It’s been a while since we last drove to the Iao Valley. This is the wettest accessible part of Maui, with the wettest part at the far end of the valley (Pu’u Kukui) averaging 386 inches of rain/year. Compare that to Kihei’s 8-13 inches/year.
A few years ago there was a severe flood in the valley, washing away a portion of the park and parking lot. It has since been re-built/reinforced.
Iao Valley itself carries great historical significance to Hawaiians. It is a valley leading into a collapsed and extinct volcano. It was a special place for the Hawaiian ali’i (royalty). The valley was also the site of one of Maui’s bloodiest battles in 1790 between the ruler of Hawai’i Island (Kamehameha the Great) and the people of Maui (led by Kalanikupule). Ultimately Kamehameha succeeded in his quest to unify all the Hawaiian islands under his rule.
The Iao Valley is a state park with paid parking. To get there, drive into old town Wailuku. Pass the old church and the Bailey Museum (I highly recommend checking the museum out) and continue up the mountain. Soon the road splits in two, you take the right road which dips down into the valley, and then follow it to the end where you will come to the paid parking lot. Parking is $5. You can walk up stairs to a lookout and also walk a short loop through the rain forest to the Iao Stream where you can often see locals enjoying the water.
For some this valley and the water in the stream hold spiritual significance, so do be respectful.
Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens
Just before you reach the Iao needle parking lot, there is a turnoff to the Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens. If you have time, stop here and check it out. It celebrates some of the cultures of Maui’s immigrants (specifically Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Portuguese and New Englanders). There is also a nice picnic area with numerous pavilions and bathrooms. Unfortunately this garden has been neglected and fallen into severe disrepair. However, the plaques are interesting to read and tell of Maui’s history.