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What is Rappelling, Anyway?

Question and Answer for What is Rappelling?

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 canyoning–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.

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

Contact Us Today!

Exploring and Preserving: Canyoneering for Conservation with Rappel Maui

Welcome to Rappel Maui: Where Adventure Meets Conservation

Enjoy a waterfall canyoneering trip and help conservation in Maui, Hawaii

Welcome to a world where each rappel and climb is not just about thrill but also about cherishing and conserving our beautiful island home. At Rappel Maui, we believe in turning exciting canyoneering experiences into opportunities to learn and protect the ʻāina (pronounced “eye-nah” meaning land in Hawaiian). The Thrill of Canyoneering.

Canyoneering combines hiking, climbing, swimming, and rappelling into one exhilarating sport. Traverse the rugged, stunning canyons of Maui, adorned with cascading waterfalls and lush tropical vegetation. This adventure is perfect for both novices and experienced adventurers seeking to explore Maui’s hidden wonders. Join us as we delve into how you can contribute to preserving the natural beauty of our island all while enjoying the thrill of adventure!

Conservation Through Adventure

Every Rappel Maui adventure promotes conservation. By accessing remote areas rarely visited by tourists, we raise awareness and contribute to the preservation of Maui’s fragile ecosystems. Our knowledgeable guides are trained in rappelling, first aid, outdoor rescue, and swift water disciplines, ensuring both safety and educational value.

We maintain small tour groups to minimize our environmental footprint and uphold the highest operational standards. Committed to the principles of Leave No Trace, we work to make sure that every adventure respects and preserves the natural landscape. Along with fellow conservation-minded adventurers, we have taken part in removing invasive species and planting native flora. Through these concerted efforts, we strive to safeguard the unique beauty of Maui for future generations to come.

The Garden of Eden front gate, where Rappel Maui has it's tours

The Garden of Eden: A Pesticide-Free Haven

The Garden of Eden, the backdrop for our tours, is entirely self-funded. Visitors like you support over 15 staff members who help maintain the garden. Pesticides are not used and only a few herbicides help to control the highly invasive flora that have been introduced to the island. Here you will find that the grounds are beautifully maintained to help restore natural ecosystems while promoting Hawaii’s native and indigenous flora and fauna. Their collection also reflects a diverse range of  plants and trees from tropical and subtropical areas globally carefully maintained by their arborists.

Join Us For An Adventure You Won’t Forget

So whether you are an experienced thrill seeking adventurer, a newbie to canyoning, or a conservationist at heart Rappel Maui’s tour is just the ticket. Experience the thrill of canyoneering and the fulfillment of making a positive impact—book your tour today!

What Happens If… A Guide on Waterfall Rappels for the Unsure

Many of our guests tell us that their waterfall rappels changed their lives. We hear things like, “I feel so accomplished. Invincible!” And then they often also tell us that, while they were doing this crazy thing, they were also feeling pretty scared.  Such is the curious paradox that is a Rappel Maui waterfalls rappelling adventure. Sometimes the fun is in the fear. Go figure.

Rappel Maui guide preparing for waterfall rappels

Our guides, the ones keeping everyone safe while they voluntarily step off the edge of a 50-foot wall of water, also feel like they get something from the experience.

Longtime Rappel Maui rock star Rich says that the time he invests in working with someone who’s “feeling the fear and doing it anyway” is even more rewarding than guiding those who are naturally good at taking charge of the rope.

So here are the answers to some of those “what if” questions we’re asked by those who are not sure that they have the right stuff.  To ask your own “what if” waterfall rappels questions, call us at 808-270-1500.

What happens if I change my mind?

If you find yourself at the top of a cliff and decide that you’d rather not rappel down one or all descents, you can still remain with your group. You can take hiking trails instead of rappelling, and enjoy the streams, pools, and surroundings while the others in your party make their drops.

What happens if I let go of the rope?

If you happen to accidentally throw a starfish pose with “jazz hands” during one of your waterfall rappels, you will remain in place until you’re able to get your hands back on the rope, and your exaggerated facial expressions under control. Listen to your guides, and follow their instructions for continuing onward and downward.

Pro tip: Wait until you’re on level ground to use your jazz hands. What you do with your facial expressions is totally up to you, but we recommend keeping it natural, happy, and relaxed.

What happens if my 10-year-old is better at rappelling than I am?

