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The Common Sense Guide to Enjoying Activities in Hawaii

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Why This Guide to Activities in Hawaii?

After having safely guided thousands of guests through a rainforest canyon in East Maui, we’ve heard and seen it all. We’ve met all kinds of people who were not sure what activities in Hawaii were available and worth doing. Or what their Hawaii experience was going to be like. There have been guests who didn’t know what to expect from the rainforest; guests who didn’t know about that famous Maui red dirt. Or guests who didn’t understand that the waterfalls are a natural result of rainfall running downhill, from the top of Haleakala down to the ocean. They didn’t know that the water travels down a maze of twists and turns and waterfalls before landing in the Pacific. They didn’t know that, even though some of the troughs and flumes that guide part of the rainfall were man made, the waterfalls are definitely natural. Spoiler: We don’t turn the waterfalls on in the morning and off at night.

So we wrote a handy guide for anyone who isn’t familiar with activities in Hawaii or faraway destinations.

Volume One: A Guide for Those Who Like Common Sense Guides

So here’s Volume One of the guide maybe you didn’t know you needed; an “activities in Hawaii” guide for people who appreciate keeping it simple and using common sense. You may learn something about Maui–or not–but you will definitely do some thinking about this beautiful island.

It’s Expensive. Planning Can Help You Make the Most of Your Dollar

It’s Nature

The Fresh Water

The first thing you might think about when thinking about Maui is the ocean. After all, we’re surrounded by it for thousands of miles. But what you might not know is that there are lots of activities in Hawaii that involve streams and small bodies of fresh water. First, a bit of safety information:  The water is not always your friend. Here are the common sense basics of staying safe in streams, rivers and ponds:

Flash flooding is possible. Stay aware and don’t take chances with your safety.

Don’t drink it

There’s bacteria everywhere in nature. On the hiking trails, in the air, in the water and on you.  There is no magical reservoir of sterile water to swim in.

Don’t float down the flumes

Don’t put anything in it. Use reef-safe sunscreen and use the bug spray very sparingly. (In some locations, it’s not even necessary)

Look before you leap.  Even places well-known for their depths can become dangerous due to the water throwing branches and even boulders into the pools.

It can be chilly

Helmets save  lives. Falling rock


The Sun

Reef safe sunscreen.

SPF clothing is your best bet.

Stay hydrated, reapply sunscreen more often than you think you should

If you want to see the sunrise at Haleakala, you will need to make a reservation. Sundown is also good, and you don’t need a reservation and you can go someplace for dinner on your way down.




The Ocean

Wash off afterward. It’s full of staph

Heed the flags and listen to the lifeguards

Did you cut yourself on the reef, rocks or your surfboard?  Did you end up with a horrible sun burn or rash while you were out that needs medical attention? You may have better luck seeing a dermatologist instead of going to an urgent care clinic or the emergency room.



The Aina (Land)

Don’t trespass,  even if a guide book tells you it’s OK. Even if a guide you hired says it’s OK because “everyone does it.” Be responsible and polite.

Bites suck

Don’t take the rocks



The Geography and Topography


Is a Certain Tour for You?

If all else fails, ask.


Being a good consumer wherever you go saves a lot of time, money and trouble. Here’s how to tell if the tour you’re buying is legit.

What’s the Water Temperature in the Waterfalls?

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So, How Cold Is It?

One of the most frequently asked questions we encounter from guests is, “What’s the water temperature?” or “Maui water temperatureHow cold is the water?” Stream water temperature is a little chillier than the ocean water, especially during certain times of the year. Another question we’re often asked is if it’s necessary to wear a wet suit top while rappelling waterfalls. Since everyone has a different idea of what cold is, we’ll give you the following facts: The normal annual range of water temperature for the network of streams that travels through natural gulches and man made flumes is 20-27 degrees C or 68 to 80 F. The stream that contributes to most of the waterfall flow at the Rappel Maui activity site averages about 23 degrees C or 73 degrees F.

