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by Donnie MacGowan

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Fabulously rewarding, the hike into Waipi'o Valley may be short on miles, but it's long on elevation loss and gain. Hikers should be in good condition to attempt the hike and carry lots of drinking water--none is available anywhere on the åhike: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hawaii is, in fact, an island that is served by very few roads, that many people come to visit each year and that makes most of its wealth from the tourism industry.  Given this, it’s quite surprising how hard it can be to find useful, reliable and up-to-date information about anything from “is your favorite restaurant still in business” to “how’s the snorkeling this month?”.

Road names are in the unfamiliar Hawaiian language; friendly locals give helpful directions, but in rapid-fire pigeon English using landmarks unfamiliar to the visitor and many guidebooks are either woefully out of date or flat wrong. The first time visitor to Hawaii may be overwhelmed when bombarded by advertising disguised as visitor information, overzealous salespeople from rapacious time-share resorts and racks and racks of of advertising for tours, attractions and restaurants.

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The mile-long black sand beach, backed by ironwood forest and jungle at Waipi'o, call to the visitor to explore: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Even the experienced Hawaii traveler may find it difficult to ferret out the information he needs to find a unique, secluded or unusual experience in Paradise.  Finding current, reliable information on hikes on the Big Island can be equally frustrating.

Clearly, the visitor to Hawaii can use some help finding special places in general and information about, and help getting to, the best hikes on Hawaii Island.

To help you find the more secluded, wild and exotic destinations in particular, and to help you get more out of your Hawaii vacation in general, Tour Guide Hawaii has released a brand new iPhone/iPod Touch App .  This “must have” travel app is packed with hours of informative video on the most interesting places on Hawaii; helps navigate you to all the most popular visitor destinations, the most interesting attractions, the most romantic and secluded beaches; helps you effortlessly find hikes, snorkel spots, historical and cultural landmarks, shopping and dining. And of course, our new App includes directions to, and rating of, all the public restrooms! Learn all about the App, here.

The Waipi'o Region is filled with some of the highest waterfalls in the United States: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The Waipi'o Region is filled with some of the highest waterfalls in the United States: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

But first, let’s talk about one of the finest short hikes on the Island of Hawaii.

Waipi'o Valley From About Half-way Down the Road: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Waipi'o Valley From About Half-way Down the Road: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Waipi’o Valley Hike

Day Hikers at the top, just starting down into Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Day Hikers at the top, just starting down into Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Waipi’o Valley is arguably the most magical place on the Big Island. Hawai’ian myths hold that the fastness of Waipi’o Valley is guarded by Night Marchers, legendary ghosts of Kamehameha’ long-dead armies, and that the impossibly steep, incredibly beautiful valley was excavated by a bragging warrior using his club to demonstrate his strength. While the geologic explanation is more prosaic and certainly much less colorful, that doesn’t detract from Waipi’o Valley’s charm and allure. Always listed among the most beautiful spots in the State of Hawai’i, this valley is as hauntingly lovely as it is distressingly difficult to see in its entirety.

Frank Burgess hiking down Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Frank Burgess hiking down Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The steep canyon walls and verdant fields of the valley floor, the mile long black sand beach and numerous immense waterfalls that line the valley walls all call out to the visitor for exploration, but this can prove challenging.

At Waipi'o Valley, numerous carcasses of cars that just couldn't hack the road lie along the jungle slope below the road: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

At Waipi'o Valley, numerous carcasses of cars that just couldn't hack the road lie along the jungle slope below the road: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

There is a four-wheel drive jeep road down into the valley but you really (and I mean REALLY) do not want to drive it, even in a four-wheel drive vehicle. The road is constantly steep (25% grade!!!), poorly paved, always narrow and winding, unbelievably hazardous and tricky, deceitful and populated by local drivers who really do not want you on their road. Really. Tours down into the valley in vans, on horse drawn wagons and ATVs can be booked in Honoka’a. Over-flights in fixed wing aircraft and helicopters also offer fine venues from which to see this amazing piece of Hawai’i.

Once the Waipi'o Valley Road reaches the valley floor, it becomes a mystical, marvelous tree-tunnel through the jungle: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Once the Waipi'o Valley Road reaches the valley floor, it becomes a mystical, marvelous tree-tunnel through the jungle: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Perhaps the most satisfying way to see Waipi’o Valley, however, is the way the ancient Hawai’ians did, by walking forthrightly down into it and then creeping, wheezily, back out. However, if you attempt this hike, don’t be deceived by the numbers. The hike may entail less than a thousand foot elevation loss (and subsequent gain to climb out) and fewer than 2 miles actual walking, but it feels much longer; it is hard, hot, dry, steep and, oh yes, did we mention hard? Really, really hard; no one who is not in very good physical condition should attempt this hike—better to pay for the van tour or flight. But the views and the photographs to be had by making this difficult hike are well worth the price of sweat and time.

