Papalaua Falls
Papalaua Falls by ksr8s/flickr

Papalaua Falls

Hawaii, United States of America

Nestled within the jewel-green Papalaua Valley, Papalaua Falls is one of the tallest and most jaw-dropping of Hawaii’s numerous thrilling falls. Located in the Northeastern region of Moloka’i Island, Papalaua is unique among Hawaiian waterfalls for its perennial flow. Whether wet or dry, hot or cold, it continues to cascade down the verdurous, tropical mountainsides. The grand 1,250-foot falls are at their peak during the wet season, from November to March, when floods and mud-slides occur with alarming frequency, which can make access to this remote area quite difficult. For this reason the falls are normally reachable only by helicopter and boat.  However, some experienced hikers who like a challenge may be able to reach the pool of the lower 78-foot fall.

The middle drop of the Papalaua Falls is widely acknowledged as the most breathtaking. At 1,115 feet, it is the tallest of this series of falls, and is able to be seen from the Pacific Ocean. While many waterfalls ‘free-fall,’ the Papalaua Falls flow along a deep fissure carved by the strength of the streaming water. The stream eventually makes its way directly to the sea through a deep, canyon-like valley. This area is so secluded and continuously shrouded in shade that only a few hours of sunshine make their way through the lush vegetation each day. Yet the abundant rainfall on this side of the island allows exotic plants to populate almost every inch of the ground. Archaeologists have even uncovered the ancient remains of agricultural terraces where indigenous people used to grow taro (lo’i in Hawaiian), a plant native to Southeast Asia that tastes similar to sweet potato. The outlines of these terraces can still be seen today, particular when viewed from above in a helicopter.

Moloka’i itself is one of Hawaii’s least developed and most secluded islands, called ‘the backside’ by locals. Travellers looking for enchanting, exotic landscapes without the bustling tourist activity of most Hawaiian islands need search no further. 1.5 million years of intense volcanic activity has formed the mountains and gorges of this green paradise, while Pacific waves have sculpted the arresting sea cliffs that distinguish the northern side of Moloka’i. Whatever the geological record, local legend has it that the Papalaua falls were formed when a mo’o, an oversized lizard with a penchant for human flesh, was struck down by Hi’iaka, the patron goddess of Hawaii. In his last throes of death, the mo’o struck his giant tail across the mountain forming the valley that shelters the falls. Some say that the mo’o remains in the pool at the bottom of the falls, lying in wait to make innocent passersby his next snack. However it was created, Papalaua Falls is a sure bet for adventurous travellers who are thirsty for an authentic Hawaiian experience off the beaten track.

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