It seems rather unnecessary that an island of already such breathtaking beauty should also have within its confines a geological wonder – a seemingly out of place creation that is unparalleled anywhere (except maybe in Arizona…). I personally think it’s a little over the top. Nonetheless, there it sits on Kaua’i’s west side. The Waimea Canyon.
For those of you who have already decided to visit and need to have some facts with which to wow and annoy your travel partners, memorize this next part.
Kaua’i itself is only 26 miles by 21 miles in area and is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands. The islands themselves are volcanoes “peaking” out from the ocean and Kauai is the oldest in the chain.
About 4 million years ago, give or take a few, the Kaua’i volcano collapsed, thus creating a huge depression. Erosion and lava flows combined began to form the ever changing canyon.
The summit of Mt. Wai’ale’ale, proud to be hailed as the wettest spot on earth as they enjoy an average of 466 inches of annual rainfall, sends constant floods and rivers down along the canyon walls. Over thousands of years, these have left their mark in the form of deep incisions and chasms, shaping the canyon and feeding the seemingly innocent Waimea River that also carves its way through.
The canyon walls are comprised of lava flows. The west side was formed by lava flowing downward and the east side was formed by the lava pooling.
What we are currently left to marvel at is a canyon 10 miles long, 1 mile wide and 3 600 feet deep.
Boring facts end here. Stop memorizing.
The Waimea Canyon is located within the 4 000 acres of Koke’e State Park and is a very popular tourist attraction. There are a number of ways to view the canyon.
Helicopter: A great option if you have that option. Spectacular views come at a price but this may be one of those times when it is worth it.
Car: Drive up from Waimea town along Waimea Canyon Drive and you will pass the best lookouts. They are easy to get to and are a great option if you don’t want to hike. (I just gave away the 3rd option). Many angles and heights of the canyon can be viewed from the numerous lookouts, and most have the ever important “facilities”. All lookouts are handicap accessible.
Waimea Canyon Drive ends in Koke’e State Park and the center is located at 3 600 feet. Here is located a Natural History Museum exhibiting the indigenous plants, wildlife and culture of the area. It always helps to have knowledge and understating of an area in order to appreciate it fully.
(The park and museum are free and open year round – but it’s nice to leave a donation.)
On hand at the park are rangers who will direct you if you choose to enjoy one of the 45 hiking trails. They vary in degree of difficulty but there is something for almost everyone. Maps can also be found here.
Rule #1: If you are headed down the canyon, don’t forget you have to climb back up.
Rule #2: Be prepared for a quick loss of elevation. 2 ½ miles = 2 000 feet.
Rule #3: Must have gear is; water, snack, camera, a GOOD sunscreen, boots, long pants, bug spray, sweater (cool due to elevation), no sweater (hot in canyon).
Regardless of your mode of travel it is best to start touring around early in the day before the clouds and fog (and possibly rain) begin to roll in in the afternoon. Than make your way downward.
Points of Interest:
It can be argued that the Waimea Canyon Lookout has the best view. But nobody would.
Kalalau Valley Lookout: From here you can see valleys, waterfalls, cliffs and rainforest plants in all their splendor.
Waipo’o Falls: At 800 feet, the upper falls looks like a movie set with its large pool of water in front, surrounded by a beautiful tropical garden.
All that’s left for me to do is to try and actually describe the beauty of the canyon.
The colors consist of vivid reds, browns, yellows, grays, greens, blues and purples. The canyon walls are dry and earthy, while the canyon floor and rim are lush and alive with tropical vegetation and cascading waterfalls.
It is said that Mark Twain called the Waimea Canyon the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” – or did he call it the “Little Grand Canyon”? It was one of those. It is also said that he had never been to Kaua’i. It’s all a little sketchy.
Nonetheless, it’s still a great testament to have Mr. Clemens compare it to the Grand Canyon based on reputation and hearsay alone.
All of this comparison to the Grand Canyon is not to “compare” them at all, or to say which is prettier (…Waimea Canyon). I merely reference the one in Arizona to give an idea of its grandeur because it is so hard to imagine such a wonder on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific.
We’ve all seen beautiful paintings that are so masterfully done that we have trouble discerning if they are paintings or photographs. The Waimea Canyon is the opposite. The colors seem almost unnatural and you might find it looks “fake”. You are gazing at something that is real, yet it looks more like a painting.