For the nature lovers: The dense, tropical foliage that covers the mountainsides and valley floor are a natural wonderland for locals and visitors alike. The main attraction here is Iao Needle, made primarily of basalt, juts 2,250 feet above sea level and resembles a finger pointing upward into the heavens. Often the tip of Iao Needle can be found nestled in a bank of clouds, which may be where the name “iao” or “supreme cloud” came from. In addition to the picturesque Iao Needle, there are lookouts that offer views toward Kahului harbor, the valley floor, and Iao stream. Not to be overlooked are the pathways that traverse the botanical gardens and run alongside stretches of the stream, which feature taro patches and other native Hawaiian plants.
For the history buffs: Iao Needle or Kuka`emoku was known as the phallic stone of Kanaloa, Hawaiian god of the ocean. Of great historical significance is the 1790 Battle of Kapaniwai, where King Kamehameha I fought with Maui’s warriors in his quest to unite the Hawaiian Islands. Iao Needle served as a lookout point for members of the Maui King Kahekili’s army. In the end King Kamehameha and his men defeated Maui’s forces in a fierce fight that changed the course of Hawaii’s history.
For the culture cravers: Kepaniwai Park's Heritage Gardens were established in 1952 to showcase Maui's rich and culturally diverse heritage. There are structures and gardens representing the Hawaiian, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, English, and Filipino ethnicities. Each area is devoted to a particular culture, and displays tell the story of how each ethnic group came to Maui, and often their role in shaping Maui’s history. The ponds and small waterfalls that flow throughout the gardens are fed by Iao stream. I loved taking photos of the unique gardens and buildings, like snapshots of different countries all in one central location.
For the foodies: After exploring Iao Valley I was famished. Luckily there’s a wonderful eatery near by at the Hawaii Nature Center. Their menu offerings consist of an assortment of sandwiches on homemade bread, salads on Kula greens, and all fruit smoothies. Everything looked delicious and I was torn between the curry chicken salad and the baby brie and bacon sandwich on toasted focaccia. In the end I opted for the healthier choice, chunks of chicken breast tossed with julienned carrots and zucchini on a bed of lettuce and topped with fresh papaya. So yummy!