Where to Go In Hilo

Rushing white water of the Boiling pots in Hawaiʻi

The Boiling Pots

Writer: Nick Wagner
Photographer: Allegra Diaz

The Boiling Pots: A place of great beauty yet great danger. Within the 18 mile-long Wailuku River, near downtown Hilo, one can find the Boiling Pots. The almost cauldron-looking formation was formed as a large vertical column from lava flows years ago. The lava flows created huge spaces within that have now created the large cylinders as well as many underwater tunnels.

According to the United States Geological Survey, the river was formed by at least two lava flows coming from Mauna Kea, the oldest being as old as 10,500 years old, which is the same flow that formed Rainbow Falls. The “Boiling Pots of Wailuku” article by Katie Yamanaka states that the Boiling Pots get their name due to the sensation that happens when it storms, making the river rise and creating the “Boiling” look within the pots.

Peʻepeʻe falls from boiling pots About a half mile up the river from the boiling pots is the beautiful Rainbow Falls, which is also known as Peʻepeʻe Falls. It’s a short hike to a beautiful scene that also holds some cultural significance to the Big Island. It is said in a legend told by Mary Kawena Pukui that the cave was once home to the mother of Maui, Hina. The tale goes that when Maui was away, Lono-kaheo would come to woo Hina, who would refuse his advances. Once this happened, Lono-kaheo would almost drown Hina. She then called to Maui for help, to which he came back and turned Lono-kaeho into the lava rock that surrounds the river today. Now it is said that as Lono-kaheo rests deep down within the Boiling Pots where it waits to take its next victim into the various underwater tubes. Though the story of Hina is just legend, it seems to tell the story of the river and the beauty and horror that can occur when visiting.

Though the falls are beautiful to look at, and at times look seemingly harmless, the Boiling Pots of Hilo can be treacherous and oftentimes fatal due to the heavy amount of water that can come through the river on the way down to Hilo Bay.

Consequently and unfortunately, the river has claimed many lives of visitors to the Boiling Pots, due to what may have been unsuspected flash floods. Though the number of deaths at the river is not known, it is known that people die here every year, including the lives of many local teenagers who go diving at the spot. In short, it is important for one to use their judgment when visiting the Boiling Pots.

The Boiling Pots are easily accessible for the community of UH Hilo as it is just north of downtown Hilo, where both Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots can be found by way of Rainbow Drive.

Wailuku river falls

Boiling pots flowing down stream.