Hillslope threshold response to storm rainfall is poorly understood. Basic questions regarding the type, location, and flow dynamics of lateral, subsurface flow remain unanswered, even at our most intensively studied field sites. Here we apply a forensic approach where we combined irrigation and excavation experiments at the well studied Maimai hillslope to determine the typology and morphology of the primary lateral subsurface flowpaths, and the control of bedrock permeability and topography on these flowpaths. The experiments showed that downslope flow is concentrated at the soil bedrock interface, with flowpath locations controlled by small features in the bedrock topography. Lateral subsurface flow is characterized by high velocities, several orders of magnitude greater than predicted by Darcy's Law using measured hydraulic conductivities at the site. We found the bedrock to be moderately permeable, and showed that vertical percolation of water into the bedrock is a potentially large component of the hillslope water balance. Our results suggest that it is the properties of the bedrock (topography and permeability) that control subsurface flow at Maimai, and the soil profile plays a less significant role than previously thought. A companion paper incorporates these findings into a conceptual model of hydrological processes at the site to explore the generalities of whole-hillslope threshold response to storm rainfall. (C) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.