Going up the Iao Valley without knowing what happened there centuries ago is like going to Walt Disney World in Florida and not knowing who Mickey Mouse is. Well, it’s not quite the same. The latter is a children’s comic character etched into our western culture like peanut butter and jam. The Iao Valley is best known for a brutal last stand of independence. So there are not at all alike but hopefully you understand the relationship, as small as it may be.
The geographic location of this amazing little valley, large by Maui standards, goes like this. At the mouth is the town of Wailuku and it goes deep into the center of the West Maui Mountains. There are a couple of landmarks that are worth stopping in at on the way up to the end of the road. The are a few landmarks going up the valley; a heritage park, some swimming holes, a nursery, plenty steep cliffs and a few homes.
Going to the end of the road first is the parking lot for the state park. There are always plenty of people, so you need to travel deep into the valley to get away from tourists. The parking is free and depending on the type and time of day there should be a few spots open. People don’t spend a lot of time here for a number of reasons which we will get into later.
If you haven’t heard about the battle that was fought here then the boards just off the parking lot are a good spot to read up on them. It will give you a better idea of what went on here. To sum it up, one group with guns and a cannon fought against another group with spears. You can guess what happened, that’s right, a massacre of epic proportions. There was no place to retreat to. The only path is a long journey up the valley over the mountain to Lahaina. The only option for those Mauians was to fight and unfortunately die in huge numbers. Soon after, resistance broke and the island of Hawaii, united under one ruler from the Big island of Hawaii, became somewhat peaceful again.
The features of this valley allowed the early inhabitants a safe place to live, with plenty of water to grow taro and a forest to forage for materials for building shelters. The most stand out feature is the Iao Needle. A rock precipice that was used as a lookout. From there the lookout perched way up there could see far down the valley to the sea below. They would warn the inhabitants below danger or the coming and goings of people.
The top of the needle is not accessible but if you are foolhardy you can try, though definitely not recommended or encouraged. Instead we suggest doing the walk around the pathway. Have a look at the sites, check out the demonstration garden and maybe watch some of the locals jump from the bridge, 20′ down into the pools below.
Maui activities in Iao Valley
Not all of these are recommended or encouraged.
Jumping into the pool below the bridge. It’s a bit of a rush and if you are planning on touring all around Maui there are better spots to get your adrenalin pumping. If you are goaded on by the locals and can’t back down, then go ahead. The water is not that deep. Just aim well, the pool is not that wide.
Rock Hopping up the Creek on a hot dry day. Doing this activity means you need to start in good time as the afternoon normally brings rain. You can travel up the creek a good way on the established trails. The creek is shallow in most cases with a few large deep pools. You will find sunbathers every few hundred feet. They may get annoyed that you are hoping through but don’t worry too much about them. The creek is for everyone to share.
Swimming in a Cold mountain pool. There are literally hundreds of pools on this creek that are deep enough to have a nice swim. Some can be dove into but check it carefully first.
To summarize the Iao Valley
It’s a great place to spend a morning / early afternoon before the rain moves in. Lots of history and it possibly is haunted if you believe in that. The geographical features are beautiful as far as Maui goes. The creek is great for swimming and it’s perfect for doing an intensive hike.