Upper Waimea Canyon.

Like many Kauai streams, the Waimea river changes names as you go upstream. First, above Koaie Stream on some maps it becomes the Waiahulu. Then after the Waiahulu turns off west, it's called Poomau.

For the sake of simplicity, we'll call it the Waimea River (below the junction of Kawaikoi and Mohihi streams (KMJ) and call the canyon above Koaie Stream, the upper canyon.

In our hikes around Kokee and on the approaches to the end of Camp 10 road, we'd had many chances to look down into the canyon, but usually the river is hard to spot, especially in the upper canyon, where the ever steepening slopes of KKK (Kauai Krumbly Klay), make it almost impossible to see the bottom. In a few places, you can spot the upper Kawaikoi and Mohihi waterfalls as they begin their plunge into the depths.

Even aerial photos of the river are rare as the choppers don't venture far off the beaten path, usually turning around a short distance past Waipo'o Falls. Photos of the canyon walls are common but since the choppers fly up the middle of the canyon, it's hard to take a photo straight down.

The guidebooks and web revealed nothing except down from Koaie Stream toward Waimea. We began to believe, except for hunters, the area is rarely traveled, even less than the upper Alakai Plateau.

One of us took a dayhike out the Maile Flat trail atop Kohua Ridge, hoping to get a glimpse down into the upper gorge. Only a few teasers, tempting one to go further out ridges of KKK. He left wondering how he'd missed that incredible hike over the decades. I do recommend it.

A view into the abyss from the end of Kohua Ridge.

We did manage to come up with a few clues on what to expect. If you look up the canyon from the Waimea Canyon overlook, you can spot a prominent pillar on the left side of the upper canyon. After staring at hundreds of aerial photos we came across several intriguing shots that revealed a potential obstacle near the pillar.

Below the pillar, a waterfall drops into a pool. It looked like we could pass it on the right, but with Kauai waterfalls, you can never tell. It could be a brutal bushwhack. On most of the upper canyon, we had no beta, except the profile from the Topo! program which reveals little on a small scale.

The profile doesn't show a "break" until above the junction of Kaiwaikoi and Mohihi streams(KMJ). If we encountered nothing worse than the waterfall, since the canyon didn't narrow up really until above the junction, we figured we stood a chance on making KMJ

Also from photos, we'd become interested in Waiahulu Stream below Waipo'o Falls (Kokee Stream).

We headed down the Kukui Trail to the Waimea, then stayed on the left bank at the first ford upstream and passed the cabin, dam and tunnels at the Waiahulu Intake that furnishes the flow for the power plant downstream.

We boulder hopped, terraced tramped and waded for an hour or so, reached Waiahulu stream, took a lunch break and checked out the neat Sat Phone(most of the time, cell phones are useless in the boonies on Kauai).

Looking down the Waimea River from it's junction with Waiahulu Stream. Typical terrace on the left. Most terraces offer relief from the intense boulder hopping.

I rented an Iridium 9505a for this trip. Reception, except in the narrow sections, was good. Weighed less than a pound. Since Iridium relies on fast moving, low altitude satellites, you might have to wait a few minutes for one to enter line-of-sight overhead. Then talk quick, 'cause it ain't hanging around.

Looking up Waiahulu Stream from near the same point. An excellent terrace and convenient hunter campsite on the left. We knew zip of the Waiahulu but it looked promising so away we went.

A couple of VW sized boulders perched in a waterfall chute that follows a line of weakness formed by a dike.

Another of the hundreds of exposed dikes along the Waiahulu.

We were surprised to find terraces as far as we went. Terraces line the edges of all the canyons. At one time, thousands must have lived there. Why did they leave? Was it the population collapse after introduced disease killed 90% of the Hawaiians. Was the final coup de grace when they learned that the land they'd lived on for generations had been given away to Haoles who now zealously guard access to valleys like Olokele and Hanapepe where thousands once lived?

An exposed slab/dike high above. There are dikes throughout Kauai, but I've never found as many as up the Waiahulu.

An unwritten law is that any visitor to Waimea Canyon must photograph Waipo'o falls. Google images yields hundreds of hits of these falls under different keywords since most visitors don't know the name. But this is the only photo you'll find from the base of the falls near the junction of Kokee and Waiahulu streams. To our surprise, we were yards from a hunter camp which makes us wonder if perhaps there is trail down from Kokee.


The next morning, we headed up the Waimea. Upstream, the character of the canyon changed, becoming dryer and with fewer mosquitoes. Encountered a couple of maggoty goats. Why, since they've introduced everything from earthworms to goats, etc., has nobody introduced vultures or scavengers or predators? Thousands of goats, pigs, deer and tons of offal left by hunters with nothing but maggots to recycle the waste!

On the outside of a bend, the Waimea erodes shallow caves in a layer of ancient debris.

Waimea Canyon is a pain in the neck (from looking up). There were literally hundreds of small arches, waterfall chutes and the flutter of tropic birds overhead. Closer, at eye level, we encountered dozens of goats. They'd often let us approach within rock throwing distance, displaying more curiosity than fear. So much for the hunting pressure.

With good rock and low waterflow, we made steady progress and mid-morning we rounded a bend and spotted a low cliff and the waterfall ahead.

It must have had a name at one time but there's no mention of it in the guidebooks, or on the topo maps. We'll name it Poomau Falls. It's one of the best.

From the aerial photos of the falls, it'd appeared that the falls could be passed on the east side. True, but I was a little gripped crossing the loose gravel above a lethal fall. My March head over heels in Koaie Canyon was still fresh in my memory.

The Waimea River jumps off a huge ledge into a huge pool.

From the lookout, it's possible to see this pillar up the canyon. Poomau Falls is at it's base, hidden by an intervening ridge.

Finally, after traveling past tons of shattered, jagged rocks, we arrived at the triangular amphitheater where the two streams met. It's one of those special places that'll stay forever in my memory. On all sides, tall, over powering cliff. In the center, huge boulders. I regretted the loss of my older camera with the panoramic mode.

Above is the mouth of Kawaikoi with the stream tumbling into a pool, hinting of the half dozen or more falls beyond.

The confluence from 1500 feet above.

The Mohihi has fewer falls (but much higher ones) but it might be possible to go quite a bit further upstream. Alas, it was well past noon and time to head downstream. And we were getting bushed. We shall return.


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