This frequently happens to families with budding adventurists who are eager to make friends with gravity. If one of your children is a natural, consider sending him or her to a rappelling class during your next visit.

Safety is our top priority. Check out some of the ways a rappelling tour is safe, or contact us for specifics. We’re ready to field your questions!

What to Wear on a Rappel Maui Tour in Wet or Cooler Weather

During the winter months, the weather can get rainy and cool on Maui. Since we operate rappelling tours rain or shine, that means you may (or may not) want to adjust your rappel tour attire. 

Woman on Maui rappel tour in a long-sleeved rash guard This long-sleeved rash guard plus life jacket is great for staying toasty in rainy, cool winter weather.

You’ll still wear the special rappelling footwear that we provide you. It’s a rubber booty with a felt sole that’s designed for traversing wet rocks and muddy surfaces, and keeps your feet and ankles protected while you’re rappelling and swimming. But your best bet for preparing yourself for a day in the Maui elements is to know yourself.

If you know that you’re sensitive to cold water, consider bringing some special items with you, such as a wetsuit top or a diving fleece top or pants.  If, once you get a visual on the conditions at the rappelling site, and you decide you don’t need them, you can leave them in the van or the supply shed. You can usually rent these at your nearby dive shop, or you can occasionally buy them at Maui’s own COSTCO.

If you’re not sure about making a special trip to the dive shop or mall, wear a sleeved rash guard or quick-dry tee shirt (pictured, right). Paired with your personal flotation jacket, this is a great combo for staying warm in rainy, cool winter weather.

If you want to really maximize your thermal comfort on your rappel tour, bring with you a small towel and/or tee shirt, and stow them in a plastic waterproof bag, such as a Ziplock. (Double-bag them for insurance.) You can keep these with you in the dry keg that’s provided with a backpack, which you can then use to dry off and warm up after the rappel.

Since you’ll have some time in between rappels, this is when you’re most likely to—literally—chill out. Remember that you’ll have an opportunity to warm up by way of exercise during the brief workout at the end of your rappels. It’s the climb back up to the top that we refer to as The Stairmaster.

Make sure to bring a dry, warm change of clothing with you. If you know that it takes you a while to warm up after a day in the elements, think layers: Shorts, sweatpants, tee shirt, hoodie, maybe some socks. After lunch and a ride back to the dryer, sunnier side of the island, you’ll be right as rain.

Have more questions about other nuances of a Rappel Maui tour? Contact us today!

Getting to and From the Rappelling Tour Location

Rappel Maui Transportation Options

If You’re Using the Central Maui Meeting Location

The Rappel Maui van and two rappelling guides

Your guides will meet you in a large, white passenger van clearly marked “Rappel Maui,” usually in Central Maui, near the Ma’alaea Harbor at a small park & ride lot near the intersection of highways 310 (also called North Kihei Road) and highway 30.

Of course it’s possible to take a taxi or shuttle service to the meeting location. Ask your concierge or activity agent for more information about availability and rates.

Most guests will drive a rental car to the meeting location, and park it for the day. It bears repeating that you should not leave valuables in your parked car; either leave them at your accommodations, or take them with you on the tour. Your guides will equip you with a backpack and a dry keg for keeping the smaller items your bring with you safe and dry.

If you are driving your rental car to the meeting spot, or are requesting taxi or shuttle service, you can find the directions and map here. You’ll also find them in your email inbox upon your reservation.

Note that, unless we otherwise notify you, the time of your trip is the Rappel Maui van departure time from the meeting area. Arrive 10 minutes early to leisurely gather your things and board the van.

Classic Rappelling Group Tour times are at 7, 8:30, 10, and 11:30 AM daily, based on availability. You can book rappelling tours online and then call or email us to add round trip hotel transportation from your hotel in our van.

Please call us at (808) 270-1500 to ask about alternative transportation, including:

  • South Maui or West Maui Hotel / Resort Pickup and Return
  • Alternative Meeting Locations (for those with accommodations in Paia, Haiku, Makawao or Hana)

What Shoes Should I Wear on the Rappelling Tour?

Questions and Answers for Rappelling Tour

From the Frequently Asked Questions files, a very commonly voiced concern: “What kind of shoes should I wear on the rappelling tour?”

Because most of our guests have come to the island with a suitcase, they doubt they have come fully equipped with “the right stuff” to rappel.

The truth is: some forgiving clothing and a sense of fun and adventure are pretty much all you need to participate in this curious journey into nature.

