Legend of the Princess Caves at Waianapanapa State Park, Hana, Maui

Deep in the Mesic Coastal Forest of Hana’s Waianapnapa State Park Lies a small cave filled with a pool of clear cool fresh Water. While the pond is fairly striking and the Cave displays some incredible Rock formation due to the Basalt Lava that formed the pond, There is a legend surrounding the water that elevates this pool to legendary status. Here is the Legend of the Princess Caves at Waianapanapa State Park

Legend of the Princess Caves at Waianapanapa State Park

The Princess Caves

The Princess caves are an example of Hawaii’s Anchialine Pools. These are pools that have no surface connection to the Ocean but instead link to the saltwater via underground passages and filters. This causes these pools to appear on the surface but often remain clear and clean despite no obvious run-in or off. Normally a small pool like this with now fresh inlet or outlet would quickly become stagnant and icky, but the princess pool is often crystal clear.

There is a freshwater feed somewhere in the cave and the pool drain via subterranean pathways into the ocean. While the water is fresh it mixes with the saltwater somewhere underground at about sea level.

From the outside, the cave appears little more than a pool with a rock overhand. but once in the water, you can find a low opening that you can duck under (without submerging your head) and access the inner portions of the cave. It is not big in there so do not expect much, just enough room for a small princess to haul out of the water and hide, more on that later.

How to Find the Cave

Trail to Princess Cave

Unfortunately, access to the caves has been closed. There is some disagreement about the reasons for the closure, rockfalls, drowning, protests from the locals over the sacredness of the sight, and access rights. But the upshot is they are closed and it appears to be permanent.

Exploring the Cave

Entering the Cave

As access is now denied and the Caves off-limits Exploring them is obviously Kapu (Forbidden) as well but we have left the information up for nostalgia.

There is a rough natural Rock staircase down to the pool under the overhang. The clear water is very cold but normally it is manageable, and swimming is shocking but not so cold you get the burn. Relaxing in the pool is a nice way to cool off, but the real experience is to enter the cave itself. As you head toward the deepest portion of the pool at the very back of the overhang you should find an opening. Ducking your head under here will grant you access to the cave. Depending on water levels you should be able to enter without fully submerging your head, but care should be taken as you do not want to get stuck underwater.

We advise goggles here, as the ability to see can really help. Always know your limits and don’t try and enter the cave if water levels are so high you have to go fully underwater to get inside. If you cannot easily locate the opening don’t push the matter. It should be easy to find and obvious. If it’s not the pool is too full or you are just looking in the wrong spot. Diving under to find it will not end well.

Inside the cave, there is not really a lot to see. First of all, it is DARK. Without a torch, you may as well just head back out. If your phone is waterproof, you can take this with you (Turn the torch on FIRST) and use this. But remember your phone is quite an expensive and important item, losing it in a cave will not be funny!

Inside the cave, there is a ledge you can pull out onto. It is not a large ledge and is only good for perching. As far as long-term hiding places go we don’t think the princess made a great choice!

The cave does extend backward but outside of the initial chamber, from which you will be able to see the light of the way out, you would be insane to explore further. We doubt very much there is anything worth seeing and you will almost certainly be joining Princess Popoalea if you venture any further. Speaking of which, onto the Legend!

The Princess Cave Legend:

Princess Cave Hana

“Once upon a time, a Hawaiian princess named Popoalaea fled from her cruel husband, the chief Kakae. She hid on the ledge just inside the underwater entrance to this cave. A faithful serving maid sat across from her fanning the princess with a feather kahili, a symbol of royalty. Noticing the reflection of the kahili in the water, the chief Kakae discovered Popoalaea’s hiding place and killed her. At certain times of the year, tiny red shrimp appear in the pool, turning the water red. Some say it is a reminder of the blood of the slain princess.”

