For most Waikiki visitors, the jagged ridgeline of Manoa Valley is merely the pleasant green backdrop of a vacation in paradise. But Manoa offers treasures of its own, far from the rolling surf and deep in an almost impossibly lush forest. For residents who live or work in Waikiki, the Manoa ridgeline is as familiar and beloved as Diamond Head itself, and Manoa Valley is a frequent retreat. It’s easy to make a day of Manoa.

The Manoa Falls Hiking Trail is easily accessible, whether by car or bus, just minutes out of Waikiki. It’s a relatively short hike, more of a walk, really. Plan on 30 minutes to the waterfall. To get to the trail at Paradise Park, you’ll wind through a historic neighborhood home to an eclectic variety of architectural styles: Tudor, Edwardian, plantation-style, gingerbread houses, and even a few unfortunate modern stucco monstrosities.

Stairs on a trail in Manoa

The trail itself is well-maintained, a necessity due to its popularity and to the fact that it rains a lot in Manoa. When the trail is wet, it’s very slick. Shoes are a must, as are mindful steps. Much of the trail is set with gravel, but other parts are uneven and rocky. The start of the trail takes you through an area of giant tree ferns, seemingly prehistoric in their grand scale. The trail gets narrow in some spots, but it’s nice to exchange pleasant smiles and greetings with those making the trip back down.

Further along you’ll enter a mini-forest of whispering bamboo trees (that’s a bit of a misnomer, because bamboo is, actually, a kind of grass). The most challenging part of the trail is a fairly steep uphill stretch of about 100 yards. It’ll have even the mildly out of shape huffing and puffing, aging rock musicians like myself included. But not to worry. Many octogenarians make the trip regularly.

The waterfall itself is wondrous. Well over 100 feet high, water trickles down the rock face of the falls on dry days, and roars into the pool below when it rains. When the light is right a fixed rainbow will hover over the pond, hanging ethereally in the mists of the falls.

A waterfall base in Manoa

The Aihualama Trail at the base of the waterfall takes hikers deeper into the forest, but it’s considerably more challenging and dangerous and is not for novices.

According to the strange calculus of adventure, the trip back is always shorter than the way there. This is good, however, because at the end of the Manoa Falls Trail is the Lyon Arboretum, and you’ll have time to visit.

Begun in 1919 as part of a Hawaii Sugar Planters Association effort to reforest Hawaii’s damaged watersheds, Lyon Arboretum was deeded to the University of Hawaii in 1953. UH now operates the botanical gardens as a research and educational facility while maintaining and preserving many dozens of tropical plant species and making the area open to the public.

After strolling through Lyon Arboretum, wander down the road a bit to The Treetops Restaurant for lunch, some shave ice, or even a post-hike cocktail. Newly reopened on February 2, The Treetops offers sumptuous lunch and dinner buffets. The renovation was part of an overall plan to reopen the Paradise Park of old, and to create a Hawaiian cultural center highlighting Manoa Valley’s storied past.

Manoa Valley is easy to explore. But as with all of Hawaii’s countless charms and treasures, you won’t know until you go.


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