Where Rains Converge: Exploring Maui’s Mystic Twin Falls
“Any moment now,” I said as the car hugged the curb. I clung anxiously to my map with both hands, my eyes flickering between the lush green jungle to our right and the sparkling turquoise ocean to our left. My husband Chris gripped the steering wheel, one eye cautiously attentive to the road before us while the other bemused the scenery.
Maui’s scenic Hana Highway is spellbounding. It begins in the city of Kahului and continues about 50 miles to the quiet town of Hana through lush, tropical rainforests, towering waterfalls, and a litany of tide pools and black sand beaches. It had long been a dream of mine to drive Hana Highway, winding leisurely the more than 600 turns and crossing the nearly 60 bridges along the way, taking our time to stop here and there as we went.
But there was a toddler in our backseat, and we would not be making that journey today. Our daughter, Ava, whose attention span has the shelf life of melted cheese, was already getting stir crazy, so I was eager to arrive at our destination.
Adventuring with a two-year-old takes patience and fortitude, and often even the most well-organized plans fall apart. Toddlers easily lose interest, get tired or hungry, throw tantrums, and break all rules of proper, mannerly public behavior. On more than one excursion, whether to the beach, the library, or the grocery store, I’ve had to turn around and abort the mission entirely. Hana Highway was no different and Ava couldn’t care less that we were in one of the most beautiful destinations in the world.
”Here!” I said, and Chris whipped the car into a dirt parking lot on the right. We had only made it to mile marker two along Hana Highway when we reached Twin Falls, a set of waterfalls easily reached by short trail that - according to my research - was the bite-sized adventure for which we had been searching. We pulled into an empty space, and I fumbled for my small pack. I stuffed a thin towel inside, along with a bottle of water, suntan lotion, and Ava’s bathing suit, and then opened the back door to unbuckle my little one. We locked the car, paid the guard a parking fee of ten dollars, and made our way towards the trailhead.
All was green along the path where we walked except the blue sky beyond the open canopy and the trial itself, which was an earthen mix of soil, gravel, roots and larger stones. Chris held Ava’s hand, walking slowly at her toddler’s pace, past a series of trail signs and bamboo stalks. Within five minutes Ava had asked to be held, and so she found her usual place on my hip.
When Chris holds Ava, he uses the strength of his arms, upper back and shoulders but, despite his Herculean efforts, eventually burns out. Not me. I stick out my right hip just a bit and Ava‘s little legs hangs on it like a wet shirt over a chair. I wrap my right arm around the swell of her back and then, as though it was meant to be, she hooks her left arm through my right like a pretzel. The arrangement is natural but its not without some effort. I trust, however, that she’s secure there, having proven more than once that it’s possible to bend forward 90 degrees and her body would still be hooked to mine.
When we reached an observation area that looked down about 80 feet over the first waterfall and the pool beneath it, it was our indication that we’d missed the trail to the first falls. Rather than turn around and retrace our steps back to the original trail, or to scramble the rocks in front of us in a near vertical descent to the waterfall below, we opted instead to continue to the second falls.
The Hawaiian Islands boast nearly 100 waterfalls throughout the main island chain, many of which are on Maui and can be accessed from Hana Road. Those that occur in Hawaii usually tend to exist in the northeastern, moisture carrying sides of the islands. Rain obeys gravity, flowing down the steep mountain slopes and converging into rivers and, eventually, over the waterfalls and into the pools beneath them. During large rain events in Hawaii, water levels in rivers and pools can increase several feet in a matter of minutes. People have drown in such events, which can occur with little warning.
Thankfully the weather was dry that day as we continued our journey, at least another mile, towards the second falls. The path we walked was now a neatly maintained gravel trail. The canopy above began to enclose around us and, before long, there were green palms and bamboo shoots encircling us on either side. Flowers, mainly hibiscus, were like tiny colorful torches set as guides along the trial in various shades of reds, orange, and yellow among the lush, green foliage.
Where the canopy neglected us, I could feel the powerful Pacific sun on my back. I was thankful for the wide-brimmed hat I was wearing that shaded my face, neck, and shoulders. The dense, jungle-like vegetation that surrounded us had barricaded the usual Maui breeze. The layer of sweat which had formed across my body had been exacerbated by my daughter, who was still tucked neatly between my hip and the hook of my right arm.
“It’s so hot,” I said, and I felt my face reddening as it often does in the heat. Ava’s cheeks were pink too, but she sat contentedly and without complaint, apparently enjoying the changing scenery.
Eventually, the gravel trail we walked joined a river and I could hear the sound of the falls a short distance away. We found ourselves scaling more rocks, careful of our foot placement. One time early on, a rock had shifted beneath the weight of Chris and his shoe met the cool water. With Ava still hung securely on my hip, I stretched out my left arm like a balancing rod and hopped gingerly across each rock.
The sound of running water grew louder. Eventually, the canopy opened up again and I saw the second falls laid out before us. A flurry of white rapids broke between rocks and forced its way over the cliff and into a pool below. Green vines traced the waterfall’s path downwards and hung like a curtain from top of the falls. In the darkness beyond the waterfall, there was a cave that had no doubt been hollowed out from centuries of falling water.
We approached the falls and I balanced my small backpack on a fallen tree and lowered Ava delicately to the ground, proceeding to change her into her bathing suit. When I’d finished, I lifted her again and walked my way out towards the pool, taking my time on the slippery rocks. I found a place to sit halfway in the water with Ava on my lap. It was cold, very cold, but the water came as a welcome relief from the heat. Ava did not share my sentiment, however, and wouldn’t let me submerge her beyond her feet which were by now kicking with delight.
Chris entered the pool and immediately submerged himself - a best practice with cold bodies of water. Ava and I both watched as he tucked his head under and swam the length of pool submerged, popping up on the other side of the falls. We’d exerted ourself on the hike, and so now we’d take our time as a reward for our efforts.
There were other tourists there that day too, a procession of which came and went from the falls. Some would swim in the pool, others - apprehensive of the cold water - were content to sit on the sidelines and watch. In taking our time we discovered that, on several occasions, we had the pool entirely to ourselves.
When Chris returned from his swim, I handed over our daughter, who by now was happily submerged up to her waist. I waded out several feet from them both and, without hesitation, dove in. I came up for air and then allowed my body to flatten calmly on the surface of the water. I floated there, the sound of the waterfall loud and echoing in the cave beyond, reverberating and intensifying its energy. I could never be content to sit on the sidelines. After all, temporary discomforts pass, but extraordinary experiences stay with us forever.
By this time, Chris had managed to coax Ava further into the pool by playfully launching her in the air and catching her to his chest. Ava was all laughter, by now completely unaware of the temperature and begging to be thrown again.
When adventuring as a family, sometimes the journey is enough, and sometimes its the reward at the end. This time, thankfully, both had been pretty spectacular.
I took this photo of my husband and daughter in the second pool of Twin Falls during our visit to the Hawaiian island of Maui in March, 2022.