The answer to “What kind of shoes should I wear on the day of the rappelling tour” is: whichever shoes you feel comfortable walking in for a few hundred yards, keeping in mind that those few hundred yards may be muddy.

That’s because we equip you with special footwear at the rappelling site.

Louboutins very high heel shoes with red sols

Wear your sandals, your mandals, your flipflops, wear sneakers. Wear your platform Louboutins (or not.) It’s all good, because, once you suit up, you’ll be taking off whatever you’re wearing on your feet, and replacing them with a neoprene booty with special felt soles designed for helping your feet grip the forest’s slippery surfaces.

Once you’re out on the ridges and trails, you will still need to step carefully and pay attention to your guides. They know every part of the valley, and can point out places where the passage is tricky.

When you’re hiking along high passes on exposed cliffs, you’ll clip your harness to anchored ropes. When walking up the trail “stairs”, conditions can be muddy and slippery when wet. Use the anchored ropes and trees as handrails, to prevent slips, falls and otherwise ungraceful moves.

Once you’re back at the picnic area, you’ll have a chance to change out of your gear and shoes, clean yourself up a bit, and relax.

Unless you really did wear your Louboutins.

Keeping it Clean: The Neatnik’s Guide to a Maui Nature Adventure

It wouldn’t be a vacation if you didn’t do things you don’t normally do, so when visiting Maui, do as the Mauians do: Enjoy nature by getting your hands dirty.

If you’re not sure how getting wet and muddy in a rainforest all day is fun, let us remind you that there are few extraordinary experiences and epic bragging rights that can be earned in a crisp white tee shirt or linen shorts. If you’re willing to meet us a little more than half-way, here are a few tips for minimizing the mess while racking up one of the most unique Maui nature adventure experiences ever.

Rappelling tool - a locking carabiner for your Maui nature adventure

1. Leave your jewelry at home base.

The only bling you need during a rugged tour in the rainforest is your caribiner and rappel/belay device.

If you do happen to find yourself decked out with fine or fragile accessories, don’t leave them in your rental car. Bring them with you, and stow them in the dry keg that’s provided with your rappelling backpack.

Looking for a place to buy some cheap sunglasses to wear during your Maui nature adventure so that you don’t lose your expensive Maui Jims? Try your local ABC or Whaler’s General Store. There’s also a Walmart and KMart on the island. And now there’s even the revered Target.

2. Forget the fragrance—it just attracts the insects.

And in the jungle, there are plenty.

If you’re worried about bites and stings, ask your guide for an insect repellant wipe. If you decide to bring your own, don’t use a spray; insect sprays damage the gear.

If you are popular with the mosquitoes, ask your guide for some After Bite—it’s a liquid that takes the itch and sting away.

Woman rappelling next to a waterfall for a Maui Nature Adventure

3. Wear clothing that you can move freely in, and that can get wet, muddy, snagged or ripped.

You’ll want to wear a quick-drying fabric that also protects your skin from the harness you’ll wear during your Maui nature adventure.

Wear shorts, pants or leggings that cover you from waist to mid-thigh or lower. A shirt made from quick drying fabric or a rash guard is a good call, too, since you never know what the weather will be like, and an extra layer of fabric around the waist is a good thing.

Although there are a lot of makers of fine, durable athletic and outdoor clothing, this probably isn’t the best time to bust out your $90 Lululemon ensemble. You’ll be doing your moves around some rocky terrain that can easily tear or snag fabrics.

4. Bring a towel or two, and dry layers of clothing.

It may have been 85 degrees and sunny when you left your Kaanapali resort that morning, but by the time you reach the rainforest in East Maui for your nature adventure, the weather may be cool and rainy.

The water may have been chilly that day. Once you’re done rappelling, you’ll probably want to change out of your wet stuff and into something a little more cozy than you might have imagined—especially during the winter months.

Didn’t pack sweatpants? One word: Sarong. These inexpensive gems can be found at virtually every store on the island, and make a convenient, versatile extra layer or blanket in a pinch.

Concerned about privacy? Don’t be. There are two private changing rooms exclusively for Rappel Maui guests at the picnic location.

Pro tip: Bring a Ziplock or extra plastic, reusable bag with you just for your wet items.

5. Use the real restrooms early.

You’ll have a chance to use a real bathroom on your way to and from the rappelling location, and after you arrive at the facility where you gear up. If you are picky about your facilities, plan accordingly.

