Iao Needle and Iao Valley State Park

April 18, 2021/Jonathan Rundle/0 Comments

One stop of many on our Maui motorcycle ride is the Iao Needle. This towering lava rock formation looks like a penis. The ancient Hawaiians knew it, and all of the visitors today know it. Busloads of people want to look at a lava dick. So do we, so let’s go.

Iao Valley State Park

The first thing we notice, after all the amazing peaks above us and the Lord of the Rings vibe is this painter in the parking lot. In my day, I was a pretty good painter, so I always want to see the work in progress.

Iao Valley State Park Painter

One of these days, I should bust out the travel easel that has been holding a spot in my downstairs closet for 7 years.

Anyway, this gentleman is a local and has probably painted this scene a million times. It’s always fun to run into an artist painting “en plein air.” Looks good, if a little too turquoise for my taste.

Iao Valley State Park Painter

Hike to the Iao Needle

The path is short, just over half a mile one-way. It is fully paved, but there are a considerable amount of steps to the top. I don’t believe the trail to the top is accessible via wheelchair.

Iao Valley State Park Path

Along the way, you’ll encounter lots of different types of flora, mostly natural but some planted in colorful display gardens.

Iao Valley State Park Flowers

Information boards telling the geologic story and cultural history of this land dot the walkway. More on the history later.

Lots of banisters and warning signs are posted on the short walk. There is a stream here, but all the signs say not to cross into it. We saw plenty of people with towels walking on and off-path to the stream. I can’t say if off-path exploration is really enforced (probably not). However, the Hawaiian idea of “Kapu” prevents me from exploring off-trail out of respect.

What is Kapu?

Kapu comes from the ancient Hawaiian code of conduct of laws and regulations. If you broke a law, you were punished severely. Today, you might see “kapu” on a homemade sign on private property. While it can be used to denote a sacred site, it often just means “no trespassing.”

Iao Valley State Park Path

There it is! Our first close-up look at the Iao Needle!

Iao Valley State Park Wilderness

Making our way to the top of the hill, there is a small shelter to protect your selfies from the wind and the rain. Although we’ve had none of that during our stay here on Maui.

Did ya know? The Iao Valley and Iao Needle is the second wettest place in Hawaii! The wettest place in Hawaii (also the wettest place on earth) is on Kauai.

Iao Valley State Park PavilionIao Needle

What is the Iao Needle?

The Iao Needle (aka Kuka’emoku in Hawaiian) is a fully erect (heh) 1,200-foot tall formation created by the erosion of softer rock around it over thousands of years (kind of like a hoodoo, most famously seen in Bryce Canyon National Park).

As alluded to in my opening paragraph, the ancient Hawaiians regarded this phallic stone of the god of the ocean (Kanaloa) to be a sacred cultural site.

Iao NeedleIao Needle

Iao Valley History

Here in the 1400s, Kakae, the ali‘i nui (high chief) of Maui chose the valley as a burial ground for the ali‘i (Hawaii’s rulers).

In 1790 at the Battle of Kepaniwai, King Kamehameha I battled with Maui’s army as part of his efforts to unite the islands. Even though Maui’s warriors used the Iao Needle as a lookout point, the might of Kamehameha triumphed. One of many battles that created the united Hawaii we know and love today.

Ancient warriors died here in the Iao Valley and for Hawaiians, it is a spiritual and sacred place. Hence my hesitancy to go trapesing around off-path.

Iao Valley State Park Stairs

Well, we came, we saw. Time to head back down the path back to the motorcycle and take a ride to our next stop, Paia.

Iao Valley State Park

About the Iao Needle and the Iao Valley State Park

The larger Iao Valley State Park is a ridiculously lush 4,000 acres. But, most people only see a tiny fraction of it, the Iao Needle. It only takes about an hour to enjoy the Iao Needle part of the park. If you want to go swimming or visit more of the park, naturally you’ll need more time.

Many Maui visitors save a visit to the Iao Needle for their last day. It’s only 20 minutes from the airport and can be a quick stop.

Hawaii State Parks require an entrance fee and sometimes an additional parking fee for non-resident visitors. Signs should be posted, but you can always see what the park charges by visiting the official website.

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