Wind, rain and time have had crucial parts in carving the natural wonder known as Iao Needle, deep in the lush folds of Iao Valley. Rich in history, the valley is now one of Maui’s favorite destinations. It attracts a steady flow of visitors, who follow the road that runs parallel to Iao Stream, winding up about 3 miles from Wailuku Town, eventually reaching the cool heights of Iao.
At the road’s end, visitors can park in a paved lot (be sure to lock your vehicle and leave no valuables inside) and stroll over to the entrance, where illustrated signage introduces you to the geological and cultural history of the valley.
Pronounced EE-ow, Iao translates roughly as “cloud supreme.” Its highest peak reaches 2,250 feet, with its key attraction, Iao Needle, rising 1,200 feet, a lava remnant that is now blanketed in lush vegetation, often shrouded in low-lying clouds. Ancient Hawaiians revered this area and designated it a sacred burying place of chiefs.
Now a state park that covers 6.2 acres, Iao can be easily explored via a short, paved loop trail that rises to a windy overlook of the stream-carved valley. Along the way, signage tells the fascinating story of sacred Iao.
Perhaps the key event of its long history was the Battle of Kepaniwai, which took place in 1790. During this battle, a young warrior from the Island of Hawaii defeated Maui chieftain Kalanikupule in a battle that was so devastating the flow of Iao Stream was blocked by fallen bodies. Kepaniwai means “the damming of the waters.” The victorious chief was Kamehameha, who continued on to the island of Oahu, where he overcame that island’s warriors and eventually became the first king of Hawaii, uniting all the islands under one rule.