Hawaii 2023 Trip Report Part 5 - Waterfall and Luau

Hawaii Trip 2023

As our Hawaiʻi trip in June 2023 continues, we hike to a waterfall and go to a lūʻau. If you have not done so already, you might want to read the previous part.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Once again we were up at 7:00 (or soon after - there is a snooze button for a reason, after all) for what had quickly become our morning routine. Showers, breakfast on the Riedels’ balcony, enjoying the scenery while avoiding the sun as much as possible.

However, as with the previous morning, we had a goal in mind, so we did not sit and enjoy the scenery for too long. Once everyone was ready, we piled in the car and headed east. We went in the direction of Honolulu before turning north and heading slightly into the mountains. Before long, we reached the Mānoa Falls Trailhead, which was our destination.

We pulled up to the entrance, where a friendly but not very talkative gentleman said, “Are you here for the waterfall?” I said that we were, not knowing what other reason we might have had for being there. We paid for our parking and drove on to look for a parking space. The first lot that we came to appeared to be full, but a sign reading “Additional Parking” pointed around a corner and up a hill, and we found a spot there. After going to the nearby building for a restroom stop, we headed out on the trail.

And what a trail it was! The trail to Mānoa Falls led us through a rainforest jungle with thick vegetation all around the trail. Right at first, the trail passed the Lyon Arboretum, and I realized that must have been the other reason to be there that the parking attendant asked about. Past the arboretum, the trail changed from asphalt to dirt and gravel. There were some steep spots, but not too steep. Plus, the trail was well maintained overall.

Walking along the trail at Manoa Falls in Hawaii
Walking along the trail

We were not going very fast anyway, because we kept stopping to take photos of all the amazing views. I learned later on that productions such as Lost and Jurassic Park had filmed in that area, and it was easy to see why. There were valleys, tall trees, running streams, and plants everywhere. We could occasionally hear birds, but we could not locate them in the thick growth.

Walking along the trail at Manoa Falls in Hawaii, like something out of a dream
Like something out of a dream

The sun was behind clouds while we were walking, but the trees would have provided a good bit of shade if the sun had been out. I was not sure if the clouds were because we were in a rainforest or just because it was cloudy that morning. So while we worked up a sweat walking, we were definitely not as hot as we could have been.

Walking along the trail at Manoa Falls in Hawaii
Another view along the trail

Shipping container along the trail at Manoa Falls in Hawaii
At one point, the trail passed through a shipping container. Strange.

Much of the hike to the falls was an uphill climb, but it was not too much for us to handle. We also saw people of all ages making the hike as well, so I would say it was a moderate hike, not that I am an expert in that sort of thing. And while there were several people out, it did not feel overcrowded. Because it is a one-way hike, we met people coming back toward us who had already been to the falls, but there was usually enough room for us to pass easily. Some people had big backpacks with all sorts of hiking gear, and I wondered what that was for. I felt a little unprepared with just my camera compared to all that they had, but I really did not need anything else.

Laura on the trail at Manoa Falls in Hawaii
An explorer on the trail

Tree trunk throne throne on the trail at Manoa Falls in Hawaii
Laura found a place to sit. It was an interesting throne made of tree trunks and surrounded by branches.

I had set my watch to track our activity, so I knew that we must be getting close to the falls. And then, up one final hill, there they were, Mānoa Falls.

Manoa Falls in Hawaii
The majestic Mānoa Falls

The Falls are 150 feet high, so it was difficult to get the whole thing in photos, although I did get one or two with the wide-angle setting on my phone camera. There were also several people around, but in some ways, it helped to have people in the photos to show the size of the falls.

Manoa Falls in Hawaii
A vertical view that I happened to catch without any people in the photo

At the bottom of the falls was a pool of water, which then fed the stream that had been running beside the hiking trail. At the beginning of the trail and also here by the falls, there were signs warning that swimming in the water could give you a flu-like illness that could last a couple of weeks. And yet, even with all those signs, there were several people in the water. I am sure that it was cool and refreshing, but I hope that they did not regret that later on. Once again, we Burnses and Riedels were rule followers, and we did not go anywhere near the water.

