Tucked back from the main road opposite the trail to the more famous Oheo Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools) in Haleakala National Park, the Pipiwai Trail leads through forests and along a creek until it reaches a towering waterfall. While the waterfall is pretty nice, the highlight of this trail is the mile-long stretch that runs through a dense bamboo forest that is so tall that it blocks out the tenacious Hawaiian sun.
Distance: 4 Miles
Elevation Gained: 900′
Get there like this. (Note: you may want to waterproof your car)
Note: There is a $10 fee to enter Haleakala National Park
After several draining hours on the Hana Highway, including stops at Waianapanapa State Park, Kahanu Gardens, and various sundry waterfalls along the way, Kelly and I finally made it past Hana to what is usually the ultimate destination on the Highway: The Seven Sacred Pools. Now, there are more than seven pools, and they aren’t sacred. This was just a marketing gimmick before the area was absorbed into Haleakala National Park. The gimmick works, however, and the vast majority who visit here hang out by the pools, which, lovely as they are, become pretty hectic.
Kelly and I skipped the pools entirely for a brand new experience to both of us: The Pipiwai Trail. This trail leaves from the main parking lot and begins cutting into the lush, verdant Hawaiian interior. This side of the island receives a massive share of rainfall, owing to its lying in the path of the moisture-laden trade winds. Even after miles of Hana Highway, the lushness is still a mild shock, even during the “dry season.”
The trail first cuts through towering grasses. After reaching a large banyan tree, the trail continues through a forest blanketed with ferns and a variety of unknown local shrubs and bushes. It’s tough to determine whether this is forest or jungle. While the trees suggest forest, the vines and ferns that pop out of every possible crevice suggest jungle as well. I don’t know enough about tropical ecology to say so; all I can say is that life explodes out of every corner on this part of the island.
As I said in the opening synopsis, the highlight of this trail (at least for me) was a dense bamboo forest. A thoughtfully-included boardwalk traverses this stretch of bamboo, much of which grows up to 25 feet. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet, and it also seems to have little qualms about having its personal space invaded. The plants frequently grew with less than 6″ of space, making it apparent that there was plenty of moisture to go around for this grass-related tree.
Every so often, a breeze would kick up, which would set the bamboo leaves at the tops of the stalks to rustling. If the breeze got strong enough, the stalks would often bang against each other, creating a crackling, rustling sound throughout the forest. This stretch is unlike any stretch of hiking I’ve found anywhere, and the combination of novelty and near-darkness in this forest made it more intriguing than anything else of the trail.
Of course, a bamboo forest is probably not enough to qualify as a destination in itself. After the forest, there remains about a half of a mile before the trail reaches Waimoku falls. This towering waterfall rushes over the side of a deep amphitheatre in lacy cascades. Here, you’ll find a crowd of hikers gawking and snapping pictures (myself included), as well as swimming in the pool. The swimming isn’t officially sanctioned though since rocks frequently tumble down the side of the cliffs. After 400′ of falling, you might as well be getting pelted by a meteorite. These rocks can kill people, and we kept our distance from the cliff.
After enjoying the waterfall (we’re both not huge fans), we turned back and enjoyed another jaunt through the bamboo forest. We ended up skipping the pools as we were pretty wiped out after a very long day and early start. The pools are a great addition, and I’ve commenced thinking about them as an addition as opposed to the highlight that they’re advertised to be. I heard you can’t even swim here anymore after some people died from cliff diving. Quite a pity, as the swimming is refreshing after a long drive. Either way, we had a long way to go before we completed our circumnavigation of Haleakala and the east side of Maui.