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Tag Archives: fabulous hikes

by Donald B. MacGowan

Majestic Pololu Valley on the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Majestic Pololu Valley on the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Whether you visit the Big Island for a few days, a couple weeks or a few months, you want to make the most of your time in Paradise. With such a wide variety of natural and commercial attractions, it is natural for the visitor to get a little overwhelmed in the “Option Overload” and not be able to make a balanced and informed decision on what they want to do and how best to spend their time.
At Pololu Valley, Hamakua Coast, Big Island, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

At Pololu Valley, Hamakua Coast, Big Island, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Even choosing the beach you want to spend time on…which beach? How do you find the right beach for your particular needs? Are you going just to relax and sunbathe? Or is the trip to snorkel, boogie board or to explore? Do you want a beach that’s alive with fun people or one hidden, secluded and empty? Do you want a beach near your resort or one that’s at the end of a day of delicious wandering?
The Cliffs at Pololu: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The Cliffs at Pololu: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Tour Guide Hawaii is excited and proud to announce the release of their new GPS/WiFi enabled App for iPhone and iPod that helps you navigate your trip to Hawaii with hours of informative, location-aware video and information. Although our video guide will lead you to dozens of unusual, untamed and unspoiled spots, let’s look at one, hidden but gorgeous, beach hike you would otherwise not find if you did not have Tour Guide Hawaii’s new App.
Bad News for Antsy Travelers at Pololu Valley; Tour Guide's New, GPS/WiFi Enabled, Video Travel App for iPhone and iPod Finds Everything For You in Hawaii--Even the Public Restrooms!: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Bad News for Antsy Travelers at Pololu Valley; Tour Guide's New, GPS/WiFi Enabled, Video Travel App for iPhone and iPod Finds Everything For You in Hawaii--Even the Public Restrooms!: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hiking into Pololu Valley

Violent, lush, wild; the north end of Hawai’i Island is as varied and exciting as it is unexpected. At the end of the highway are the Pololu Valley Overlook and the trail leading down to Pololu Beach. This is one of the most untamed, beautiful spots in the tropical Pacific and should not be missed. The trail down to the beach drops 400 feet in 20 minutes of hiking—be warned, the hike up is difficult for those not in good physical shape and the hike down should not be attempted if you have doubts about being able to hike back up.

Approaching Storm at Pololu Valley; Due to Frequent Rain Squalls Off the Pacific Ocean, Rain Gear is Highly Recommended For This Hike: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Approaching Storm at Pololu Valley; Due to Frequent Rain Squalls Off the Pacific Ocean, Rain Gear is Highly Recommended For This Hike: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The Trail to Pololu Beach is dusty when dry, muddy when wet and a running creek in the rain.  Try to minimize trail erosion by staying on the trail, walking on rocks where possible and not cutting switchbacks: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Trail to Pololu Beach is dusty when dry, muddy when wet and a running creek in the rain. Try to minimize trail erosion by staying on the trail, walking on rocks where possible and not cutting switchbacks: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Pololu Valley Itself is Private Land so Stay Close To the Beach: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Pololu Valley Itself is Private Land so Stay Close To the Beach: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The valley itself is private land, so stay close to the beach. The best place to cross the stream is usually about 80-120 feet inland and during either slack or high tide; spend a few minutes to find the stone ford for an easier crossing.

The Beach at Pololu Valley.  The Channel Here Between Hawaii and Maui Has The Third Highest Discharge of Water in the World, Behind the Bay of Fundy and the Straights of Magellan.  Because of the Unbelievable Ocean Currents This Generates, and Strong Rip Tides, We Do Not Recommend Swimming or Surfing at Pololu: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Beach at Pololu Valley. The Channel Here Between Hawaii and Maui Has The Third Highest Discharge of Water in the World, Behind the Bay of Fundy and the Straights of Magellan. Because of the Unbelievable Ocean Currents This Generates, and Strong Rip Tides, We Do Not Recommend Swimming or Surfing at Pololu: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Slow Running Stream in Pololu Valley is Rarely High Enough To Cut Through the Storm Berm; Therefore These Dry, Back Dunes Are The Best Place to Cross the Beach: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The Slow Running Stream in Pololu Valley is Rarely High Enough To Cut Through the Storm Berm; Therefore These Dry, Back Dunes Are The Best Place to Cross the Beach: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The beach is not usually swimmable due to the violent surf and ocean currents, but makes a wonderful place to picnic and contemplate the awesome power and violence of nature.

