The Waimea Waterfall is located on Oahu's North Shore in the heart of Waimea Valley. It pours down 45 feet from the Waimea River, which cuts through the Ko`olau Mountain range to a pool that has long been popular as a local swimming hole.
Also known as Waimea Falls, Waimea Park Falls, or Waimea Valley Falls, its ancient Hawaiian name is actually Waih?, which means "trickling falls.'' Long ago, the Hawaiians believed the Waimea River had medicinal powers. Wounded soldiers would be carried to the waterfall and placed in the water below as a healing treatment.
The falls were first visited by foreigners in 1779, when Captain Charles Clerke of the HMS Resolution described the area as "uncommonly beautiful and picturesque.'' Since 1974, when Waimea Valley was opened for tourism, the falls have become one of the most photographed natural attractions on the island.
Today, the waterfall can be reached just three-quarters of a mile from the Waimea Valley park entrance booth. It is an easy, paved walk, accessible by stroller and wheelchair, which passes through beautiful botanical gardens. The main path rises gently, gaining an elevation of about 300 feet from the start. Even with stops to take photos along the way, the upward journey takes no more than 50 minutes.
Upon arrival at the falls, visitors may be surprised to see that the pond waters look rather muddy and not crystal clear. To some, they may appear too murky for swimming. But the reddish-brown tint is not from pollution. It is caused by iron oxide contained in the volcanic soil carried down from the mountains by the Waimea River.
For those who wish to slip into a swimsuit, changing booths are located next to the lifeguard station beside the natural pool. Restrooms and a snack bar serving shaved ice and soft drinks are also available nearby.
The pond's water temperature averages around 70?F year-round. To go for a swim, children under 12 years of age must wear life vests. These are provided free of charge by the life guards, who will also take photos for guests and are always happy to receive tips for their services.
At times when rains have been heavy, branches and debris pour down from the falls and the pond may be closed for swimming. A sign at the entrance to the park will notify visitors of closings, so that it is not necessary to hike all the way in just to be disappointed. Phoning ahead is also recommended, if swimming is the primary objective of a visit to the falls.
In years past, live performances were staged at the falls, with cliff divers putting on daily shows. Actors dressed as warriors would re-enact games of skill and courage, climbing up the sides of the waterfall and diving from the 45- and 60-foot ledges into the waters encircled by smooth volcanic rock. However, these shows were curtailed after ownership of Waimea Valley was assumed by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in 2006 and cliff diving is prohibited
The Waimea Waterfall is open daily, 9am to 5pm, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission fees to Waimea Valley range from $3 for children and seniors to $10 for nonresident visitors. To get there by car from Honolulu, drivers can take the H1 west bound to the H2 and follow the signs to the North Shore. The Wahiawa Exit leads to Kamehameha Highway, and the park is on the right, just past Waimea Bay Beach Park.