Across the islands of Hawaii are some incredible natural features that have to be seen to be believed.
One of these is Waipuhia Falls on Oahu, a waterfall that sometimes cascades down the cliff, and sometimes defies gravity by going the other way.
Waipuhia Falls is an incredibly rare reverse waterfall, which, yes, is a thing that exists.
The best way to see Waipuhia Falls is by car, as the only potential trail crosses through private property. Learn more about this incredible falls, and how to see it, with our guide.
What Is Waipuhia Falls?
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Waipuhia Falls is a waterfall on Oahu with a reputation for being the setting of an incredible natural phenomenon. At times, Waipuhia transforms from your standard falls into an upside-down waterfall.
Rather than cascading down the cliff, the water actually blows upwards, creating a mesmerizing effect like no other. It’s the sort of thing that has to be seen to be believed.
Wait, An Upside-Down Waterfall?
It might sound like something out of a fairy tale, or someone’s particularly vivid imagination, but upside-down waterfalls do actually exist.
No, they aren’t a gravity defying piece of magic. The water doesn’t suddenly start running up the rock face. Instead, a reverse waterfall is the result of powerful winds hitting the water at just the right speed and force.
As the gusts of wind blow up the falls, they cause the water to spray upwards as well. The result: a waterfall that seems to be running in reverse.
As you might have guessed, for this phenomenon to occur, the conditions have to be just right. So, some of the time an upside-down waterfall is just a regular, right way up waterfall. Still pretty cool but less mind-bending!
At Waipuhia Falls, the trade winds are regularly blowing, which is why the upside-down effect has been so frequently observed. The winds are powerful at the base of the waterfall, and can carry the stream with them.
Can You Hike To Waipuhia Falls?
There is no trail to Waipuhia Falls! The only path leading to the falls passes through private property, and trespassers are not welcome.
And to even get to this point, you have to struggle through a path that really isn’t a path. Overgrown, frequently muddy, and hard to follow, most who attempt to tackle the false trail turn around quickly.
We highly recommend staying away from the trail, as it’s difficult to keep to the path, and you have to hack your way through the wild growth at points.
Even if you do make the journey, you’re likely to be kicked off by the landowner before you get a chance to enjoy the falls. It’s not worth it, especially when there’s an easier way to view Waipuhia Falls.
How Can You See Waipuhia Falls?
Lucky visitors get a chance to see the upside-down Waipuhia Falls from the comfort of their car! It is possible to see the falls as you drive along Pali Highway. Keep an eye towards Central Oahu, and you might see the reverse falls appear in the distance.
Reverse waterfalls are not common, and even those that are known for the effect aren’t always running backwards.
Because it’s so unusual, we do recommend keeping an eye out for the effect if you’re driving down Pali Highway. You’ll know you’ve found it when someone says: hang on, is that waterfall flowing backwards?
Admittedly, this isn’t quite the exciting view you might expect to see if you hiked the trail. But you’re also a lot less likely to spend a morning bushwhacking, only to be turned away at the last minute.
And there’s another reason why it’s better to glimpse Waipuhia Falls by car…
Waipuhia Isn’t Always Upside-Down (And It Isn’t Always A Waterfall)
Yes, sometimes Waipuhia Falls just runs the normal way around. Waipuhia Falls only runs in reverse when the trade winds are strong and fast. This isn’t exactly a rare occurrence, which is why Waipuhia has the reputation it does.
The shape of the cliff face causes the winds to swirl, and push the water back up the falls. However, at times Waipuhia is just a regular waterfall. It can still be pretty impressive, but there are better waterfalls on Oahu that are easier to visit.
There’s another reason why it’s much better to spot Waipuhia from the car: it isn’t always a waterfall. When the stream is low, the waterfall becomes a hard to see trickle.
Sometimes, it completely disappears altogether. And this isn’t as rare as you might think. Many visitors have struggled through the trail, only to find at the end there’s not even a regular waterfall, let alone an upside-down one.
So, if you can’t spot Waipuhia from Pali Highway, it might not be that you’ve driven by without noticing. It could just be that the waterfall isn’t there at all.
Are There Any Upside-Down Waterfalls On Maui?
Upside-down waterfalls are caused by powerful winds coming up against cascades of water—and both things are fairly common on Maui.
However, no upside-down waterfalls have been observed on Maui, showing just how rare a phenomenon this is!
That’s not to say it couldn’t ever happen, as it is just a combination of wind and water. No matter how it might appear, there’s no magic involved in a reverse waterfall!
But if it has happened on Maui, it’s yet to be seen by anyone (because this isn’t the kind of view you’d keep to yourself).
They might not run upside-down, but the waterfalls along the Road to Hana are still pretty incredible.
Waipuhia Falls: Incredible, Occasionally
When it’s running, Waipuhia Falls is an amazing natural phenomenon that seems to defy gravity to send water flowing straight uphill.
But sometimes it isn’t even a waterfall, and certainly not worth trespassing for. We recommend getting a look at the waterfall from the road.
That way, you still have a chance to see something that looks like magic, and you won’t feel annoyed if the upside-down waterfall is a right-way-round trickle.