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Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Akaka Falls on the Hamakua Coast, Big Island: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The windward side of Hawaii Island is famous for its numerous, beautiful waterfalls. Flying into Hilo on rainy day, one is presented with the incredible vision of an island seeming brimming with waterfalls, spuming off from every declivity and and canyon in the beach cliffs. Many of these waterfalls are inaccessible, or available for view only by paying admission, but three of the loveliest are located in public parks, either within the city limits of Hilo, or with an easy drive from town.

Rainbow Falls

The subject of recent and ancient legend, Rainbow Falls is the lovely emblem of Hilo town. Located in the Wailuku River Park along Rainbow Drive off of Waianuenue Avenue in Hilo Town, Rainbow falls is easily visited by car, public transportation or foot from town.

The cave beneath Rainbow Falls is said to have been the home of Hina, mother of the demigod Maui, who brought fire to mankind. It is also said to be the place where Kamehameha buried his father’s bones.

The characteristic wishbone shape of Rainbow falls is best seen at moderate river flows…too little water and only a single drizzle remains, too much runoff and the falls merge into a single, roaring flume. At any time, however, it’s a beautiful place and worthwhile to visit.

Waianuenue in Hawai’ian means “rainbow in waterfall”, and just about every village in Hawai’i large enough to have paved roads, has a “Waianuenue Street”. This particular waterfall was called “Waianuenue” by the ancient Hawai’ians, and remains the reigning queen of its namesake. A remarkable and lovely waterfall, the rainbows within it, which are the emblem of the state of Hawai’i, are best seen in the mid to late morning. Follow the trail to the left along the river bank to delightful swimming and wandering; please note, however, that swimming in rivers and near falling water is dangerous. Don’t go in if the current is swift or if recent rains have swollen the river.

Boiling Pots and Pe’epe’e Falls
Wild swimming, a jungle of ferns and blossoms, forest solitude and a raging river, all within a few miles of downtown Hilo, Boiling Pots and Pe’epe’e Falls are located in the Wailuku River Park just mauka (uphill, but east in any case) of Rainbow Falls.

Boiling pots is a short section of rapids in the Wailuku River between Pe’epe’e Falls and Rainbow Falls that is popular with locals for swimming, cliff diving and body surfing the rapids. Set in an emerald jungle canyon, the river is an open invitation to cool off for visitors who may be unaccustomed to Hilo’s climate of fierce heat and unrelenting humidity.

If swimming is in your plans, however, be very, very careful; conditions at Boiling Pots are not as benign as they seem and can change instantly with a minor cloudburst miles upstream, that you won’t ever know about until the river fills to flood stage. Follow the dirt path past the “No Swimming” signs down into the canyon for access to the swimming holes. There are also many flat rocks you can lie out on and absorb that wonderful Hawai’i sunshine if the swimming is not inviting.

If sight seeing, and not swimming, is your agenda, content yourself with a walk to the scenic overlook, from which the boiling pots and Pe’epe’e Falls can be seen. In low water conditions, it is possible to hike up-river and over to Pe’epe’e Falls for some guaranteed solitude and fairly untraveled vistas. Otherwise, Pe’epe’e Falls can be found by following roads along the Wailuku River to the last bridge above Boiling Pots; the falls are easily visible from the bridge and the hike is mercifully short and easy-although a haven for mosquitoes.

Akaka Falls
There is a reason that Akaka Falls rates as the most visited tourist site on the island of Hawai’i. Simply put, the 420 foot, free falling plunge of clear water down a fern festooned cliff is an amazing and beautiful site. Leaving the parking lot, the loop trail immediately splits. Going left through fern, ginger, impatiens and bamboo, one reaches Akaka Falls in 5-8 minutes of ambling. If you turn right, the trail loops up and down some hills, through a wonderful jungle of flowers, ferns, heliconia, palms and bamboo to 100 foot tall Kahuna Falls in about 15 minutes of walking; Akaka Falls is then reached by following the same path another 5 minutes and 5-8 minutes after that you are back at the parking lot.

If you are lucky, and approach Akaka Falls on a sunny morning when the sun shines into to grotto, you may be blessed with seeing rainbows in the falls, or waianuenue, the lovely icon of Hawaii.

When visiting Akaka Falls, be sure to save some time to explore the shops, galleries and cafes of Honomu on the way back to the highway; it’s unlike anywhere you’ve ever been before…guaranteed; old Hawaii with a modern flair.

Video of Rainbow Falls is available here; video of Akaka Falls is available here.

For more information on visiting Hawaii in general and touring the Big Island in particular, visit, and

About the Author : Popular television personality and award-winning independent filmmaker Dr. Donald B. MacGowan originally pursued a career in academics, earning two B.Sc. degrees, a dual M.Sc., and a PhD.; co-authoring over 5.2 million dollars in grants, and publishing more than 200 refereed journal articles, abstracts, etc. Gaining sanity somewhere in that process, he quit the academic rat race and began to live. Donnie is an accomplished, prolific alpinist, having climbed on 5 of the seven continents, putting up more than 150 first ascents on rock, ice and snow, and a dozen first ski descents. He has written, directed and produced short and feature length films on health, travel, mountaineering and life in a touring rock band. Donnie records and tours relentlessly with his Celtic Punk fusion band “Fatal Loins”–although nobody much seems to care for their music. A Hawaii resident since 2000, he quietly and humbly inhabits Kailua Kona, doing environmental good works, surfing the be-jeezis out of the local waves and frenetically producing somewhat bizarre and mildly disturbing programs for local television which have recently been lauded as: “Ignorant”, “Arrogant” and “Totally Insane”. You may say what you wish about him, Donnie does not care. For somewhere underneath those swaying palm trees, in those warm aloha breezes, he is far too busy praying for good surf to hear you…

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