These are shallow streams with flow that fluctuates with rainfall and other factors. There may be a daily range of a few degrees, and can follow the trends in air temperature.  Stream water temperatures are warmer June through September. They’re cooler November through February.  The weather is usually a little wetter during the winter months as well. Heavy rainfalls make streams fuller or raising the possibility of flooding.

How to Prepare

If you know that you’re sensitive to chilly water temperatures, it doesn’t hurt to bring a thin wet suit top.  Most guests do not find it necessary, but nice to have.  If you bring a wet suit with you and decide not to wear it, you can remove it and stash it into the backpack we provide for you.  Alternatively, a long sleeved rash guard or quick-dry shirt works well, and the flotation device you’ll wear during the tour also serves as a warmth layer. If you’re looking for a wet suit top once you arrive on Maui, most of the dive and snorkel shops carry them for sale or rent.

While your mileage may vary for comfort level with water temperatures, it’s rare for the water temperatures to be intolerable. The amount of time guests are submerged in the pools and streams is limited.  Please call or chat with us to discuss your experience.

Happy New Year From Rappel Maui

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Bringing Generations Closer

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We’re often asked what the minimum age is for the classic rappel tour, as families with active children enjoy the prospect of creating memories on Maui with their children. Rappelling and outdoor activities are great for bringing multi-generational families together.  Some children and teens even decide, after taking their rappel tour, that canyoneering is their new sport of choice. The outdoors rock!

The minimum age for the Rappel Maui classic tour is 10, with a minimum weight of 70 lbs, and a minimum waist measurement of 22″.   “What’s the maximum age?” one guest asked over the phone.  For the classic tour, we don’t necessarily have one, and  during the summer of 2017, an 81-year-old man completed a Rappel Maui tour with his family of two generations. He was not the slowest or the least graceful person on the course, and he went out for a nice dinner afterward. Renaissance man, indeed.

Whatever your activity level and appetite for adventure,  there’s probably an outdoor activity on Maui for you to discover. Thank goodness it’s a jungle out there.  Call us to discuss your multi-generational outing or ask about a senior discount.


Where’s What on Maui

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You’ve probably noticed that, even though it’s a smallish island, getting directions around Maui can be somewhat confusing if you’re a first-timer who’s unfamiliar with the towns and unique directional cues you’ll get from locals. Don’t worry, it doesn’t take long to catch on to what’s where and how to get there.

Cardinal Directions

First off, north/south/east/west are infrequently used, unless someone is referring to the sides of the island.  You’re more likely to hear island directional cues like mauka, makai and upcountry. To go in the “mauka” direction means to go away from the ocean; going “makai” means to go toward the ocean. “Upcountry” is the area at higher elevations up Mount Haleakala.

There are also leeward and windward mentions, but this is usually in relation to weather patterns. When Maui’s tradewinds are blowing, Hana, Kahului, Makawao, Wailuku, Kapalua, and Napili are on the island’s windward side; Wailea, Kihei, Maalaea, Lahaina, and Ka’anapali are located on the island’s leeward side.

Where You’ll Find What

  • Kahului is in Central Maui, at the isthmus of the island between East and West Maui; it’s where the Kahului (OGG) airport is.
  • Maalaea is where one of Maui’s harbors and the aquarium are located. It’s also near the park & ride lot where we meet you before your tour.
  • Lahaina is on the west side, along with Kaanapali–a long stretch of resorts, beaches and shops.
  • Kihei, Wailea and Makena are on the south side.
  • Makawao, Pukalani, Kula and part of Haiku are all upcountry towns.
  • Paia, Sprecklesville and part of Haiku are on what’s referred to as the North Shore.
  • Because of its remote perch at the very end of the eastern coast, Hana is…Hana.

Where the Streets Have Long Names: A Pronunciation Guide to Maui’s Places

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One thing that first-time visitors to Hawaii mention are the seemingly complicated Hawaiian names found on street signs and maps.  Be assured: there’s a way to get through words that look like vowel soup.

Look for the okina or break up long words with lots of vowels.

