trail through the bamboo forest helping to bring you closer to the falls without causing undue damage to the trail system, or to yourself. But all good things must end; eventually you must leave the boardwalk to test your skills at boulder hopping across a stream. For Pick and I it was an easy task, since it was raining, and we were already soaked to the bone, we just waded right through Pipiwai Stream. No need to boulder hop on slippery stones when your shoes are already wet. Dauster was the only one intent on not sinking her tennies! She managed to ford the stream without once putting a foot in the water! Butchwacker, Beener, and Berg were also quite adept at this balancing act. Although Butchwacker was sometimes walking on her hands as much as her feet, it was still a magnificent thing to behold.

     After our various tactics for stream crossing were put to the test, we finally stepped onto the far banks of the stream and looked up to see Waimoku Falls free-falling 400 feet over a cliff of black lava rock. The sight is absolutely breath-taking and worth every puddle jumped to get there! We stepped out of the cover of the forest and into the gray light of the rain-soaked sky to gaze up at this fantastic waterfall. The rain, as if out of respect for this glorious landscape, slowed to a slight mist enabling us to photograph and enjoy the falls.

     The hike back to the car was filled with laughter and conversation. The rain soon returned to accompany us down the trail, again testing our resolve for hiking in a slippery, muddy rainforest. We of course would have been happier if it had been a bright sunny day, but the brooding weather definitely added a spin to our tale. Even the cows that we passed along the trail seemed to be wondering what we were so happy about, one was particularly bewildered when Dauster stopped to pose with it for a picture. (No cows were harmed or harassed in the making of this story). At the end of the trail we were covered in mud, soaked to the core, and had feet that looked like prunes, but we were happy. It can always be said that any day on a trail is a day to be celebrated!


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