Access to Upper Lulumahu Falls can be a tad tricky if you don't already know the way but I had done some research and was given a huge tip by a fellow hiker, so finding the trail came pretty easy to us on this day. Around 8:20am, me, my wife and our friend met on Tantalus road at the Kalawahine trailhead. As it poured down rain, we gathered our packs and set off through the valley onto the Kalawahine trail and within a half hour we had arrived at a junction with the Manoa cliffs trail. We kept straight (The Manoa cliffs trail heads up and to the right) and shortly thereafter we came to a marked junction with the Pauoa flats where we took a left and began down the trail. The ground on which we were now walking had banyan roots everywhere and the excessive rain and mud weren't making the trek any easier. In no time we passed by the Nuuanu junction to our left and shortly afterwards came to a fork. We took the left fork and began walking through a bamboo forest. Just a few minutes later we would emerge from the bamboo forest and would arrive at the Nuuanu valley overlook. The rain was still coming down pretty hard at this point and all three of us were already soaked. From the Nuuanu valley overlook we could see reservior 4 and the nasty brown water that accompanied it on this day. In the distance, the peak of Lanihuli was smothered by clouds and the pali notches were barely visible. There were beautiful waterfalls cascading down every pali on the mountain. It took us somewhere between 40 minutes to an hour to reach the Nuuana valley lookout. This is where the real hiking would begin for us though.
We took a right at the lookout and started on the trail that leads to Konahuanui (K2) and after a few minutes we came to a junction that is easy to miss if you aren't looking for it. To the right and in front of us was the ridge trail to K2 (marked by an orange ribbon) and to the left was the contour trail which would intersect with the ridge trail after about a 30 minute to an hour trek. On this day, arriving at where the ridge trail and the contour trail connect, would be the key to find our trail to Upper Lulumahu Falls. We elected to take the contour trail, hiking through calf high water as we started out. There was mini waterfalls all over the trail and the side streams, which almost never flow, were rushing down the trail on this day. The rain was showing us no mercy. As it continued to pour, the three of us treked along on the contour trail. Before long we caught our first glimpse of Lower Lulumahu Falls. It was absolutely raging. Not to long after this we finally reached the obvious junction where the contour trail and the ridge trail intersected. We knew that our trail heading down into the valley to Upper Lulumahu Falls was a mere 5 to 10 minutes away now. We could also clearly see Upper Lulumahu Falls in front of us and to the left, far down in the valley. After taking a few pictures we continued up the ridgeline acting as though we were heading for K2. After less than ten minutes of hiking since the ridge/contour trail connector and just before the climb of the first knob on the way to K2, our trail into the valley finally appeared on our left hand side. If you are looking for it, it is not hard to find, but it is not marked.
We took the left and headed steeply down the slick, muddy and often overgrown slope. The going was slow due to the horrible conditions, but it did not take us all that long before we could see the falls not far from us at all. We made our final scoot down the hill and just as we did the rain came to a brief calm. After the final scoot down, the trail brought us out directlly under Upper Lulumahu Falls. This typically dry waterfall looked absolutely stunning in these flash flood conditions. Not to swollen or anything, just the perfect amount of flow. We all sat down and took it all in. There was a little swimming hole under the falls that looked pretty deep as well. Just past the falls was a little cave and a rock that we made our way to, to check out the stream feeding Lower Lulumahu Falls. The whole setting at the falls was absolutely amazing. We took some pictures and decided to keep moving since all of us were soaking wet and were freezing cold.
About 30 seconds back up the trail was a short side trail leading to the top of the falls. We took it and almost immediately arrived at the top of the falls where there were two more waterfalls. These weren't quite as big but were amazing in their own right. The streambed was insanely slippery here. We hung out, grabbed some food and explored upstream a little bit, but I didn't see signs of any more waterfalls. I would like to follow the stream all the way to Lulumahu Ridge one day, but it definetly wasn't in the plans for today, so after a long break we decided to head back as the rain started to dump on us again. On the hike back up from the valley we found ourselves grabbing for whatever shrubs we could to pull ourselves up the muddy and steep slope. All though the climb up was a little tougher than the climb down, it went much quicker.
As we got closer to regaining the ridge line, the skies opened up and unleashed a torrential downpour on us. Once we reached the ridge line we looked behind us and down at the falls, which were immensely swollen at this point and looked more like a rapid that one would see on a raging river. We were all happy that we left when we did. Looking back towards Konahuanui, there were waterfalls flowing down the pali everywhere. As we continued to head back to where we had started(via the ridge trail this time), we could see into upper Manoa valley and could see massive, raging waterfalls all over. It was a surreal sight. To our right, we caught occasional glimpses of the massive waterfalls just off the highway in Nuuanu.
The entire hike down was in a horrid, extreme rain. We eventually got off the ridge and back to the Nuuana valley overlook, only to be greeted with no views due to the broad cloud cover. We didn't even care. We were all so wet and cold, that we just hit the Pauoa Flats trail and in a hurry we were on our way back to the Kalawahine trail and to our car. Despite the crappy conditions, this day was a blast and the waterfall and the hike overall was something that I won't forget. This was the perfect way to cap off the weekend. Despite the fact that we were freezing cold, I still convinced my wife to stop by 7-eleven on our way home for a celebratory slurpee. This led to me becoming even more cold and taking possibly the longest shower ever recorded once I had arrived back at home. With all of the excitement fresh in our heads, we got home and finally got a chance to relax, with smiles on both of our faces. The day was coming to an end but was surely, not soon to be forgotten.
Directions: From Makiki Heights Drive, go uphill on Tantalus Drive. When you get close to the top, just after going over a narrow bridge, look for the trailhead on the left. It will be adjacent to a private road, going uphill. Park in the parking area on the right just past the trailhead.
This was what the contour trail looked like as we headed for the ridge connector
The muddy, wet stream was our trail. Not ideal, but it worked
Again, not the best hiking conditions, but the end result was well worth it