In your mind’s eye, you’ve always pictured lush greenery, thundering waterfalls and moisture-drenched blossoms as the perfect backdrop to everything from hiking adventures to romantic proposals. Now that you’re headed to Kauai, you’re ready to live your dream in what just may be the wettest, most beautiful place on earth: Mount Waialeale.
How Wet Is Mount Waialeale?
With an average of around 450 inches of rain per year, Mount Waialeale is often touted as the wettest place on earth. In 1982, the mountain experienced a mind-boggling 683 inches of rain, the highest ever recorded in the area.
Even the name lets you know what to expect. In Hawaiian, the word Waialeale means “overflowing water.” Interestingly, just a few miles away, average rainfall drops to just 10 inches per year, making the contrast between Mount Waialeale and its environs even more dramatic.
Why Is Mount Waialeale the Wettest Place on Earth?
Like most of the mountains found in Hawaii, Mount Waialeale began its existence as a volcano. While it’s been dormant for years, the volcanic shield and steep cliffs formed by earlier activity now act as a trap for the rainfall-laden trade winds blowing in from the Pacific Ocean.
Part of the reason for Mount Waialeale’s wet nature is its position in the Hawaiian islands. As the northernmost large Hawaiian island, Kauai gets exposed to winter rains and front winds more than other islands in the chain. Because of the mountain’s shape and height, it lies under the trade wind inversion layer, which keeps trade winds from rising away and escaping before rain can fall. Meanwhile, the sharp cliffs encourage hot, humid air to rise quickly, which leads to a cycle of condensation and rain all concentrated in a small area.
What this means for you: an impressive display of crashing waterfalls and abundant foliage that makes for great snapshots and a moisture-laden back-to-nature vibe you can’t find anywhere else on Earth.
Impressive Mount Waialeale
At the center of this ancient volcano, a series of waterfalls cascade down into a barrel-like cavern with a freshwater pool at the base, creating a dramatic “Weeping Wall” that can be spotted from above on a helicopter tour of the area. The largest of these falls, Waipoo Falls, sends a steady stream of roiling water down 800 feet into the pool below.
All this water also feeds into four separate rivers — the Waimea, Hanapēpē, Makaweli and Wailua — helping cement Kauai’s place as the only Hawaiian island with navigable rivers. So when you’re headed out for a fun Wailua River kayaking trip to Kamokila Village or Fern Grotto with your family, give a thought — and a bit of thanks — to Mount Waialeale.
Exploring the Moisture-Drenched Beauty of Mount Waialeale
When it comes to natural beauty, Mount Waialeale’s high rainfall levels bring out the best of Kauai. Lots of rain means lots of lush foliage, flowing rivers and gorgeous waterfalls. The central peak, Kawaikini Peak, reaches 5,148 feet into the sky, and cloud cover typically obscures the highest point of the mountain.
Viewing the peak requires a combination of luck and planning. If you want to make the attempt, consider getting up early before the mid-day clouds move in and hike to Pu’u O Kila Lookout at Waimea Canyon, which stretches northward from the peak. Another option for avid hikers is to trek the 8-mile Alakai Swamp Trail located in Koke‘e State Park, where you can see views of the mountain about midway through your hike.
For most visitors, the best way to visit Mount Waialeale is via a helicopter tour, since trekking into the dramatic cavern at the center is typically considered an expert-level hike.
Whether your dream is to explore the lush trails surrounding Mount Waialeale or relax poolside with your favorite tropical cocktail, there’s plenty to do on Kauai’s South Shore. Book your stay at Koloa Landing Resort and start planning your island adventure today.