Standing tall and coated in the lush green of the rainforest, ‘Iao Needle has become an icon of Maui, and one of its must-see destinations.
The dramatic scenery is accessed via an easy trail, meaning most can enjoy this exceptional sight with limited effort.
‘Iao Needle isn’t just a must-see in modern Maui, but an important structure of the Hawaiian religion. But what makes ‘Iao Needle so special?
It’s Hard To Miss
The ‘Iao Needle towers 1200 feet above the floor of the ‘Iao Valley, and 2,250 feet above sea level. (And yes, it’s definitely worth visiting ‘Iao Valley to see the Needle.)
It isn’t the highest spot in the valley, but the sudden jutting shape stands out against the sharp cliffs and sloping sides that surround the Needle.
Covered in the lush vegetation of the rainforest, ‘Iao Needle is a remarkable sight from the lookout post, and still pretty impressive from the parking lot.
However, if you visit on a really damp day, you might find that even this impressive structure can be hidden in a veil of cloud.
It’s Associated With The God Of The Ocean
Carved by waters eroding the softer rocks either side, ‘Iao Needle has special significance within the Hawaiian religion. The structure was associated with Kanaloa, the God of the Ocean.
In fact, the Needle is known as the phallic stone of Kanaloa. We’ll let you think about what that might imply.
It Had A Bit Of A Naughty Reputation
Visitors to the ‘Iao Needle might remark on the, ahem, slightly phallic nature of the outcropping structure.
The best view of the ‘Iao Needle is from the observation deck, where the ridged back of the surrounding rock slightly obscures any less than PG connections.
But a look at ‘Iao Needle from the parking lot can be a bit of an eye-opener.
Although most commonly known as ‘Iao Needle, the peak does have another name: Kuka’emoku. This name speaks to both the rock’s association with the god Kanaloa, and its phallic appearance.
It’s Seen Warfare
The towering height of ‘Iao Needle was once employed as a lookout spot during the days of interisland warfare. One of Maui’s most famous battles actually took place under the watchful eye of the Needle.
In 1790, legendary Hawaiian King Kamehameha I bought his battle to unite the islands to Maui. The two sides clashed at the Battle of Kepaniwai, one of the most ferocious fights to ever occur on Maui soil.
Despite the local Maui people having the ‘Iao Needle as a lookout point, it was Kamahameha’s forces who triumphed, and changed the course of Hawaiian history.
The Park Is A Burial Ground For Maui Royalty
The importance of ‘Iao Valley stretches back across the centuries. During the fifteenth century, Maui ruler Kaka’e declared ‘Iao Valley would be a burial ground for the ali’i, or the Hawaiian nobility.
It’s thought that the bodies were buried in secret places across the 4,000 acres of the valley that now form the state park.
Visitors to the area should take the opportunity to soak up the unique atmosphere that led to ‘Iao Needle and the valley becoming such a sacred place.
To show proper respect to the land, make sure to keep to the designated paths, and don’t attempt to form your own trail.
It’s Best Viewed In the Morning
In Hawaiian, ‘Iao means “cloud supreme”, and this isn’t a name that was given by accident. Thick and misty clouds gather as the day sets in, and can sometimes completely obscure the view of the ‘Iao Needle.
And clouds aren’t unusual, as ‘Iao Valley is one of the wettest places in the United States, and the entire Earth.
Many visitors have decided to stop at the state park in the afternoon, only to be disappointed to find the most iconic structure is almost hidden. For the best chance of a good view, visit early.
The Needle Is An Erosional Remnant
Although ‘Iao Needle now stands proud on its own, it was once connected to a larger ridge. The dense rock that forms the dike stone of the Needle would have been surrounded by a softer stone.
Over time, the streams and waterfalls that are common in the cloud covered valley wore the soft stone down, leaving the ‘Iao Needle standing alone.
You Can Make It A Quick Visit
Most visitors to ‘Iao Valley park take the trail up to the Needle lookout, snap a photo and admire the view, and head back to the car.
This trip takes roughly 30 minutes, although it does depend on how long you spend taking in the scenery. Make sure you take the chance to enjoy the full panoramic views offered by the lookout point.
This well walked path is easy to follow, and not strenuous, but it is up a flight of stairs.
But You Can Also Make It Longer
‘Iao Needle is, undoubtedly, the most iconic structure of the state park. But it isn’t the only trail worth taking.
If you want to extend your visit to the state park, you can take the rainforest walk, which guides visitors through the dense rainforest of introduced vegetation.
This area isn’t as well-marked, but it still isn’t as tough to follow as other Maui hiking trails. Just be careful to obey the no-entry signs, which have been placed to keep people away from the “informal” trails that aren’t safe.
You Have To Pay To See It
‘Iao Needle is one of the most iconic sights of Maui, and you do have to pay a small charge if you wish to see it. Entrance to the park is $5 per person, including children over 2 years old.
There’s also a parking fee, which is typically $10 per car. Larger cars do have to pay more.
Should You Visit ‘Iao Needle?
‘Iao Needle is an icon of both modern and historic Maui, and not just because of its slightly R-rated reputation.
We recommend making an early morning trip to the impressive structure, so you can view it properly without the cloud cover.