Although It's Tempting to Explore, the Lush Meadows of the Interior of Pololu Valley Are Annoyingly Boggy AND Privately Owned: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Although It's Tempting to Explore, the Lush Meadows of the Interior of Pololu Valley Are Annoyingly Boggy AND Privately Owned: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

For the adventurous, the hike down to Pololu Valley may not be enough—for them may we suggest further hiking in this lightly-traveled area. Pololu is the starting point for over 40 miles of interconnecting tails, as well as the Kohala Ditch. Trails in this area are steep, unmaintained, crumbling and frequently quite slick, so caution is advised, particularly on hillslopes and in the rain, when trails may turn into streambeds and hillsides into waterfalls.

The hike over intervening ridges east into Honokane Nui Valley and Honokane Iki Valley provides spectacular views of this untamed, but private land. Climbing 600 muddy feet over the ridge, the trail then drops breathtakingly down to the valley floor. Before the stream, the trail divides at a bamboo grove—if you are proceeding on to Honokane Iki, follow the fork to the right through the bamboo, otherwise go left on to the wonderful, lonely, private, boulder beach.

Looking Back West Across Pololu Beach From the Start of the Honokane Nui Valley Trail: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Looking Back West Across Pololu Beach From the Start of the Honokane Nui Valley Trail: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Along the Honokane Nui Trail, Climbing East Out Of Pololu Valley: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Along the Honokane Nui Trail, Climbing East Out Of Pololu Valley: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Going on farther east into Honokane Iki Valley from Honokane Nui is very rewarding and easier than the hop from Pololu to Honokane Nui, climbing just 400 muddy feet over the ridge. There are numerous ruins from previous eras of population, ancient to recent, to explore in both these valleys. It is possible to wander the intersecting, disappearing, maddening trails all the way into Waipi’o Valley, 14 canyons and about 15 bushwhacking, stream-fording, slope-slipping, rain-slogging, breathtaking, aggravating, wonderful miles away. This is definitely a trip for more than a single day and permission must be gained to cross the private land.

The Beach at Pololu Valley From the Ridge Between Pololu and Honokane Iki Valleys: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The Beach at Pololu Valley From the Ridge Between Pololu and Honokane Iki Valleys: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Under no circumstances should the hiker be seduced by the thought of an easy return back into Pololu Valley by skirting the headlands along the ocean. This is longer and much more difficult than it appears and has proven fatal to the unwary.

During the Wet Season The Stream in Pololu Valley Turns Into a Seasonal Lake: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

During the Wet Season The Stream in Pololu Valley Turns Into a Seasonal Lake: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Bart Hunt at Pololu--Numerous Squall and Storms Coming Off the Ocean Make the Weather at Pololu Very Exciting: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Bart Hunt at Pololu--Numerous Squall and Storms Coming Off the Ocean Make the Weather at Pololu Very Exciting: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Bring good insect repellent and wear hiking boots, with tabis in your pack for stream fording and beach walking. Stream water in the valleys is infected with leptospirosis bacteria, so bring plenty of water (at least two liters per person) in your pack. A camera is a must and due to frequent squalls off the ocean, rain gear is highly recommended.

Bart Hunt at Pololu Valley--The Trail Back Up Out of The Valley Seems Much Longer and Steeper than On the Way Down; Be Sure To Leave Plenty Of Time and Energy To Climb Back Up: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Bart Hunt at Pololu Valley--The Trail Back Up Out of The Valley Seems Much Longer and Steeper than On the Way Down; Be Sure To Leave Plenty Of Time and Energy To Climb Back Up: Photo by Donnie 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.

A Sweeping View of Magnificent Pololu Valley: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

A Sweeping View of Magnificent Pololu Valley: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

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

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.