There’s something intriguing about the idea of exploring Hawaii’s highs and lows, its fascinating caves and spectacular falls. Luckily, just as with the state’s outstanding beaches, there is no end of options.
The Kula Kai Caverns and Lava Tubes off Hwy 11 in Ocean View are a prime example. A two-hour spelunking tour is led by an expert guide. Crawling along and up these long lava tubes with helmet and gloves is far more exciting than coal mining and a lot less messy.
Temperatures are a cool 65F/18C and you’ll need a long-sleeved shirt and long pants to avoid scraping knees and elbows on the harsh lava rock. But the rewards are many. While not for the claustrophobic, the caves are distinctly different from those in France or the continental U.S.
You’ll see everything from narrow tunnels to huge open grottoes with pools of water. There are trips for beginner, intermediate and advanced ‘spelunkers’. Good lighting is a must in these areas, where the caves go far beyond the light spilling in from openings. So you’ll be outfitted with a flashlight and helmet.
Stalagmites and stalactites in ordinary rock caves tend to be made of salt/sediment deposits built-up (or down) over millennia. In Hawaii’s caves, changes occur much more quickly as lava flows are ejected and cool. Every visit is unique.
Once you’ve had your fill of fascinating dark caverns, reach out into the light and see some of Hawaii’s amazing falls.
In a state with so much competition for most beautiful scenery, it would be hard to pick a winner.
The Manoa Falls only 20 minutes from Honolulu would definitely be in the running. You’ll stroll through bamboo groves along a 3/4-mi/1.25 km long trail when suddenly before you appears a 150-foot/45m waterfall splashing down into a crystal clear pool below.
Another serious competitor is the Hanakapiai Falls on Kauai. Part of an excellent 4-mile hike from the Kalalau Trailhead in Kee Beach to Hanakapiai Valley on the Na Pali Coast, they are an appropriate reward for the effort.
Splashing down three main terraces a full 300 feet (90m), you can take a dip in the pool at the bottom to cool off. But take care not to get too distracted. The dazzling beauty of the surrounding flora has been known to cause more than one traveler to want never to go home again.
If there were any clear champion it would have to the pair at Akaka Falls State Park. Only a half-mile (two-thirds of a kilometer) hike in along a trail covered with flowering vines lies the Kahuna Falls, plunging down 400 feet (122 m) from the top. But that already spectacular view is exceeded by the Akaka Falls covering 442 feet (134m) from top to bottom.
It’s a small wonder that Hawaii is world-famous for natural beauty. With unique underground caverns to explore and some of the finest waterfalls anywhere, both high and low sights here are tops for any adventurous tourist.