At Manoa Falls in Hawaii
Riedels and Burnses at Mānoa Falls, but out of the water

As we were enjoying the view, a lady came up to me and said that she had taken a random photo. As she showed it to me, she said that when she had looked at it on her phone, she realized it was a good photo of us. The only problem was that it was a photo of Karen and me instead of Laura and me. Of course, the lady had no way of knowing that. And it was a good photo, too. Fortunately, Brant and Laura are not the jealous types, so instead we had a good laugh from that. I asked if she could airdrop it to me. Because she had an Android phone, she shared it with a guy she was with, who then airdropped it to me. It has quickly become one of those photos that we will always remember! And it was very sweet of her to offer to share it in the first place, too.

Manoa Falls in Hawaii
A photo of Karen and Steve shared with us by a kind lady

After we had sufficiently enjoyed the beauty of the falls, and to give others room to see it, we started our way back down the trail. The trail to the waterfall had been a slight climb, which meant that the trail going back was mostly downhill, since it was the same trail after all. And you might think that going downhill would be easier. Maybe it is a product of age, but these days going downhill almost seems more difficult, except for the lack of climbing. The trick is to keep yourself from going downhill too fast, also known as falling. The rocks were still a bit slippery in places, and just loose in other places, so we had to choose our footing carefully. And then there were some people in front of us, who appeared to be older than we were, who were going down even more slowly than we were, and it was difficult to find a place to get around them. But then also we were passed by some younger people who were running down the path. I guess it is all a matter of what you are used to, and what risks you are willing to take. Slow was just fine for me. And we did take some time to enjoy the views again on the way down, although we did not stop for nearly as many photos as on the way up.

On the trail at Manoa Falls in Hawaii
This often happens when I say, “Let’s take a photo!”

On the trail at Manoa Falls in Hawaii
The actual photo

When we got back to the Lyons Arboretum, a big yellow fire truck was turning around to leave. It was a tight turn for a big truck, so it took them a minute, and we stood off to the side to watch and be out of the way. As with the emergency vehicles we had seen the previous day at the beach, we could not figure out why the fire truck was there. Hopefully, everyone was okay, and there did not seem to be any evidence of fire anywhere.

Fire truck on the trail at Manoa Falls in Hawaii
Fire truck on the trail

Back at the trailhead, we stopped back in the restroom building, where there was a large tour group of some sort that was about to go up the trail. Nothing against other people, but I was glad that we had missed them. We then went and found our car among the chickens in the parking lot and started back for Aulani.

Chickens at Manoa Falls in Hawaii
It isn’t a real Hawaiʻi trip report until chickens make an appearance

When we reached our hotel room, we were all hungry for lunch after all of that hiking. We had gotten Lunchables, prepackaged lunch things, at Target on our first full day there, thinking we might take them to a beach somewhere or something like that. But this seemed like the perfect time to eat one of them, so we did, also enjoying the chips and cookies that we had gotten, too. And as usual, we ate on the Riedels’ balcony. Maybe not your most elegant lunch, but it was good for us. And cost-effective, too!

While we were eating, we heard a sound - a train horn! As we watched, a train passed by on the railroad tracks down below, the same tracks we had crossed going to the shopping center, and the tracks where I had wondered what ran on them. It was a narrow-gauge passenger train. That answered that. It appeared to only run on the weekends, because we did not see it on any weekdays. And you know I love a train!

Train on the tracks in the Ko Olina resort area in Hawaii
A train on the tracks, if you can find it among the trees

After we had eaten and had waited the appropriate time to avoid any stomach cramps that we used to always hear about as kids (is that still a thing?), we decided to have our usual afternoon swimming routine. Except that Brant decided he wanted to start his swimming time with an afternoon coffee. So he and Karen walked across the street to Starbucks while Laura and I headed down to the Waikolohe Valley pool area to claim a spot.

The previous day, we had gotten our wristbands for today, but we still needed towels. Could we also get towels for the Riedels so that they would not have to? Laura and I went to the main Kāwele Korner tent to get towels. The cast member asked how many, and I said four. So just like that, we got towels for all four of us. Next, to find a spot.

