After exploring Rainbow Falls and the giant Banyan Trees hidden above the falls in the rain and getting all wet, we drove up the road about a mile to the Boiling Pots Area of the Wailuku River State Park, where we also got to see Pe’epe’e Falls from a distance.
When we got out of the car in the parking lot, it was still raining and we ducked under the restroom overhand to shield ourselves a bit. The Boiling Pots viewing platform is a short walk from the parking lot, and we knew that heading out there meant we were all going to be soaked! But we’re probably not going to do this again, so it’s now or never!
We walked out to the viewing platform and had it all to ourselves. The one good thing about exploring in the rain is that very few other people also explore in the rain. Most of the other people we ran into though had ponchos and umbrellas, while we just went for it in the rain.
Wailuku River Boiling Pots
The Wailuku River is the second longest river in Hawaii, flowing along the path where lava from Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea come together. Over time the river eroded a gorge between the two lava flows, which were also filled twice by younger lava flows from Mauna Loa.
About one mile above Rainbow Falls, the Wailuku River drops over Pe’epe’e Falls into a series of flowing cascades called the Boiling Pots, whose waters tumble, roll, and bubble, making it appear like it’s boiling from underground lava tubes. The vertical columns that surround the Boiling Pots were formed as the lava cooled slowly in the river bed.
The activity of the Big Island Boiling Pots are completely dependent upon the rains and the water flow.
- During heavy rains, the water will bubble and boil.
- In light rains or calm weather, you won’t see any boiling pots, just a succession of cascading pools along the river.
From the overlook, we could look down at the Boiling Pots and see Pe’epe’e Falls, which sits upriver to the left of the viewing platform. While we were visiting, the rains weren’t heavy enough to make the terraced pools boil, but it was still a really beautiful stop and I got to see another Big Island waterfall! Hooray!
Pe’e Pe’e Falls plunges 60-80 feet into a pool below and is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation and lava rocks believed to date back to the eruptions of the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes over 3,000 years ago and about 10,000 years ago, respectively. In the Hawaiian language, Pe’epe’e means hiding, which is a perfect fit for this Big Island waterfall because it’s tucked far up river from the viewing platform and partially obscured by a lava rock outcropping and some plants and trees.
If you want to see Pe’epe’e Falls up close, you’re going to have to do some hiking and scampering and rock skipping — and it’s not very safe.
There is a small trail to the right of the Boiling Pots viewing platform that leads to the pools below, but it is overgrown, narrow, steep, and unmaintained, and in the rain, the path is very slippery. If that doesn’t dissuade you, consider the dangers of the Wailuku River… Flash floods and surges in water flow are common, sweeping people downriver and trapping them underwater, between rocks, or even in an underwater lava tube or cave. In fact, the Wailuku River (which includes Boiling Pots) accounts for 25% of the river drowning deaths in the state.
There are signs that warn you to stay on the viewing platform and we listened! No swimming in the Pe’epe’e Falls plunge pool or the Boiling Pots for us.
The Legend Of Boiling Pots
The legend goes that Hina’s son Maui saved his mother from the vengeful lizard Mo’o Kuna, who was trying to drown Hina. Maui chased the giant lizard from Rainbow Falls, upstream to the pools just below the Boiling Pots overlook. Maui couldn’t get a good shot at thelizard who was hiding in the potholes, so he called upon Pele, the goddess of fire, who gave Maui hot stones to throw in the river. The stones made the river boiling hot, which drove Kuna from his refuge.
Know Before You Go
- Pe’epe’e Falls and the Boiling Pots Area of the Wailuku River State Park is located at the end of Pe’epe’e Falls Rd in Hilo, Hawaii 96720, about one mile up the road from Rainbow Falls.
- The Rainbow Falls waterfall, along with the Boiling Pots, Pe’epe’e Falls, and Wai’ale Falls are all part of the Hawai’i State Parks and they are free to visit and enjoy.
- Restrooms are available.
- Wailuku River State Park opens at sunrise and closes at dusk.
- This area is known to have tons of mosquitoes, so be sure to wear mosquito repellent or bug spray, wear pants and long sleeves, or visit when it’s raining like we did.
- You’re going to be tempted to climb down to the boiling pots to scamper over the rocks, get a closer look at Pe’epe’e Falls, and swim in the pools, but don’t do it. The area is known for flash floods — remember, while it may be sunny and calm here, it could be raining farther up the mountain. Also, there are no lifeguards on duty and many people die here every year.