A Visit to Iao Valley
A visit to Iao Valley when visiting Maui is a must. This place is true magic. As soon as you get out of the airport, you will notice these beautiful mountains to the west, overlooking the water. That’s Iao Valley.
Getting to Iao Valley
The drive along Kahekili Highway’s narrow road up to Iao Valley is incredibly beautiful. With an average of 386 inches of rain per year, vegetation is heavy throughout the valley coming out of every crack and crevice. Also known as the Valley of Supreme Light, it is easy to see why. There is so much lush green all around.
Around Wailuku, you will take the Iao Valley Road all the way to the end to the state park. At the end of the road there is a parking lot with a $5 day use fee. This parking lot is small and fills up quickly, so be sure to get there early.
The most publicized landmark in the state park is the Iao Needle; a lava remnant rising 1200 ft from the valley floor. You will see the Needle as soon you pull up to the park, unless it’s cloudy. Clouds like to settle in around the Needle later in the day. To increase your chances of viewing the Needle, arrive early in the day.
Do take the walk up to the look-out point to the Needle. It’s a quick and easy 10 minute walk up to the top. The view from the top is perfect to see the valley spread out below you, as well as an impressive collection of tall peaks that form the West Maui Mountains.
History of Iao Valley
Iao Valley has an impressive past full of Hawaiian history. The bloody battle of Kepaniwai in 1790 was fought on the valley floor between the then Hawaiian King Kamehameha and the then Maui King Kalanikūpule. The battle was Kamehameha’s attempt to unite the Hawaiian Islands under one rule. Known as the bloodiest battle fought in Hawaiian history, it was said that so many soldiers were killed that the river “ran red with blood of the dead.” Although none of Maui’s chiefs were killed in the battle, so many others were resulting in the “damming of the waters” or Kepaniwai, by the amount of corpses in the water.
As we made our way back down the path, we went down a staircase that took us in a different direction. We ended up down by a stream with a nearby path going off the paved one. To see more of Iao Valley, we ventured off on the unpaved path. Unknown to us, you aren’t really supposed to go off the unpaved paths.
We walked along the stream and then up into the forested area. Ducking under some vegetation, I noticed a petroglyph drawing that I pointed out to Drew. There were “offerings” of lava rock wrapped in ti leaves left under the petroglyph.
Curious about the petroglyph, upon our return to our timeshare, I did some research to see if I could find out anything about it. The petroglyph is that of the rainbow warrior. It is interpreted to be the Keeper of the Aina or of the land and its people. This petroglyph can also be found in the Big Island’s lava fields. There is an arch or rainbow that begins and rests on the man’s shoulders. This suggests that he is responsible for the earth as a rainbow warrior and reveres ancient wisdom of the world’s cultures and practices in them actively in peace, harmony, and enlightenment for all of the community.
The rainbow in Hawaii is often linked to transformation and peace. Hawaiian legend predicts that the return of rainbow warriors to earth will bring big change to the world as we know it. It is believed that babies born with rainbows over their homes and are accompanied by rainbows throughout their lives are destined to become great chieftains.
Interestingly enough, while I noticed the rainbow warrior right away, others who came along the path walked right past it. None of them ever knew it was there. Does that say something? Was it meant for me to go down that path and find it?
As we made our way back along the path to the paved one, we saw a sign we swore was not there before; a sign saying to not venture off the paved path. We were confused knowing we did not see the sign before. Were we meant to go off the path and find the rainbow warrior? I do like to think things happen for a reason.
At the end of the path you will find a small botanical garden displaying lush indigenous Hawaiian flora. Learn about the plants brought by the Hawaiians who settled in Iao Valley by taking a short walk along a paved nature trail through the tropical botanical garden that boarders the bank of the Iao stream. Be sure to keep an eye open for different birds and lizards of Hawaii living in the garden.
Iao Valley is open daily from 7am to 7pm.
Have you ever been to the Iao Valley?
All photography by Kimmy Hayes and Drew Evensen © 2013