Heaven on Earth: Our road trip to magnificent Hana

Come on, its just a rope, everyone is climbing, lets goooo !”, the impatient high pitch shriek echoed in the vast emptiness of the ravine. Nearby the gentle cackle of a spectacular waterfall was occasionally interrupted by the nervous laughter of teenagers struggling to hoist themselves over a sheer cliff face. Their only hope – a dangerously worn out rope dangling from a tree branch. The ground was treacherously muddy – we’d witnessed perfectly careful adventurers, too many to count, slipping on the wet stones constantly. The sun was shining. The mosquitoes were feasting. Everything was green and dazzling. It was heaven on earth.

The first waterfall of Na’Ili’Ili-Haele, Hana, Maui, Hawaii

We are on our first ever road trip to Hana. It is said that Hana is not a destination, it’s a state of mind. After procrastinating for years, one crisp winter morning we finally packed our bags and hopped on a plane to Maui determined to conquer Hana. On the way we picked up Andrew Dougherty’s book Maui Revealed for directions and general advice.

However, we realized that though the book mentions venues, reaching them (as in standing next to them for selfies) required a lot of trial and error because they were mostly unmarked and often required following barely visible foot trails through a formidable alien forest terrain.

# The Four Falls of Na’Ili’Ili-Haele:

At around 1/10 mile past the 6.5 mile marker on Hwy 360, a small pack of cars parked on both sides of the road indicate human presence. The turnout is so tiny (and full) that we, driving well below the posted speed limit, miss it in a jiffy. In a similar sequence of events, we will miss many more turnouts during our drive to Hana because the turnouts, when there is one, are mostly unmarked, often barely large enough to fit a couple of economy sized compact cars, frequently overgrown with vegetation and always occupied with the vehicles of innumerable tourists who do the drive everyday. Therefore, a U-turn and couple minutes later we’re back. Cars are parked on both sides of the road tightly wedged between the jungle and the road, one set of wheels on the dirt and one set of wheels barely clearing the white freeway lane edge marker. We are reminded of the age-old proverb “While in Rome, do as the Romans do”. And so we do. There are no signs. There are no restrooms. Only a tiny opening in the dense jungle. (If you’re doing the trip in the clockwise direction around the island, the opening will be to your right). As we enter the forest the forest closes in on us.

Adventurous hiking trail heading to the waterfalls of Na’Ili’Ili-Haele

We soon realize we’re not alone. Mosquitoes are everywhere. Millions of them. But of course, we’ve forgotten our anti-bug sprays so we’re forced to donate vast quantities of our sweet mainland blood for the betterment of Hana mosquitoes. We soldier on. The next obstacle is a narrow but deep channel. Either side of the channel is steep and slippery with mud. We were contemplating jumping across it when we notice a rotting plank (about 3ft X 1ft) across the channel. One misstep and we risk falling into the muddy slush or worse, a twisted ankle or bruised knee. Hail Mary ! and miraculously we are able to cross over without any accidents. Next we find 3 trails. Which one should we follow? Again, there are no directions. Unable to decide we toss a coin (really!), pick the middle trail and resume our hike. In a few minutes, human voices in the distance confirm that we’re going in the right direction. After walking for about 10 more minutes we reach a stream and find a group of people cooling their heels in the ankle deep water. We exchange greetings. A quick chat confirms that the risk of getting lost in this tropical paradise is real. This team had picked the wrong trail and wasted 20 minutes lost in the wilderness! The stream is cool & crystal clear. Later, I learn that we are on EMI (East Maui Irrigation) land and the water is used for agricultural and rural customers. The streambed is full of small round pebbles but there are a few big rocks jutting out of the water. Since we don’t have our water shoes on, we try tip toeing on the big rocks hoping to avoid wetting our shoes. A few steps and the inevitable happens. I slip on the slippery rock, lose my balance and splash into the stream. There is water everywhere – on my clothes, in my hair, on my sunglasses and in my backpack. We learn our lesson. Resistance is futile. So we unlace our shoes, wash the mud off of them and cross the stream bare feet. The fresh cold water feels GOOD ! The trail on the other side of the stream is muddy from all the stream’s moisture but we hit dry ground within a few yards. Another 5 minutes and we reach waterfall #1 (the first picture of this post). Yaay !! We’ve earned our first waterfall on our trip to Hana! We pause for a well-deserved break to drink water and take pictures. Waterfall #2 is only a few minutes away on the same trail and is even more beautiful.

The second waterfall of Na’Ili’Ili-Haele, Hana, Maui, Hawaii

Words cannot describe the joy in discovering this beautiful waterfall hidden in a lush tropical jungle. This is a form of true and pure beauty that delights and transcends across all ages, religions, caste, creed and race. Why don’t we prescribe a visit to this and other beautiful waterfalls as a cure for many of life’s unhappiness? Life is too short to be unhappy when mother nature is waiting for us with such bounties. Move over retail therapy. Waterfall therapy is here to stay ! Then its decision time. In order to reach the next 2 waterfalls we must climb a rope to get over a cliff. Much soul searching follows. At this point, its already been an hour – about double the time we’d budgeted. [This sequence will again repeat. Being inexperienced hikers without proper gear, it will take us a lot longer to cover difficult trails on this road.] But we make our peace. In the spirit of Hana, we slow down and enjoy our hike instead of rushing to try and see everything. All the hiking and excitement have made us hungry for lunch, we still have a number of sites to hit, and, per the book, the rope is only just the beginning of hard work, as we’ll have to swim through streams to get to waterfalls #3 and #4. So reluctantly, we turn back. Its good bye for now, but we’ll be back. As we return to our car all wet from the stream, itchy from the mosquito bites and hungry and tired, we feel an immense satisfaction of achievement. The beauty we witnessed today and the memories we created will be with us for the rest of our lives.

A few more minutes of driving and we come across one of the most peaceful, serene waterfalls in all of Hana:

Imagine yourself enjoying this waterfall.