Akaka Falls -- Big Island

Visited 17 January 2007

The populated areas of Hawaii are essentially islands defined by dormant (sometimes active) volcanoes that make movement across them nearly impassable.  Instead, they are ringed by two-lane asphalt roads that string visually stunning sights together like so many jewels on a necklace.  The west side of this necklace is usually quite dry and gems here are beaches and ports that now belch hotels and t-shirts.  The east (windward) side with huge amounts of rain sparkle with rain forests and waterfalls.  Nowhere is this more true than on the state's big kid, Hawaii.

One of its most popular wet-side attractions is the Akaka Falls -- a 422 foot drop, easily accessible by car from nearby Hilo and then an easy 0.4-mile walk along a paved path.  Hiking doesn't get much easier or more scenic than this!  For those with a little more energy, this state park features a longer loop walk through bamboo that provides views of a second natural waterworks: the Kahuna Falls.  (We were running out of time, and so didn't get to see Kahuna).

Akaka and Kahuna are prototypical wet-side Hawaiian falls: tall and thin plunges from ash to resisting lava bases.

This part of the Big Island (called the Hamakua Coast) is pretty much all rain forest.  The broadleaf whaleback plants (foreground below) thrive in the perpetual cloud mist created at the base of Akaka Falls:

Note the spider web below -- seemingly impervious to the frequent rainfall.  (This spot gets about 226 inches a year and averages about a 1/2 inch a day during January):

While our wet January visit didn't find much color, these heliconias bloomed:

The bad news was that the constant January rain put a bit of a damper on our visit.  The good news was that the same rain improved our short walk to the falls by swelling the rivulets. 

This eastern side of the Big Island once depended upon sugar cane for its economic livelihood.  That all but died during the 20th century and the area has been pretty much in permanent recession ever since.  With its spectacular scenery including volcanoes and waterfalls such as this, the East side would be a natural for the tourist industry if it weren't for the rain.

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Created on 23 January 2007

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