Kaua‘i’s North Shore is home to the famous cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, but it is also the site of a series of massive caves shrouded in mystery and the lore of an ancient race of a mythical people. As the highway ends west of Hanalei at Ha`ena State Park, most visitors are immediately drawn to the panoramic trail head for the Kalalau Trail, the gateway to the Na Pali Coast. However, immediately across the road to the left is one of the largest subterranean spaces in all of Kaua‘i: the Maniniholo “Dry” Cave.
The Maniniholo Dry Cave in Kauai
So named because of the three caves at Ha`ena it is the only one that is above the waterline, Maniniholo Dry Cave is found right after mile marker 9 on Highway 560. Opening up as if it was trying to swallow the road itself, the cave is enormous and almost circular, stretching 150’ back to its farthest point. As you enter the wide mouth on the Maniniholo Dry Cave in Kauai, the sandy floor is lit by the brilliant Kaua‘i sunshine. However, as the eerie drips of unseen water on the cave walls seem to call you deeper into the cave, the light quickly fades to twilight. According to myth, the cave was actually the mouth of a tunnel that the Menehune – Kaua‘i’s quasi-mythical and diminutive original residents – used to escape Waimea Canyon while being chased by the Polynesian voyagers that were fighting them for control of the island. After making their escape, the industrious Menehune collapsed the tunnel to secure their safety on Kaua‘i’s remote North Shore, and in so doing formed the wall that now stands before you.
The Wet Caves
Just up the road, on the left before mile marker 10, are two more caves aside from the Maniniholo Dry Cave you should visit – Waikanaloa and Waikapala`e. Located just off the highway, they are both accessible by a short, uphill hike and are well worth a visit. Each is fed by a cool underwater spring that partially floods a portion of the chamber, giving them the nickname of “the Wet Caves.” Enchantingly beautiful, the caves can take on a luminous blue glow when the tide is high and the morning sun hits the cave floor just right. Swimming in the caves is at your own risk, but can be treacherous due to currents, poor visibility, and the possible presence of leptospirosis bacteria in the water (you shouldn’t swim if you have any open wounds, and never drink the water).