The center of Kauai is called Mount Wai‘ale‘ale, meaning “rippling waters.” It is here that you will find the rainiest spot on the planet with an average of 432 inches. Rain around the rest of the island is a fraction of this. The ancient Hawaiians recognized the importance of this spot and built a temple on the summit, its remains visible to this day. Unless you’re up for an extremely adventurous hike, the only way you will get to see Wai‘ale‘ale up close and personal is by air.
The top of Mount Wai‘ale‘ale is somewhat barren. While this might sound strange given its moniker as the wettest spot on Earth, remember that few plants in this world are genetically programmed to deal with that much rain at that altitude. Plus the ever-present rain clouds prevent sunshine from enriching the plants. The bogs on top of the mountain make for a less-than-well-defined soil base, and fungi and lichen flourish in the constant moisture. The result is few trees. Those trees that do survive are stunted by nature’s over-generous gift of water.
Just below the summit—3,000 feet straight down, to be precise—exists the unimaginable lushness one would expect from abundant rain. As the clouds are forced up the walls of Wai‘ale‘ale Crater, they shed a portion of their moisture. With the majority of the rain falling on the summit, the crater floor is left with just the perfect amount. With volcanically rich soil left over from the fiery eruptions, the crater floor has become a haven for anything green. Ferns rule the crater. The ground shakes beneath your feet as your footsteps echo through generations of water-saturated fallen ferns, which have created a soft underbelly on what was once a savage, lava-spewing giant.
There is a surprising lack of insect presence. And most that do live there are endemic, appearing nowhere else on earth. Aside from mosquitoes in the stream beds, we encountered almost no insects in the dense fern growth of the crater. The only exception was a single flightless grasshopper. We found some ‘o‘opu fish inhabiting streams between towering waterfalls. They live in these isolated pools and use their pelvic fins to actually climb the falls.
Everywhere one looks, plants have taken root. Every rock has moss, every fallen tree has other plants growing on it, every crevice has growth. Surely no other place on earth is as lush as Wai‘ale‘ale Crater.