Maui’s ‘Iao Valley’

Feb 4, 2022 | General Information

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Located in Central Maui, just west of Wailuku, towering peaks guard the lush valley floor of Iao Valley State Park. This 4,000-acre, 10-mile long park is home to one of Hawaii’s and Maui’s great landmarks — the 1,200-foot high Iao Needle. This vegetation-covered lava remnant rising from the valley floor presides over historic and sacred Iao Valley. The significance of Iao Velley for Hawaiians should not be underestimated. In recent years, even having a comfort station in Iao Valley for sanitation purposes created a serious conflict between native Hawaiians and state park authorities. Hawaiians expressed strong concerns that a comfort station in the Iao Valley State Monument desecrates the sacredness of the valley.

It was in Iao Valley that, in 1790, at the Battle of Kepaniwai, King Kamehameha I clashed with Maui’s army. The King was pursuing his bold quest to unite the all the Hawaiian islands. Iao Needle served as a lookout point during the ferocious battle. Kamehameha’s defeat of Maui’s forces changed the course of Hawaiian history. The sacred valley became kapu (forbidden) to all but Hawaiian royalty. Sheer walls around Iao Valley provided a burial site for Hawaii’s royalty (ali’i) for centuries. Hawaiians believed that desecrating the bones of ali’i could cause harm to their living descendants.

For visitors a well-marked, paved pedestrian path leads from the parking lot to views of Iao Needle. A ridge-top lookout provides incredible views of the valley. The park also offers a rainforest walk and interactive exhibits at the Hawaii Nature Center. Planning your visit to Iao needle keep in mind that it is the second wettest place in Hawaii. The summit of the valley receives and average of over an inch of rain per day and water flows swiftly into the Iao stream. Trails follow the stream into the valley.

Beautiful Kepaniwai Park Heritage Gardens memorialize the multicultural history of Maui. Buildings and gardens represent Hawaiian, American missionary, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, and Filipino cultures. The gardens provide a lovely place to stroll or have a picnic lunch. The Hawaii Nature Center and its Interactive Nature Museum feature exhibits that explain Hawaii’s natural history.