In an early scene in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster, Jurassic Park, two official jeeps filled with visiting scientists pull up to the imposing fire-lit gates of, well, Jurassic Park. As the gates swing open to let the visitors drive through (and Jeff Goldblum’s character deadpans, “What have they got in there? King Kong?”), we glimpse the base of a massive emerald-green mountain. Later, the canyon at the base of this mountain is revealed to be the T-Rex paddock where scientists — and the audience — will soon be terrorized by teeth the length of javelins. The rain at Jurassic Park is torrential and as unrelenting as the prehistoric beasts in search of human snacks.
These scenes were shot at Mount Waialeale — considered the beating heart at the center of Kauai. Always ready for a Hollywood close-up, gorgeous Mount Waialeale has an impressive resume: It boasts the tallest peak on Kauai, creates the headwaters for many of the islands’ rivers, and is considered one of the wettest places on earth.
According to the Weather Channel, the wettest city on the US mainland is Mobile, Alabama with an average annual rainfall of 67 inches. Los Angeles gets about 15 inches. Seattle gets 38, and New York City gets 45 inches of rain per year. What about Mount Waialeale, you ask? It receives more than 452 inches of rain per year! In fact, in 1982, it set a record of 683 inches.
That’s a lotta rain.
What makes it so wet? Mount Waialeale (meaning “overflowing water” in Hawaiian) is found in Kauai’s interior and stands at 5,148 feet high. Its tallest point, the Kawaikini Peak, seems to reach right into the center of the clouds. Though it’s been dormant for many years, the mountain was once an active volcano so it has a volcanic shield that captures all the moisture brought in on the trade winds. Steep cliffs also act as a trap, sending moisture back into its midst, creating even wetter conditions.
An array of waterfalls like glittering silver threads cascade down hundreds of feet through the crevices of the mountain’s velvety-green face. You can see how this got its nickname “the Weeping Wall.” At 800 feet, Waipoo Falls is the tallest. Together, these waterfalls thunder straight into a gigantic freshwater pool below which rushes into streams that then feed Kauai’s rivers: Waimea, Hanapēpē, Makaweli and of course, the granddaddy of them all, Wailua. Kauai is the only island in Hawaii with navigable rivers, and at 20 miles, Wailua is its longest.
The base of Mount Waialeale, also known as the Blue Hole, is considered a once-in-a-lifetime hiking destination and is some of Kauai’s most sacred grounds. The lush, misty greenery, the waterfalls that plunge into a barrel-like cavern at the center, the headwaters and the undulating, brilliantly verdant canyons — all are a rare sight to behold. However, most folks are cautioned away from attempting this journey — at least without optimum fitness and an experienced guide to lead the way. Flash floods, unforgiving terrain, lots of boulder hopping and confounding pathways create a remarkably challenging experience. If you are up for it, research the area and find an expert local guide for the trip. And again, these are sacred grounds meant to be explored with reverence. At least you won’t have hungry dinosaurs to contend with. (Because that was just a movie . . . right?)
Erica Karlin — Koloa Landing Resort