We can now add Iao Valley State Monument on Maui to the short list of popular Hawaii natural attractions that require reservations for nonresidents. We’ll get to that. First, we’re here to talk about the famous Iao Needle and the ancient Hawaiian legend of how it came to be. ‘Iao Valley was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1972. It is recently reopened after nine months of safety and accessibility improvements.
The Iao Needle is a massive basalt rock spire that rises 1200 feet from the valley floor. It’s actually 2500 feet above sea level, if we’re being specific. Like all of Maui’s notable geological features, it was shaped by erosion over about a million and a half years (give or take a million years for other islands). Also like all of Hawaii’s notable geological features, there is a legend about the magic and mana that brought it into being.
The legend of the ‘Iao Needle
The powerful god Maui, who pulled the islands of Hawaii from the sea, had a beautiful daughter, ‘Iao. She had a forbidden lover, Pu’uokamoa, half-man and half-sea-god: a demigod. The two would rendezvous each day, keeping their love secret until someone who couldn’t mind their own damn business spotted them and ratted them out to Maui, who was furious. Paparazzi in the pantheon of paradise.
Maui roared his fury and promised a fiery fate for Pu’ukamoa. He made such a racket that the goddess Pele could hear his rage from her home at Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii Island. “What’s that racket?!” The fire goddess Pele made her way to the Valley Isle to see about the ruckus. Pu’ukamoa was Pele’s close friend, as it happens, and she pleaded with Maui to spare her bestie.
A forbidden love among the gods
Even the extremely persuasive and vengeful goddess Pele (who, it must be noted, was also kind and loving) could not convince Maui to spare Pu’ukamoa. It was only the tears of his heartbroken daughter, ‘Iao, that eventually persuaded her father to spare her love from the flames.
But Maui’s mercy wasn’t total. He still forbade the love of ‘Iao and Pu’ukamoa. He turned the doomed demigod of the sea into stone, into the gigantic landmark we now call the “’Iao Needle”. Though they would never be together, the ‘Iao Needle is the distraught young princess’s reminder of her forbidden love. A cruel gift.
Visiting ‘Iao Valley State Monument
The new reservation system at the ‘Iao Valley State Monument goes into effect May 1, 2023. It’s online. It’s easy. And it’s part of a statewide effort to make Hawaii tourism more sustainable for the people that live and work here, and for the benefit of Hawaii’s abundant but imperiled cultural and natural resources.
‘Iao Valley is home to more than breathtaking natural beauty and captivating myth and legend. It is also the site of the decisive Battle at Kepaniwai, which saw the army of King Kamehameha the Great conquer Maui in 1790. The battle was a pivotal moment in the king’s unification of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
‘Iao Valley State Monument is home to myth and legend, to the important human history of the Hawaiian Kingdom, and it is a sanctuary of unparalleled natural beauty. The new reservation system that goes into effect will be a major step toward securing its future by imposing limits on the pressure that unmitigated access creates for Hawaii’s natural areas and resources.
The approach works. Scientific studies have shown as much, particularly at Hanauma Bay on Oahu. Water clarity and sea life health have been markedly improved with the implementation of the reservations system there. Visitors to ‘Iao Valley State Monument (and the handful of other of Hawaii natural destinations that require reservations) can be sure that they are not part of the problem of “over-tourism”.