A destination in Maui that is often times overshadowed by the popular drive to Hana is the visit to Iao Valley State Park. Much easier and faster to reach, Iao Valley provides the spectacular view of the famous Iao Needle landmark as well as lush green surroundings including rare plants, flowers and peaceful streams that are very comparable to the forest you see in a grander scale in Hana. Considering the time and energy the journey takes for the three hour rocky drive to Hana, many will be very much satisfied, if not content with the forty-five minute quick and easy drive to Iao Valley in Wailuku, West Maui.
Upon arrival, you become lost in the nature that makes up Iao Valley and overwhelmed with the smell and sounds of nature as well, including the smell of unique plants and flowers and the peaceful sounds of running streams through out the State Park. If you keep you eyes peeled, you will also see small lizards lurching amongst the plants preying on insects. In addition you will encounter a kitty corner, where 5 or so undomesticated cats are lounging around behind a cage resting peacefully. Also, if you are lucky, you will get to see locals diving off the bridges along the trail into the streams of Iao Valley. Glad to entertain the tourists that come through, they enjoy being the spectacle and jump off over and over again in front of appreciative tourists.
But the main attraction, of course, is Iao Needle, a breathtaking 2250 feet tall pointy lava remnant in the midst of dormant volcano cliffs. You need not trek far in to the park to view the Needle, however you can go deeper in the park following the trail and climb the 133 steps to get to the scenic viewpoint where you can take a closer look at the Needle and also get the view of the West Maui Mountains overlooking Wailuku.
Not only is Iao Valley and Iao Needle a very popular tourist sightseeing destination, it has great historical significance as well. It was the site of the very bloody Battle of Kepaniwai in 1790, where King Kamehameha I defeated King Kalanikupule of Maui, leading to the unification of the Hawaiian Islands. The battle resulted in so many casualties that it is said that the dead bodies filled the streams and the water flowing through them became red with blood.
Fortunately, all that remains now is the peaceful tranquility of the lush greens of Iao Valley and clear water running through the streams of the forest. Iao Valley is the perfect place to experience another side of Maui (not the beach) at no cost. Entrance is free. It is definitely a must see, especially on a short trip to Maui when you do not have time to make the drive to Hana.