An ‘okina is a character that resembles an apostrophe or a tiny, upside down, superscript 6. It marks a very brief pause between the syllables of a word, a sound you can hear in the word “uh-oh,” for example.  (This is also called, for you grammar nerds out there, a glottal stop.) Pronouncing the vowel and consonant sounds separated by the ‘okina allows you to break down the word into shorter, simpler parts, but you can also do this with longer words in which there is no ‘okina. This is also useful for when the ‘okina is absent from traffic and street signs.

Look for vowel pairs and syllable couples

Note that some vowel pairs are not pronounced separately, but together as one sound, unless they are separated by an okina.  “Au,” (pronounced like “ow”)  “ei” (pronounced “ay”) and “ae” (usually pronounced “eye”) are such pairs (called a diphthong).

Practice with common names

Try this method with some of these street names and cities:

Mokulele–broken up into 4 parts is easy to pronounce phonetically:  Moe-koo-LAY-lay
Honoapiilani–broken up into 7 parts is pronounced: Ho-no-ah-pee-ee-LA-knee
Kaahumanu–is another 5 part word:  Ka-ah-hu-MAH-noo
Hookele–broken into 4 parts, with the stop happening between the two Os:  Ho-oh-KAY-lay
Haleakala–broken into 5 parts: Ha-lay-ah-kah-LA

Kihei–very simply, in 2 parts: KEY-hay
Kaanapali–properly pronounced in five parts, with the stop between the As, but commonly pronounced in four parts, without the stop between the two As: KA-nah-PAW-lee (or ka-AH-nah-PAW-lee if you honor the okina)

Note that the emphasis on some words will vary from person to person, just as with words in other languages. Often the authentic pronunciation differs from the casual dialect that has evolved over time. You’ll also hear some widely accepted pronunciations of Hawaiian words that are incorrect, but most locals use them. One such example is Hali’imaile.  The way that you’ll most likely hear it pronounced is “HIGH-lee-MY-lee.”

Most Important: It’s OK to slow down

Remember, while you’re driving around Maui, that slowing down to read those long street names is OK. Speed limits are low, and if you’re on vacation, a change of pace is probably why you’re here. Take your time, both driving, and “talking story.” Discover the island with aloha and be safe.  Welcome!

How Does Weather Affect a Rappel Maui Tour?

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Some recent weather history on the Hawaiian Islands: the summer of 2015 was a very active one. It marked one of the strongest El Niño patterns in recorded history, which meant that warmer water temperatures along the equator brought higher numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes across the Pacific Ocean. El Niño was blamed for other strange weather patterns on the mainland that winter. There was flooding in some parts of the world, and severe drought conditions in others well into the spring of 2016. Here in Hawaii, the storm activity that crept across the Central Pacific made for noticeably wet weather. In 2016, that spring and summer never dried up; the moderate to heavy rains continued for the rest of the year, with some areas of the island receiving twice as much rain as usual. In early 2017, the weather began to settle into a more normal pattern; however, the weather in the rainforest is very unpredictable. If you are wondering what the weather is going to be like during your scheduled tour date, you may have to wait until 48 hours before your tour, unless a larger front, system or tropical storm is forecast. Also keep in mind, weather can vary wildly from shore to shore. It’s common for the weather in Kaanapali to be dramatically different from the weather in Haiku.  We can tell you how much rain has fallen or is expected at the activity site within the next few days.


A near-falls descent.

When heavy rain falls over the northern part of the island, it impacts Rappel Maui tours in a few ways.  We operate rain or shine, and we tell all of our guests to expect at least a little rain, even if it’s a few minutes of mist. There is frequently rain in the rainforest, and it’s evident from how lush and green the surroundings are at the activity location that is just a few miles from one of the wettest parts of the island: Hana. If heavy rains or prolonged periods of steady rains cause the streams to swell to levels that are unsafe for swimming, we operate the classic tour on a normal schedule and use alternative rappel stations that are a safe distance from the water course. Sometimes those stations are right next to the waterfall flow, ending in the ponds, and other times, when the falls are roaring and raging, we use jungle walls and cliffs that are farther away from the stream flow. The times when we do not operate due to weather is when extreme conditions cause road closures, landslides or widespread outages.


