“It’s so beautiful that you could take a thousand pictures and never really capture the beauty.”
Normally, this would be a trite description for any experience, but coming from the mouth of typically unimpressed pre-teen, it seems to hold a lot more weight. My eleven year old son and I were hiking slowly into the jungle-like rainforest of the 1,875 acres of Waimea Valley. With leafy giants towering above us like archaic watchmen and the vivid, fragrant blooms imploring us to use all our senses, it does seem futile to try to capture the beauty through my lens. It seems even more impossible that I will ever be able grasp the intangible mystery of the valley.
Located in the heart of Oahu’s famed North Shore, the verdant valley often plays second fiddle to the undulating ocean. With eyes on the surf, the vale stays in the background, but visitors run the risk of missing the heart of Hawaii if they don’t turn around and see what the mountains and valley have to offer.
The enchantment of Waimea Valley encompassed even the earliest travelers to Oahu. For 700 years the narrow valley set between the towering mountains was the home to the most sacred peoples in Hawaiian society-the kahuna nui, or high priests. In addition to the 5,500 species of plants, it also holds some of the rarest and most important native Hawaiian archaeological sites, including temples, burial caves, and stone shrines built to envoke prosperous fishing. The sacred beliefs about the valley remain as strong today as they did for the ancestors who lived in this valley. Just as the ancients brought their wounded to these waters, people still come to Waimea to swim in the healing waters of the waterfall.
We slowly made our way to the lowest point in the valley so that we can see this healing waterfall for ourselves. Our progress is slow through the ¾ mile hike, for although the terrain is gentle and paved, the delightful distractions are many. Flora and fauna of every kind grab our attention as we meander down the path. When it is not the natural beauty slowing our hike, there are aunties stationed along the path to introduce more of the Hawaiian culture through music and games. Yes, the progress is slow, but meaningful.
In the clearing, we can see the waterfall, which drops 45 feet into a calm, deep pool. Swimming is allowed when lifeguards are on duty, and in between cliff diving presentations. A dip in the healing waters that runs red with iron oxide from the volcanoes (Waimea means red-water) takes some bravery, as the waters are quite cold. If any healing is to happen, it will have to happen through my toes, although Ryan takes the chilly plunge and swims out to fully experience the waterfall.
As we begin the hike back to the top of the valley, we are still steadily walking on the civilized paved road, but the wild nature of the jungle is apparent off the trails. It is easy to see why TV show “Lost” and movies “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and Journey to the Center of the Earth 2” chose to film with this rugged wilderness as their backdrop. Our steps slow even further, as we find more beautiful flowers that we missed on the way down and we aimlessly try to capture their magic on film. Finally, we slow to a stop as my son (who is standing on the brink of the passage into adulthood) says with the innocence and wisdom of childhood “No matter how hard we try, we can only bring back the best of this place in our mind.” Then, we stand in silence and try to steal a piece of time to take with us forever from the Waimea Valley.
Looking up the massive leaves and trees has a Lilliputian effect on us as we realize our relative smallness in the scheme of time, and somehow the word “Lost” keeps coming to mind. We seem to have lost a great deal on our trek into and out of this mystical valley. We have lost all track of time. We have lost the desire to hurry from one thing to the next. We have lost the cynicism that goes with typical preteen angst. We have lost the need to think about the next moment before this moment has even passed. Perhaps there is some sort of healing in this valley after all.