6.  Since you’ll be eating lunch during your tour, your guides will carry hand sanitizer with them.

If you’re more of a soap and water person, there is cold running water at the picnic area, but no soap. If you’re itching to give yourself a real washing up before you board the van, bring a mini soap or body wash with you. Remember to either leave them in the van during the rappelling, or keep them in the dry keg in your backpack.

If you decide to bring cleansing wipes with you, make sure that you dispose of them properly. When improperly disposed of, wipes can have a devastating effect on the forest’s fragile ecosystem.

7. Make memories; capture the moment.

Take a “before rappelling,” “after rappelling,” and then an “apres rappelling” photo to document your transformation from uninitiated neatnik to rappelling ninja, back to undercover adventurer.

Once you’ve cleaned up from your Maui nature adventure, and perhaps taken a trip to the spa, no one will have guessed you spent a day cruising down waterfalls and trekking through raw nature—until you show them the photos.

How Physically Demanding Is Rappelling?

Inquiring minds often call the Rappel Maui offices wanting to know “how hard is rappelling”? Is the day-long rappelling tour physically hard or challenging. They want to know if they need to possess a certain physique, or if a lot of strength or physical conditioning is required.

Read on to get these and other answers, or call the Rappel Maui offices at 808-270-1500 for personalized information.

Woman rappelling down a waterfal for how hard is rappelling?

Come As You Are

Most active and healthy people are perfectly prepped for a Rappel Maui tour. You don’t have to bring “the gun show to town.” You don’t have to get “pumped up.”  You will not need an “xtreme” sports drink that “gives you wings.”  (You don’t need wings; you’ve got ropes.)

You will find that the most useful body parts during a rappel are you ears and brain. First you’ll need to listen to your guides’ instructions, then you’ll need to process and apply the information. And then you’ll need a keen willingness to have fun while taking a few steps away from your comfort zone.

Gravity Is Your Friend

Since you’ll be making 3 or more descents down a rock cliff (as opposed to rock climbing), your rappelling equipment will be working in cooperation with gravity to take the brunt of the work.  No significant amount of arm strength is necessary; just some moderate arm movements to slow or stop downward movement, and grasping/loosening a rope with your dominant hand.

You can use your non-dominant hand to steady or position yourself around rocks or trees, hold the front of your harness or rope, or throw a shaka out during a photo opp.

Some overall coordination is required, and where looking graceful is concerned, your mileage may vary. (You can delete those pictures later.)

Getting The Hang Of It (All Puns Intended)

You’ll sit back into your harness, like a chair (that’s hovering over a waterfall pool), and position your feet on the surface in front of you so that you can take one backwards step at a time. You’ll use the equipment to lower yourself down the surface as much or as little at a time as you like.

If you’re taking one of the dry rappels, you’ll end your journey by simply putting your feet down on the ground, unclipping your harness from the rope, and cheering on the next person.

How hard is rappelling? Thumbs up indicates not very.

If you’re rappelling one of the waterfalls, you’ll lower yourself into the water, unclip your harness from the rope, and swim or dog paddle on. You don’t need to be a great swimmer to make it across the pond. If you don’t swim, ask for a personal flotation device so that you can float over to the shallow end.

If you need a little encouragement, or an assist, the guide in the water with you can provide you with the right amount of swimmer’s mojo.

If you’re a multi-tasker, you’ll also be taking in the spectacular surroundings of the jungle, streams, waterfall and wildlife, and realizing that you have the makings of a truly unique story and memories that will go unequaled once you return to your non-waterfall-hovering chairs at home and work.

Getting Physical

What happens after you’ve done all that descending?

In this case, what goes down, must go back up. There are no elevators in the jungle (unless you’re on the Jurassic Park set), and thus comes the most physical part of the tour.

You’ll take what we refer to as “The Stairmaster,” a length of paths and series of steps cut into the earthen forest trails leading back to the top of the ridge. There’s no hurry; you can take your time, stop, rest, and hold on to the ropes, branches and roots that are there to help you steady and pull yourself along.

The trail is green, cool, shady and fragrant, and alive with the sounds of nature. Keep your heart pumping—or not. Get out your camera, or just take in the view. It’s totally up to you during this equivalent of about four flights of stairs.

Call us to ask your specific questions about what it’s like to walk down a tropical waterfall in a rainforest on Maui.
Spoiler alert: It’s not horrible.