Kauai is one of the wettest places on Earth, and it’s spectacularly rugged, too. This means a heck of a lot of waterfalls. More specifically, it means some of the planet’s most all-around gorgeous waterfalls. And one of the Garden Isle’s best-known is Manawaiopuna Falls, aka “Jurassic Falls,” in the Hanapepe Valley on the island’s southwestern side.
One of the best-known waterfalls, yes, but also remote and mostly inaccessible. Set in the green, roadless Hanapepe gorges, Manawaiopuna Falls is on privately owned acreage, to boot. But given its beauty—and given its silver-screen cred—numerous tour companies offer helicopter flights to this beautiful, 400-foot horsetail falls.
What silver-screen cred, might you ask? Well, the whole “Jurassic Falls” nickname gives you a clue. In fact, if you’re a hardcore fan of the 1993 Steven Spielberg modern classic Jurassic Park, you might even have already recognized the waterfall from its picture. Manawaiopuna featured memorably as the towering plunge where Dr. Alan Grant and company first landed by chopper on “Isla Nublar,” site of the (ultimately doomed, of course) dinosaur-roamed park conceived of by John Hammond.
Movie buffs (and general-purpose dino nuts) will thrill at the chance to nab an aerial look at Manawaiopuna Falls in the same sort of ride as Spielberg’s characters enjoyed for the kickoff to their Isla Nublar adventure. Then again, the waterfall is spectacular enough to check out regardless of your relative level of Jurassic Park fandom.
The falls plunge off a cliff and then fan out in streamers down the rock face. There’s a narrow subsidiary waterfall to one side of the main drop. As with so many Kauai waterfalls, the contrast of Manawaiopuna’s whitewater against a jungly green backdrop is simply breathtaking.
One company and one company only, Island Helicopters, has permission to actually land at the base of Manawaiopuna Falls. It’s hard to argue that isn’t the ultimate Jurassic Falls experience, but the flyovers—which can be doors-off for premier photography opportunities—are plenty memorable in and of themselves. It’s cool enough, after all, to get a long-range, top-down look at the Manawaiopuna pour-off amid its amazingly rugged topographic context.
The private land on which Manawaiopuna Falls plummets, by the way, is owned by the Robinson family, also known for owning the “Forbidden Island” of Niihau to the southwest of Kauai.
If you’re making an effort to check out some of the famous Jurassic Park filming sites on Kauai during your Hawaiian vacation, definitely consider a helicopter tour of Manawaiopuna Falls. And even if you aren’t, you should still consider it, given this tall waterfall’s scenic beauty and wonderfully remote setting.
-Beware shameless tour operators who may talk up other waterfalls as the one featured toward the beginning of Jurassic Park. It’s Manawaiopuna Falls in the Hanapepe Valley, as a rewatching of the movie plainly shows. (And a rewatching isn’t a half-bad idea ahead of your Kauai trip if you’re thinking of doing the “Jurassic Falls” visit.)
-Some claim you can hike to Manawaiopuna Falls, but this would be (a) illegal trespassing and (b) both difficult and dangerous. Stick to the by-the-books chopper flights.