Just only about a 50-minute drive fromv Ka’anapali resorts in western Maui is “Iao” Valley, or as Mark Twain called it, “The Yosemite of the Pacific”. Heading off Highway 30 to Kaahumanu Avenue , aka Iao Valley Road, and later taking a left at a traffic signal of a dead end road we are in a lush tropical valley, the Iao Valley State Park Monument.
Ancient Hawaiians named the valley “Iao” (“Supreme Light”) in honour of native god “Io” and native people come to this site to pay tribute to this deity. For hundred of years the walls of the valley used to be the burial ground for Hawaiian rulers. In addition to the stunning verdant landscape and striking rock features the park is also a reminder of the island’s legendary history. It is here where one of the bloodiest battles of Maui history was fought in 1790 when King Kamehameha I defeated Maui’s tribal warriors leading to the unification of the Hawaiian islands. It is said that when the battle was over the stream of Iao Valley was dammed with all the littered bodies that the water ran red with blood , hence the place was named “Kepaniwai” (“Damming of the Waters”). The historic 10-acre state park is crowned by the iconic “Iao Needle” (pronounced “EE-ow”), known in Hawaiian as “Kukaemoku”. Remnant of erosion as a volcanic basaltic core over million years and now dressed in green tropical foliage, the spire-shaped Iao Needle, often surrounded in mist, rises out roughly 1,200 feet into the air out of the dramatic tableau of streams and high steep rocks.
Visible from the scenic valley is the 50- feet high natural lava rock formation jutting out from the side of a hill with striking resemblance to the profile of late United States President John F. Kennedy. It is dubbed as a natural monument to the American president.
Nearby in the valley is the Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens, a wonderful showcase of Maui’s ethnic heritage. The gardens serves to memorialise the multicultural history of Maui. The memorials include traditional structures of a Japanese tea house and Japanese stone statues, koi pond, Portugeese outdoor oven, New England salt box, Chinese moon gate and stone lions, and a Hawaiian grass shack. Throughout the gardens are small waterfalls and ponds that are all fed by the Iao Valley stream. The park is a great place to picnic, hike, swim and relax. Entry is free along with parking.
TRIVIA: King Kamehameha I, founder and first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii, had thirty (30) wives and thirty-five (35) children (17 sons and 18 daughters).