I’ve mentioned cliff diving in relation to Hawai’i before, back in 2018. I then even wrote an article that used cliff diving as a metaphor for change. But I never thought I’d be back to the island to go through with it—cliff diving, change, trust, and all.
Narnia is a place in Hawaii as beautiful as the name suggests. But it is also a local secret, one of the last places that don’t get overrun with tourists, and because I want to keep it that way out of respect for the place and the locals that frequent it, I shan’t provide a GPX file or a trail description this time. It’s a place where two rivers meet in a series of cascading waterfalls and deep gorges carved into the volcanic rock, cutting up the landscape into a maze of water and lush greenery.
We headed out to Narnia on the fifth day of the research trip, not to do research but to wind down, relax, and enjoy the company of each other. (And, as I learned later, also do some cliff-diving.) The drive wasn’t a short one, and neither was the hike, although it sure was a relaxing walk compared to Waipi’o Valley.
All teams headed out at the same time. This meant that we, the Hiking Team, got extra 30 minutes of sleep, while everyone else had to get up 30 minutes earlier than their usual. The drive to the trailhead took us via Saddle Road between the peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. As we stopped for a bathroom break, Ki and a few of us debated if we could pull off a hike to Mauna Loa with the limited time we had left on the island.
When we arrived at the trailhead, I decided to hike in my sandals. They have better tread than my very-used sneakers had at that point, and I also didn’t feel like getting in the still-wet shoes. And although it probably wouldn’t be generally advisable, Ki, knowing the trail well, agreed that I’d have no problem pulling it off.
The trail was filled with water, muddy, and washed out, and led us through a few places where signs warned us: “Government property, restricted access.”
“If I lose my visa because of this, it’s up to you to get me back into the country,” I said to Ki who laughed and said he wouldn’t let them kick me out. I decided to trust his statement.
(Yes, “Ki” is a pseudonym. You can read about where it came from in the second part of this series.)
There were old ruins and tilted walls overtaken by lush greenery. There were lizards and colorful plants. But most importantly, there were amazing people to be around.
The path itself snaked in and out of the rainforest and across meadows with grass nearly as tall as us. I’m using the term “meadow” very loosely here. These meadows looked like little jungles themselves more than anything else.
We glimpsed the waterfalls over the tops of palms and other trees soon and started to crawl down the short rocky descent, entrusting our safety to the hands of our friends as we helped each other down right next to the river. On a lip right next to the water, we left our backpacks with Ihi and got into the cold water. The river, having meandered through deep gorges in the shade of the rainforest, was much colder than the ocean.
There were so many species of plants and insects and amphibians it would be impossible to count. The place was overflowing with life and we were in the middle of it, freezing slightly in the cold water.
We followed the gorge upstream and around a bend, surrounded on both sides by tall walls made of layer upon layer of lava. It was fantastical to see the individual layers that build this island, some of them eroding slightly faster than others, some of them only a few inches thick while others accounted for a foot or two-thick layer of new land.
We swam to a waterfall, on the side of which was a small lava tube and a grotto. The sound of the falling water reverberated between the walls as we swam around or lounged on a huge block of lava rock that fell into the gorge from the side a long time ago. I wish I would have a photo of that place. It was as if taken straight out of a dream. Alas, some places maybe shouldn’t be photographed. I doubt the picture would do it justice, anyway.
We retreated closer to the beginning of the deep gorge and found a lip to sit on right along the water. Ki then pointed to the opposite side of the gorge where the top of the cliff created an overhang.
“Let’s do some cliff diving,” he said. And I, being slightly scared of heights, decided to swim around and climb to the top with him and a few others to do just that. The rest of the group stayed stationed below to help should anything go south.
We got to the top and I was so excited about the whole thing that I forgot to be afraid. I’ve never done cliff diving; the tallest thing I’ve ever dove from was at our local pool when I was a kid, some two meters above the water. This was more than three times that. Which, in the world of cliff diving is probably a baby cliff-dive. Who cares?
One of my friends went first and then it was my turn. I made my way to the most-overhanging part of the gorge wall. I was ready to just go for it; such was my excitement. That is, until my foot slipped and I almost fell down on the side of it, right along the jagged rock. And as I caught myself, my fear made a comeback.