An Enormous Waterfall at Mouth Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

An Enormous Waterfall at Mouth Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The hike down into the valley takes about ½ an hour. Allow twice that again for exploration of the valley floor and beach and at least an hour to walk back up. Be ever vigilant when walking on the road; local drivers will not deign to give you right of way and tourist drivers are notoriously at the very edge of loosing control. To reach the beach, simply stroll down the road; near where the road hits the valley floor, there is an intersection…take the road to your right (toward the ocean) which goes along public access to the beach and a spectacular 300 foot waterfall.

Hikers at the Stream in Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hikers at the Stream in Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Once on the valley floor head to the beach where you may wander through ironwood and fir copses along the black sand beach, bask in the cool mist of waterfalls or hike across the ridge into the next valley. Do not attempt to hike past the headland cliffs into adjacent valleys—it may seem passable, even tempting, but it is in fact impossible and extremely dangerous.

The mouth of the stream in Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The mouth of the stream in Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Camping at Waipi’o is not currently permitted, but free permits to camp at Waimanu Beach, the next valley over, are available from the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. The trail to Waimanu Valley starts were Waipi’o Beach meets the far (western) canyon wall and zig-zags its way up and out of the canyon, across the ridge and down into Waimanu Valley…it doesn’t look far, but it’s an all-day proposition to do this as a backpacking trip. There is one small bed and breakfast establishment, in Waipi’o Valley, but it is generally booked many months in advance.

There are porta-potties and litter barrels for visitor's convenience at the bottom of Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

There are porta-potties and litter barrels for visitor's convenience at the bottom of Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

If you do go down into the valley, no fresh drinking water is available, so take lots. All fresh water in Waipi’o Valley is infected with leptospirosis—do not drink it, do not get it into unhealed cuts. Be especially careful when playing near waterfalls or fording the shallow water at the stream’s mouth…the rocks are very slippery and there sometimes is quicksand. Be forewarned, swimming and surfing in the ocean here are for experts only, due to the strong currents and big waves.

Taro Farms in Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donald B. McGowan

Taro Farms in Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donald B. McGowan

You will hear tales of the marvels which lie back in the recesses of Waipi’o Valley…fabulous jungle, aery, lace-like waterfalls of breath-taking height, calm pools for skinny dipping. All this is true…but you must trespass across private land in order to reach them—and you should have permission to drive or walk there. Many of the land owners are less than thrilled at the number of tourists invading their secluded homes…they live down here for a reason. So hop into Honoka’a Town and sign up for one of the many tour options down that jungle road, into the back of the canyon, to the numerous, enormous, crazy waterfalls and scenery like you will see no where else on earth…Waipi’o Valley is a magical place that defies the powers of written description or photographs to do justice.

Another victim of Waipi'o Valley's harsh driving environment: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Another victim of Waipi'o Valley's harsh driving environment: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html.  The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.  For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.


Copyright 2009
by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  1. Your post is so very helpful on details. Thank you!!

    • Glad you found it useful! When you go, let us know how your trip was…if you’d like to publish your pictures and a post about your trip, your thoughts, what ever, we’d love to host it on our blog!


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Tours down into the valley in vans, on horse drawn wagons and ATVs can be booked in Honoka’a. Over-flights in fixed wing aircraft and helicopters also offer fine venues from which to see this amazing piece of Hawai’i. Hiking down and wandering the immense black sand beach, exploring the ironwood copses and sand dunes and discovering the hidden waterfalls is also a popular way to see the canyon. Although the hike down is only a little over 1 mile and a thousand feet elevation loss, the climb back up is sweltering in the ferocious sun and heat. Think twice before hiking down. Facilities at the Scenic Overlook include a pavilion and restrooms; there are none within the valley itself. To learn more about Waipi’o Valley, please go here. […]

  2. […] the island… two of the largest are on the north end of the island, crossing the mouths of Waipi’o and Pololu Valleys, respectively. These are not visited as often as some of the others as both […]

  3. […] faulting and giant landslides (see further discussion in an article about Waipi’o Valley, here). Glacial cirques and moraines along the Mauna Kea summit ridge, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie […]

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