Top of the World

On a gray day that was a washout for the beach, we drove to Waimea Canyon, 10 miles long, 1 mile wide and 3,600 feet deep. Mark Twain dubbed it the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

Waimea Swinging Bridge

Swinging bridge

Outside of Waimea, on the way to the canyon, is the Waimea Swinging Bridge. It creaks and sways and becomes very slippery when wet — which it was on the rainy day we visited it. Originally built by early settlers, it was reconstructed after being destroyed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

It’s a suspension bridge made of wood and cables, and it spans the Waimea River, which is full of sediment that dyes the water red. Of course, like many things in Hawaii, there is a legend to explain the real reason the water is red: A beautiful chief’s daughter was killed by a jilted suitor, and her blood ran into the river.

On the other side of the river is a private taro farm — the root vegetable that Hawaiians use to make poi. Poi, of course, is the brownish purple paste-like dip served to the tourists at luaus with taro chips and chuckles. (Actually, it’s a very traditional and sacred part of Hawaiian cuisine.)


Menehune DitchMenehune Ditch

Across the road from the bridge, there’s a stone-hewn irrigation ditch that flows into a tunnel in the side of a mountain. The Menehune Ditch was supposedly dug by the Menehune, mythical Hawaiian leprechaun folk, by stacking rows of lava stones. No one really knows who built it, but the real story is that it’s the remnant of an engineering marvel built around A.D. 300.

Menehune Ditch

Canyon in the fog

As we climbed higher into the canyon, we were enshrouded by an eerie fog. Visibility was constantly shifting. Clouds parted to reveal a deep, green valley or rocky, red cliff. We stopped at two lookouts: Waimea Canyon Lookout at 3,400 feet and Kalalau Valley Lookout at 4,000 feet.