Nakalele Blowhole, Maui’s Most Beautiful and Dangerous Attraction

Jack and I stood on the northernmost tip of Maui as waves crashed against the cliffs far below us and the late-afternoon sun shimmered dazzlingly against the water.

We stepped on to a deserted path patched with tufts of grass and wide enough for a Jeep to navigate. We walked slowly, hand in hand, among the lonely lichen-covered rocks.

We had heard about a section of the mountain that looked, we were told, like an “Acid War Zone.” The name itself was so at odds with the verdant, boulder-strewn scene in front of us, we doubted whether we were in the right place. We wandered the paths, following a labyrinth and posing for pictures on ledges above the sparkling Pacific.

Eventually, the stones under our feet became sharper and yet somehow more brittle in appearance. We picked our way through uneven twists of gray and black rock that, as promised, looked like it had been sprayed with acid.

Over millions of years, the salt in sea spray has eaten at the soft volcanic rock. It was otherworldly—like the moon, or a movie set.

Sharp, jagged edges of the rocks sketched strange silhouettes against the blue sky. One arch of stone had a hole carved—whether by the touch of human or nature, it’s impossible to know—in the rough shape of a heart. Behind and below the heart, the bright blue ocean crashed on a faraway beach.

The salt spray speckled the hardened lava’s already strange formations with holes that looked like they were eaten by worms. Salt collects in crevices like pockets of snow or ice, crackling to the touch. Jade-like olivine, a mineral that, in the form of a semiprecious gem, is known as peridot, glistens within the rocks.

We picked our way through the damp, rough rocks until we spotted the blowhole. Water spewed dozens of feet in the air, raining soft droplets onto us. Shifting rainbows danced in the afternoon sun.

Through the years, the ocean has worn away the shoreline of lava, creeping under the outcrop of rock upon which we stood. We could feel the ocean pounding relentlessly into the eroded ledge beneath us. When the waves crashed in, water shot furiously upward like a geyser.

After the burst of water dissolved in the air, the water began slipping back toward the circular hole in the ground. Crabs scuttled along the ground, cautiously hunting for algae that grows along the damp rim of the blowhole. Blennies, looking like prehistoric tadpoles, live in tiny pools only inches deep, but can jump from pool to pool. The sudden serenity of the scene beckoned us to come closer, to look down through the hole to the waves below.

Of course, we had been forewarned. The water drains with surprising force, and with no guard rails and no one else around, it would be easy to do something dangerous.

A year before we visited, a 44-year-old California man who stood too close to the spraying water was knocked over by a wave into the blowhole. A visitor who witnessed the accident told The Maui News that the water and air below had forced the man’s body back up briefly before he disappeared again, never to be found. Only a few days later, visitors still ventured too close for safety, Hawaii News Now reported.

However, observing the blowhole at a distance of several yards will be enough to form some pretty incredible memories. The blowhole remains one of my favorite parts of Maui.

Not surprisingly, high tide and high waves make for more drama. If Nakalele is not blowing when you visit, it’s worth another visit at a later date.

1 reply »

  1. I discovered the unadvertised feature near Cook’s Chasm one March day while photographing the waves breaking on the rocks with Cape Perpetua in the background. The wave action was strong, though not a storm surf, and some impressive waves were breaking on the rocky shelf. I walked far out onto the rock for my shots. As I was shooting toward the north, I became aware of a phenomenon occurring to my left. A large hole was present in the rock about 10 feet in diameter. The hole communicated with the ocean below, much like a blow hole, but very wide. Instead of spouting up in a jet of water, the ocean surged up out of the hole and flowed out onto the rock. Then, as the surge subsided, the water flowed back down into the hole like a circular waterfall. I turned my camera and started shooting, and the results are here for you to see.


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