It had not been that bad to get a beach spot the previous two days, but we decided to look around a little first. We wandered over to the Wailana Pool, which is off to the side and a bit out of the way. Sure enough, we found four empty lounge chairs there and put our four towels on the four chairs. Laura then sent Karen a text message letting her know that we got their towels and trying to describe our location to them. We got in the Wailana Pool and enjoyed the water for a bit until we saw Brant and Karen approaching. After helping them find our spot, Laura and I went out to the beach for a while, knowing they would not care to go out there.

After Brant finished his coffee (we were not rushing him, by the way), the rest of our pool time was spent much like the days before, going from the Waikolohe Stream (lazy river), to the tube slide, to the hot tub, and then back again. It was lots of fun as it had been the previous day. And it was warm out but not too bad, so the water felt good, but we did not get too hot being out of the water. Just about a perfect afternoon, as the past two had been.

But then it was time to move along because we had plans for the evening. I suppose it is something of a tradition to go to a lūʻau when you are in Hawaiʻi. Laura and I had tried to attend one during our previous Kauaʻi trip, but it had been rained out, so we wanted to try again this time, and the Riedels wanted to as well. So we had asked Misty at Storybook Destinations to get us reservations, which she did.

We were to arrive at 6:30, so we made sure to get showered and dressed in plenty of time. And as we had done with dinner the previous night, we took a few photos on the Makaʻala Patio in our lūʻau attire. Laura even wore her Tiki Room dress for the occasion.

Laura and Karen dressed for the luau at Disney’s Aulani in Hawaii
Laura and Karen dressed for the lūʻau

Laura and Steve dressed for the luau at Disney’s Aulani in Hawaii
Laura and Steve dressed for the lūʻau

Group photo before the luau at Disney’s Aulani in Hawaii
A group photo before the lūʻau

Laura and Karen with the Stitch statue at Disney’s Aulani in Hawaii
We also stopped for a quick photo with Stitch along the way

Our directions said to go to the Hālāwai Lawn, which was where the lūʻau was to be held. We were not sure exactly how to get there, but we knew it was adjacent to the ʻEwa Tower. We went down to the ground floor and saw a cast member girl holding a sign. She said, “Are you here for the lūʻau?” “Yes we are.” “Do you have priority seating?” “No we do not.” She then directed us on down to the end of the building and outside, past Aunty’s Beach House, and we should find a line there. We did as she directed, and we did find the line. Another cast member gave us a card with our names and party size on it. The line was not all that long, and it was somewhat in the shade, so we took our place and began to wait.

Card for the Ka Waa Luau at Disney’s Aulani in Hawaii
Our card for the Ka Waʻa Lūʻau. Yes, I take photos of all kinds of things.

A Photopass cast member came by to let us know that they would be taking photos of us with a couple of dancers from the show, but they would not be able to take photos with our phones at that time, so as to keep the line moving. Everyone in line was given a lei made of large seeds or pods of some sort, although we could not quite figure out what the seeds were. The kids were given a hook like Maui’s on a string necklace, and I thought about asking if I could trade for one of those. I did not ask, and I slightly regretted it. Soon, the line did start moving. And soon, we had our photo taken with a male and a female dancer from the show. And then we got into another line to be shown to our table.

Our photo with two dancers from the Luau at Disney’s Aulani in Hawaii
Our photo with two dancers from the show. Brant must have scared the guy on the left, because he did not get too close. Photo by Disney Photopass.

As we waited, we saw that some of the entertainment had already started, in the form of the band playing on the stage, which was shaped like a large boat complete with sails. The actual name of the lūʻau was Ka Waʻa. If they mentioned during the show what that meant, I must have missed it. But I looked it up later on and found that Ka Waʻa means “the boat”, which made the stage make a bit more sense. As we waited in line, Laura and Karen went to a table to make a wrist lei with real flowers. There were also places to learn about making poi and to get temporary tattoos, but we did not try any of those.

Laura’s wrist lei from the Luau at Disney’s Aulani in Hawaii
Laura’s wrist lei

Laura’s wrist lei from the Luau at Disney’s Aulani in Hawaii
Flowers on her wrist and in her hair

Soon, we were shown to our table, which was at the back of the seating area. I guess that is what you get when you do not pay for the priority seating. But it was okay because we were close to the food tables. A server came and got our drink orders and let us know that he would be taking care of us for the evening. And then one of the hosts on the boat stage let us know that we would go to the food lines by tables, and someone would let us know when it was our table’s turn. Meanwhile, the band played on the stage, and I enjoyed them. They had a guitar, a ʻukulele, a steel guitar, and an upright bass, and they sang in great harmonies.

