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In Iao Valley, a tranquil wonderland of natural beauty, one would never guess that Maui is in the midst of the worst drought in decades. Upon entering the valley, visitors are greeted by towering peaks covered in tropical foliage that guard the lush valley floor of Iao Valley State Park, home to the iconic Iao Needle. This landmark, also know by its traditional Hawaiian name, Kukaemoku, juts 1,200 feet from the valley floor and overlooks Iao stream.
According to the lookout display, Kuka`emoku was known as the phallic stone of Kanaloa, Hawaiian god of the ocean. Of great historical significance is the 1790 Battle of Kapaniwai, where King Kamehameha I fought with Maui’s warriors in his quest to unite the Hawaiian Islands. Iao Needle served as a lookout point for members of the Maui King Kahekili’s army. In the end King Kamehameha and his men defeated Maui’s forces in a fierce fight that changed the course of Hawaii’s history.
The hike to the Iao Needle lookout point is easy and a little more than half a mile in distance. From the lookout there are also beautiful views out toward Kahului harbor and down to the valley floor and Iao stream. At times when the water is deep enough locals can often be found swimming in the cool, clear pools at the base of the waterfall. Be careful, as depending on the rainfall further up the mountains, the water currents and depths can change rapidly.
On the way down from the Iao Needle lookouts, don’t miss the lovely, paved pathways that meander through the botanical gardens and alongside stretches of Iao stream. The gardens are teeming with varieties of both tropical and native Hawaii plants, including lo’i, traditional taro fields.
The road through Iao Valley ends at the parking lot for Iao Needle and the botanical gardens. There is a public parking lot, however it does tend to fill up on the weekends with visitors and local residents. To avoid the crowds, you may want to go in the morning when the park opens at 7 a.m. or the late afternoon.