Monday, November 28, 2011

Waihe'e Valley Waterfalls

November 21, 2011

After getting off work at 6:15am I'd headed back to Kailua with no particular plans.   I watched my wife and kids head off to work and school leaving me alone in the house.  The weather had been pretty nasty over the weekend so I hadn't planned on doing anything.  However, as the morning progressed the skies had cleared and it turned into a pretty nice day so I decided to find a short trail to do.

Tree Marigold Flower
Hamama Falls has been on my list of places to visit for a long time.  It's about a mile and a half up a Board of Water Supply road in Waihe'e Valley.  While not a secret, Waihe'e was completely unknown to me until I did the Waimano Ridge Trail which summits atop the Ko'olaus high above this small windward valley.  I called Jamie who I though would enjoy a short and easy trip up to a nice waterfall and headed into Kaneohe to pick him up.

As are most areas of O'ahu, this trail is off limits.  Signs warn of the legal consequences of continuing up the road but we ignored them.  If you want to legally access the trail you can do so with Sierra Club or HTMC like groups.  Right past the first gate are these cheerful tree marigolds.  Walking up the gravel road a way we encountered another gate which was also easily bypassed.

The road continues to climb up through the valley until we reached a pumping station and Waihe'e Stream where we paused to check out the old spillway.  

The old spillway
Waihe'e Stream
A short way beyond we passed the Waihe'e Tunnel which the Honolulu Board of Water Supply uses to transport water from Kahalu'u to Kailua.

I couldn't help but notice the 'awa the Board of Water Supply had planted near the tunnel.  Also nearby was a purple flower I had to look up, soft butterfly pea.

Leaving the pump building, which I didn't think to take a picture of, and the tunnel we climbed up the increasingly steep gravel road and eventually arrived at the beautiful Hamama Falls.

Hamama Falls

We'd passed a lady walking her two Labradors earlier and she'd mentioned there were some more people up at the falls.  When we arrived a group of about 8 ladies was leaving so we had the falls to ourselves.  We spent way too much time taking pictures.

Group photo... took about 5 attempts to get. Photo by Jamie Allen

After photographing Hamama Falls to death, we decided to head over to Waihe'e Falls.  I'd been warned that the trail between the two was a little more difficult to find.  Despite the fact that I'd read only one small article I was confident we'd find the right path- eventually.  Just prior to the falls there is a Banyan tree where the other trail starts.  We crossed the stream and immediatly I was glad I'd worn my boots because damp conditions made for some really nice gooey mud.  Jamie was wearing a pair of Nikes so he started slipping and sliding all over but remained determined to see the other waterfall.  We spotted one orange ribbon and investigated.  No luck finding a second so we returned to the road and headed further down.  Not finding another Banayan, we returned back up the steep road to the tree we'd just left.  We headed back down the side of the ravine crossed the stream again.  I spotted what looked like it might be a trail up the other side of the ravine so I climbed the steep muddy bank to investigate.  The uluhe ferns had been cut so I assumed this had to be the trail.  Jamie fought his way up the very slippery slope and just barely made it to the top with his tractionless shoes.  Off into the uluhe we waded.

False trail though the uluhe. Photo by Jamie Allen
Things were looking pretty good then, mysteriously, the trail stopped.  I thought about bushwhacking the rest of the way but decided against it.  We took the opportunity to take a few shots of Waihe'e Valley.

Waihe'e Valley
Turning back around we retraced our steps towards the steep muddy slope.  Before we got there Jamie lost his balance and took a pretty nasty fall in the uluhe.  Luckily it provided some good padding.

James negotiates the ultra muddy and slippery false trail
Back at the steep muddy section he again slipped and fell when a tree he was depending on for support broke.  Amazingly, his spirits were undampened and he wanted to forge on to Waihe'e Falls.

Amazingly, his pants are still pretty white despite the two falls he's taken!

Proceeding further downstream this time I spotted another orange ribbon.  We made our way around a tree that blocked the trail and then through some ferns that masked the route but soon enough we we cruising a pretty easy to follow trail.  We passed another tree that we had to climb though, then passed some areas where the pigs have been very active, and finally arrived at Waihe'e Falls.  It was worth the work too because it was every bit as beautiful as Hamama Falls and better.

Waihe'e Falls
Waihe'e Falls
Waihe'e Falls was fantastic.  I noted a lot of mamaki and some ape growing along the stream and couldn't help but take a few shots of them too.

Mamaki growing from the rock.

After taking another round of pictures we headed back down the trail towards the stream crossing.  At this point Jamie discovered is Sony point and shoot camera was missing so we took our time searching the trail.  At the stream I headed back up the muddy slope of the false trail to the point where he'd fallen.  I scoured the area and pushed back the uluhe but couldn't find it.  He shouted that he'd just write it off as a loss but I figured since I was all the way up at the top of the muddy slope it was well worth a look further down the false trail with over $300 dollars worth of camera on the line.  Amazingly, I spotted the little black rope on his camera poking up though some of the uluhe about 20 yards down the trail.  Jamie and his camera reunited, we headed back down the gravel road and out of the valley.  Right next to the car I spotted some cats claw with it's beautiful yellow flowers and a big black bee collecting pollen.  There's a shot of it a little further down.

Waihe'e Valley is certainly a beautiful spot and these two waterfalls are both gorgeous.  The route to Hamama is literally gravel lined making it perfect for a short family outing at about 3 miles total.  Waihe'e Falls is worth the effort to get to but may take a little effort to find.  If you get on the right trail it's only about 15 minutes away.  I didn't do much homework and we paid the price is lost time and effort which doesn't really bother me because I'm all about the experience.  You may want to actually get to see to waterfalls in a reasonable amount of time though!

This trail is on Board of Water Supply property and off limits to the public you risk as trespassing charge if you proceed without a permission.  Outdoor groups do this one pretty frequently so I suggest you join one of their outings to play it safe and do it legally.

Sonoran Bee on Cat's Claw Flower
Tree Marigold Flower

More pictures from this trail and others I've done are can be viewed on Flickr.  Aloha and thanks for reading!

Ape growing alongside Waihe'e Falls


  1. Ahhh...the ever elusive Waihe'e Falls...still would like to know how to find it, but I guess that's the point, huh? Go look for it ; )
    Loved the story and the pics!

  2. Great pics. What kind of camera do you have and was there editing done to them? Or did you just snap and post :)

  3. Thanks for the compliment on the photos Chris! The more vivid photos are shot with a Nikon D90 and those less vivid looking are with the Nikon AW100 point and shoot. I rarely do any post processing of my shots unless they need to be straightened for some reason. I take way too many pictures to spend the time to do any editing!



  4. Beware. Dozens of people received $300 no trespassing citations over 4th of July weekend as they exited the trail at the gate. The police blocked them from leaving without getting cited.

    1. Unfortunately blogs, such as this one, have increased the pressure on neighborhoods with additional traffic and has lead to an increase in complaints. It's important to remember to be very respectful of adjacent property owners as well as aware that trespassing can lead to fines or worse. It's always best to stay on the official trails if you want to stay out of trouble. If you can't do the time, don't do the crime is a good rule of thumb to follow. I hear the Stairway to Heaven is $1000. Kinda spendy.

  5. It's on Board Of Water Supply land and is actually private property. They've since hired off duty HPD to guard the gate and turn back potential hikers, been doing it for about 2 years now since 2019. My parents live at the end of Waihe'e and I always see the cops posted up there.