But I wasn’t not going to do it, oh no. This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I’ve never been in a situation like that; surrounded by friends in a beautiful destination, having their full support and encouragement, feeling so safe and generally happy,… and I didn’t (and don’t) know if I ever would (will) experience anything like this again. I’ve done many metaphorical leaps of faith in my life, and many were much scarier than that, with more unknowns. Right now, I only had to trust Ki that the water was deep enough (and, indeed, it was; nobody even touched the bottom) and trust that should anything go wrong, my friends would help me.
So I jumped. After a few moments of convincing myself, I jumped, and the air swished by my body that experienced a few moments of weightlessness. It took much longer than I expected to hit the water, and I almost opened my eyes to check if I was still falling; it felt as if I was just suspended in the air, floating on my own.
I heard myself scream as if from somewhere far away (I, indeed, screamed the whole way down, but nobody ever mentioned that, and then, suddenly, there was water all around me. It was so much colder than what we swam through, untouched by the sun that warmed the upper layer, that I almost tried to suck in my breath (bad idea when underwater).
It took me a few moments to figure out where is up and then my head broke through the surface and before I could breathe, I had to laugh; so strong were the feelings of absolute euphoria. I was welcomed by the beaming smiles and of my friends, joined them near the lip where they sat, and cheered on for other divers just as they did for me.
If I’m ever asked to describe a perfect moment, I will talk about this; friends and fun, smiles and sun, and so much connection my heart almost burst.
We hit the Hilo market next. It was full of colors, sounds, and smells, and fruits I’ve never seen, let alone tried. I, having a backpack, helped Noni carry her shopping (10 lbs of fruits) and, eventually drink and eat her coconut. (Fresh coconut meat is so good!) I devoured an açaí bowl (I fell in love with açaí bowls on the second day of the research trip) and took a stroll around the market.
(Yes, Noni is another alias. Noni is a small tree and a member of the coffee family, introduced to Hawai’i.)
The place was very busy—a little too much for me, and so I ended up on the outskirts of it, looking towards Liliuokalani Gardens. It was another one of the places I visited in 2018 and thought I’d never see again. I couldn’t name the feelings that swirled around inside me. It was a little unbelievable.
I then found Loulu (yes, another pseudonym, more about Loulu in previous Hawai’i post) and we headed back to Ki’s car as it was nearly time to leave. I finally changed from my still slightly wet shorts and swimming suit under the cover of a “skirt” made out of my rain jacket. Too bad it started to rain only a minute or so later, and Loulu and I both crouched under my rain jacket as hers was locked in the car (which Ki said would be left unlocked).
Ki and the rest of our team made their way to the car soon (right after it stopped raining) and we headed out of Hilo.
“There’s a lava tube we can walk into on this road,” I said when I recognized the road we were driving on. “In case you guys would be interested.”
Everyone seemed a bit tired but agreed to stop anyway. Until today, I can’t tell if it was because they were genuienly curious or if it was because they knew I loved that stuff. I navigated Ki and we parked on the side of the road under the gigantic tree that stayed in my memory clear as day, and then took everyone down into the lava tubes, showing them a small run-off lava tube in the floor and, through answering questions, giving them an unplanned mini-tour.
Whatever the cause behind them agreeing to go in, everyone, not only me, seemed to be excited to have seen it. The Kaūmana Caves aren’t a typical tourist destination; they’re a bit rougher than the well-known Nāhuku-Thurston Lava Tube in Volcanoes National Park. The floor isn’t evened out but was left exactly as it looked when the lava left it; an ankle-twister. There isn’t any electric light; the only light comes from the outside and quickly disappears the deeper you go into the lava tube.
If you bring a headlamp, the algae that grow on the walls of the lava tube will put on a beautiful show. It looks as if the walls themselves were emitting silver and gold light. As there was another group of visitors in the cave, their lights combined with ours reflected off the algae which lit up the whole space.
From there, we headed back to the base. By the time we reached the saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, everyone was ready to fall asleep, including Ki, who was driving. He told us to play a game or something to keep him awake, and so we played charades. Unnecessary to say, the videos were beyond hilarious, and also something I hope will never be seen by anyone’s eyes but ours.