Enjoying the music from the band at the Luau at Disney’s Aulani in Hawaii
Enjoying the music from the band

We were sitting outside, but that was just fine. It was a nice night out, not too hot, definitely not too cold. There was a gentle breeze blowing that occasionally became more of a wind. And we were surrounded by the walls of the ʻEwa tower and lots of trees. A great night in a great setting, with some near-perfect weather. Laura and I were on one side of the table, and Brant and Karen were across from us. It was a long table, seating over 20 people, but it was nice that we got to be where we could talk to each other.

While we waited for our turn, Laura and I decided to go visit one of the other demonstration areas, which was where you could play an ʻukulele. We had tried to sign up for ʻukulele lessons at some point during the week, but all the times were full, so this was our chance. Everyone was given an ʻukulele to play. Then the gentleman in charge showed us three basic chords and had us practice them. He then sang a song and called out the chords so that we could play along. Fun! Yes, it was probably meant more for the kids than for us not-quite-kids, but we enjoyed it.

Once our time for the food came, we went to see what we could find. And there were lots of choices! I got a few different kinds of fish, including one that was like a fish salsa. There was salad and some vegetables. This was not one of those “traditional” lūʻaus that focused on cooking a pig in the ground, but there was pork to be had. And also poi. As it turns out, I am not a fan of poi. But the rest of it was good.

As we were eating, a Photopass cast member came to show us our photos from earlier. How could we pass those up? We got the digital download instead of the prints, because most everything we do is digital these days, anyway.

When everyone had their food, the entertainment started. The show featured a “brother” and “sister” telling about their family history, starting in Tahiti as the voyagers sailed from there to Hawaiʻi. There were several types of dances throughout the show to go along with the story they were presenting. And as you would expect, there was a fire dance and a hula, too. Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse even came out at one point for a dance, which was the same dance that we had seen Mickey do near the pool on a previous day. However, those were the only character appearances in the show, and the rest of it was very much Hawaiian.

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse during the Luau at Disney’s Aulani in Hawaii
Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse during the lūʻau

During the show, the male host mentioned something about Maui appearing in one of the murals on the buildings. I had not taken enough time to study the murals and realize that they were all different. Oops. Obviously, Maui was not in his Moana movie form, because those murals were made before the movie. But we would have to be on the lookout the next time we were out there.

The only slight distraction during the show was the family sitting next to us, two parents and a young child. The child was everywhere, the parents got up and walked with the child, the child was loud, and the parents were somewhat in our way because they kept moving around. Just another reminder that a vacation of that type might not be best with young children. But that is just my opinion.

I definitely enjoyed the show. It was much better done than the dinner show Laura and I went to at the Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World a few years ago. That one tried too hard to tell a more modern story of some friends getting together. This one was more about history and dance without trying to lay too much of something on top of all that, and it was good.

The show ended, and it was time to go. The performers stood at the back for people to talk to them or to pose for photos, but when we went by not many people were stopping. I felt like we should stop, because I did enjoy the show, but we kept on going. Hopefully, they felt appreciated.

It was dark out by the time the show ended. And of course we knew that because we were sitting outside the whole time. But despite the darkness, and despite it being a little later than we usually went for a walk, we decided to still go for another walk along the shores of the lagoons. This walk was slightly shorter because we stopped and turned around when the lights along the path ended, but that was okay. Walking helped to work off some of that energy from all the food we had eaten at the lūʻau.

And then we headed up to our rooms to go to bed. Another good day with lots of fun adventures.

Next up, a lighthouse. Check the Hawaiʻi 2023 page for more about our trip!

Other posts from this day:
Manoa Falls Trail in Hawaii

Hawaii Trip 2023


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About Burnsland
Burnsland is Steve Burns, with generous help from his lovely wife Laura. Steve is a husband, father, photographer, webmaster, writer, podcaster, artist, Christian. Steve enjoys sharing his photography, art, and stories through Burnsland.com, from the Burnsland World Headquarters in Tennessee.