by Jenny Lee
Manoa falls is a relatively unknown corner of Oahu which you must definitely not miss. The Valley of Manoa holds a towering pristine waterfall and one of the best wilderness rain forest experiences on the island. Manoa Valley also shelters an arboretum, a lovely Chinese graveyard where food is left for the departed, and a wonderful old established neighborhood.
In Waikiki, go mauka (towards the mountains) to Ala Wai Boulevard and turn left onto it. Make a right turn at the McCully Street bridge. Go straight ahead on McCully Street and you will pass over the H1 freeway. Immediately after the overpass turn right on Metcalf Street and proceed to University Avenue. Make a left turn onto University Ave. Proceed into the valley after passing the University of Hawaii and continue to follow the road. At the end of Manoa Road just past the Paradise Park parking lot on the right, and the entrance to the Lyon Arboretum further on and to the left, is a heavily shaded area of dead end road. You may park alongside it, but do not leave anything showing in the car, or be seen placing anything in the trunk of your car. Make all your preparations for the hike to Manoa Falls before reaching this point. If you don't feel comfortable leaving your car here, park it in the Lyon Arboretum lot, go to the gift shop and pay $2, then walk back down to Manoa Road.
Be sure to bring water. Brief rain showers can be expected almost daily in the afternoon. If there has been a heavy rain, delay you hike as the stream will be dangerously swollen, and the falls will be rampaging and filled with falling rocks from above. Better wait for another day.
Walk to the end of the road past the four concrete posts and follow the clearly visible path to the right over a small footbridge. Notice the enormous leaves of the Elephant Ear plants below the bridge. A few yards past the bridge the path veers left into the forest and at a trail marker immediately crosses a small stream in which a rock footpath has been laid so you can keep your feet dry. Keep in mind that for the entire hike, you are following the stream that you can see on your right uphill, but you never cross it. If the trail at times seems unclear, just look down and follow the footprints in the mud. If you stray off the trail, which is unlikely, just stop and listen for the sound of the stream and head back toward it. The stream's source is Manoa Falls. Manoa Stream will always be close by on your right, and following it will lead you right to the Falls.
The Manoa Falls Trail, being only 3/4 of a mile long and taking about 2 hours for the round trip, is a favorite with the locals. There are a couple of places that require a scramble up over rocks or tree roots, and the muddy trail narrows at the edge of a precipice once or twice, so unruly children could get in trouble. But responsible kids will love it, and if it's a typical weekend, you will pass numbers of supervised muddy groups along the way. It's a great opportunity for both them and the visitor to live out the classic island fantasy of swimming beneath a cool, tumbling waterfall.
This trail is muddy, slippery, and uphill. Dress appropriately. Every step should be deliberate because large boulders and networks of tangled tree roots lay across much of this trail. This is a real rain forest, so the hike can be hot and humid. Mosquito repellent helps, as does wearing long pants and not wearing anything scented.
Along the path, ferns grow from the streams and you can see bright orange Tulip Tree blossoms covering the foot path. Nectar feeding birds can be seen clinging to these blooms high in the canopy. Mountain apples drop their juicy edible fruits along the way. You can usually find these right below the falls area. You can detect a strong vinegar smell from the rotting fruits fermenting. All the way up to the falls, pools in the stream hold live gobys and prawns.
After the sweaty hike, plunging into the pool's surprisingly chilly waters comes as a pleasant shock, and the pounding of the tumbling cascade on the back of you neck and shoulders feels like nirvana. Believe me, the cold water compensates with an incredible refreshing feeling. There is a real sense of spirituality here, where you can sit and contemplate your environment. These are all the things that help make Manoa Falls a place where Hawaiian dreams do come true.