The main role of your guides is to make sure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable day. Safety is their first priority, and a generous portion of their attention is spent on looking out for one of the least forgiving dangers of rappelling: flash flooding. There are times when the water in the streams is not high or swift, and there’s blue sky above. Danger is not obvious to the average guest, but the guides opt to use rappel stations not directly in the water course. What gives? The local papers are full of accounts of visitors and locals alike getting stranded–or much worse–after seemingly safe conditions turned ugly within the period of a few seconds. When guests ask guides what made them veer from the preference of using the waterfalls, there’s usually a good reason based on ground saturation, the weather upstream, and river gauge readings taken before the tour began. Guides don’t take chances with your safety or theirs; if invisible dangers change your tour, and you’re unsatisfied or concerned, please call the reservations line to talk about your personal experience.  And if you’re ever interested in seeing for yourself what can happen when untrained explorers are caught off guard, this video and accompanying story is an excellent cautionary tale.


Choosing a Rappel Maui Tour

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Now there are two tours to choose from: The Classic Rappel Tour and the Extreme Zip Rappel Tour. Not sure which tour is right for you? Compare tours below, or call us at 808-445-6407 or chat with us online to tell us exactly what you’re looking for, including the availability of private custom tours.

 Classic Rappel TourExtreme Zip Rappel Tour
DurationApprox. 6.5 hoursApprox. 8 hours
Number of Rappels34 or more
Waterfall Rappels?
(Water level permitting)
Lunch Included?YesYes
Climbing Included?NoYes
Weight RestrictionMinimum 70 lbs, maximum 250 lbs. Waist must measure between 22 and 54 inches.Minimum 80 lbs, maximum 230 lbs. Waist must measure between 22 and 54 inches.
Intended for Ages10 and up14 to 65
Price Per Person$219 plus tax$279 plus tax
Days OfferedDailyThree tours per week

What is Rappelling, Anyway?

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Aloha!  In this Question and Answer post, you’ll find out what rappelling is.  We’re happy to discuss it, especially since most of our guests are unfamiliar, and we like to welcome first-timers to the sport whenever possible.

What is Rappelling?

Rappelling is the practice of using ropes, a harness, belay device and other equipment to descend a steep terrain. It’s an important part of climbing, caving and canyoneering–the exploration of canyons.  There are a few kinds of rappelling styles. The kind that you’ll perform during a Rappel Maui tour is either:

A standard rappel, during which a person lowers herself down vertical terrain with her back toward the ground and her feet in contact with the rock, and walks down while letting the rope slide through the  device. (The angle of the rope through the device determines the speed of the descent.) Here’s where you can learn more about the standard rappels you’ll do during the Classic Rappel Tour.


A free rappel–we also refer to this as a “zip” rappel, during which the climber slides down the rope through free space between the rope’s two anchors. In the case of a Rappel Maui zip rappel, the high end of the rope is attached to the top of a jungle wall near the top of the waterfall, while the other end is attached to an underwater surface in the pool below. Thus the rappeller makes a rapid descent down the rope from the top of the cliff and zips down into the water, which slows her to a stop.  You can learn more about the standard and free rappels you’ll do during the Extreme Zip Rappel Tour.

Do You Still Have Questions About What a Tour is Like, and Whether it’s for You?

We’re here!  You can call us at 808-445-6407. You can email us at dropoff@rappelmaui.com. Or you can chat with us from your computer or mobile device.

Take a Holiday Rappel or Any Day During #Aloha365

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Planning your trip to Maui during one of the major US holidays, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July or Memorial Day? Wondering if you can Santa visits Rappel Mauibreak the routine of spending the day making turkey dinner and doing something totally unique and wild instead? Fear not!

A Rappel Maui tour is one of the activities on Maui that delivers just the thing every day of the year. You can call it a commitment or convenience. We call it #Aloha365.

And because the major US holidays are a little quieter than most other days, your chances are greater of joining a smaller tour group size. Make the holiday memory of a lifetime by asking Santa Claus for a waterfall adventure. In fact, Santa spends a few days with us every year, brushing up on his rappelling skills just in case he delivers gifts down an especially tricky chimney.