Sign at the head of the Pool

How true the legend is, is impossible to determine, most of Hawaii’s culture is told through word of mouth or song. But the tale is fairly specific and as we mentioned above there is certainly a ledge in the cave where the princess could sit. Quite why she would need to be fanned in the cold damp atmosphere of the cave is obviously a mystery but if that is the only spurious detail we are willing to forgive.

We have recently been informed of a large inaccuracy in the way the Lagend is reported by the State Park. Many Locals believe the Shrimp part of the Story to be completely irrelevant. Instead, it is the rocks of the caves themselves that take on a reddish hue at certain times of the year. This is due to a certain Algae that turns a red color at certain points of its lifecycle. So Despite the State Park, various Websites, and even the signs in Situ at the Pool, the legend seems to have come across wrong!

We were always dubious of the Shrimp present being in such vast numbers that they would actually turn the water red. A color-changing Algae seems far more plausible and really would be a striking reminder of the bloodshed that occurred here.

The prices cave Legend is an interesting if unfortunate and bloody tale. And really the pool might not be worth visiting without the tale to make exploring the cave worthwhile. Although the short trail leading to the pool is very interesting and the cave formation pretty striking, it is just a shaded cold pool without an interesting backstory.

Have Your Say

Have you Visited the Princess Caves at Waianapanapa State Park? Did you enter the chamber or just look from above? We would love to hear your thoughts on the pools and cave and let us know any feedback you have for this location.

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10 thoughts on “Legend of the Princess Caves at Waianapanapa State Park, Hana, Maui”

  1. You all definitely have the story wrong. It’s the rocks that turn red n das the true legend n it’s only certain times of the year We had scientists come n take samples of the algae like growth back in the sixties.

    • Hi Frank,

      Thanks for the Local perspective on this, we will certainly take this on board! We do hope we have not caused too much offense. We took the story from the State Park Information, so we hope you get some success in getting this changed too.

      We will update our page to reflect the actual beliefs of the local people to the area.

      Many thanks for alerting us to the inaccuracy


  2. Steve, this is SACRED and private property. Please delete the “how to get here.” Part of your posting. The aunties and uncles who’s land it’s on DO NOT appreciate that.

    • Hi Mehgnn,

      Sorry, when we first wrote this the caves were considered part of the park and the trial was signposted and clear.

      These have now been closed off, for reasons no one is 100% sure about but they are definitely off-limits now and we will update accordingly.


  3. I had the privilege of diving into the cave in 1981 , I was with native Hawaiian people that I was visiting . From the heat outside to the cold water was a surprise and was encouraged to just keep swimming underwater until we cleared it , and we did . Respect

    • WOW!

      It’s really dark, cold, and murky at the back of the caves I couldn’t imagine going any further into the gloom. What an incredible experience and a great honor for you.



  4. I visited the cave around 1990. I feel blessed that there were no other people around that day. (I hear lots of people visit there now). I viewed the cave opening from one of the lava flows that stretches out in the water and I remember seeing the red color near the opening, but don’t recall seeing any red shrimp (I looked for them according to the legend). The quantity and variety of fish were amazing. The whole area felt pristine compared to other parts of the Island. I then walked to the other side to the cave opening from the land side, because I wanted to hear the “sound of signing” (according to legend, you can still hear the Princess’s song). When I ducked in the cave, I was first hit with the unpleasant smell of Pigeon droppings, which almost ruined the experience, but then a breeze came through and I could hear the song! It sounded something like Ariel’s song from “The Little Mermaid”. It was so cool! How I wish I could have recorded it. I’ve been sharing this story for years and am sad it is now closed to the public. But completely understand why. People, in general namely “tourists”) just don’t appreciate and respect the beauty and sacredness of the Islands. Have you been to Poipu Beach lately? Sad. PS. Anyone questioning my hearing the Princess’s song…believe whatever you want. 🤙

    • What a fantastic story, we are sure the Princess song was real, even if its just an audio illusion. The shrimp are definitely seasonal. We agree the closure is bitter sweet, and we are sure the ancestors can just ignore the closure, its thier land.

      Not been to Poipu recently, what are the issues ?



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