Its lure is in its appeal...lush verdant green, ethereal, dream-like escape. Definitely off-the-beaten-path and secluded, do not fool yourselves though, even if you're the footloose and fancy free types, hiking down to the valley floor and back is not for the fainthearted. You have been warned!
But what tropical paradise aptly named 'Valley of Kings' wouldn't one want to hike down to? Waipi’o Valley is arguably the most magical place on the Big Island. 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.
There is a 4WD (only) road down into the valley from the lookout but you really (and I mean REALLY) do not want to drive it, even in a four-wheel drive vehicle. The road is incredibly steep (25 - 40% grade!!), poorly paved, always narrow and winding, unbelievably hazardous and tricky and populated by local drivers who really do not want you on their road. And as you get to the bottom, the muddy, puddle-strewn unpaved road is a quagmire during rain.
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 crawling, wheezily, back up inch by inch. 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 2-3 miles actual walking, but it feels much longer; it is hard, hot, muddy, steep and, oh yes, did I mention hard and steep? But the views and the experience to be had by making this difficult hike are well worth the price of sweat and time. So you might be WIPED OUT at Waipi’o, however, you’ve earned your bragging rights to some great story-telling from the trip.
You start from the lookout point or as I like to call it: succumb-to-temptation point! The panorama that unveils in front of you is unsurpassable. Take your mandatory ‘before’ picture here! Those who are on a time crunch or decide to skip going down into the valley have only visually treated their eyes to a tantalizing dessert laid out artistically on a platter before them. Alas, their palettes are denied the sinful and oh-so fruitful temptation to taste.
The hike down into the valley takes about ½ an hour with beautiful panoramic vistas to admire at every turn and bend. Plan twice that 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 losing control. Uphill always has the right of way.
To reach the beach, simply stroll down the road; near where the road hits the valley floor, there is an intersection where you will need to take the road to your right (toward the ocean) which goes along public access to the beach and a spectacular 300 foot waterfall. Once the Waipi'o Valley Road reaches the valley floor, it becomes a mystical, marvelous tree-tunnel through the jungle. The weather could be cloudy, wet, drizzly, cool, sunny, hot and everything in between. That’s the climate forecast for the Big Island in a nutshell. Also, this section tends to be the muddiest with large pools of water covering most of the path which made it fun trekking through thick forests in order to avoid the muddy waters.
Waipi’o valley is stunning, dramatic and breathtaking. The first view of the beach is a divine sight to behold. Having never stepped foot on a black sand beach before, its uniqueness is a gift in itself. Soft to the touch, fine sand and rock line its shores. We were very lucky to also see the Kaluahine Falls on our right hand (east) side once you get to the beach. These falls only exist when it is raining a LOT. The beach is split in two by the river coming out of the valley, and depending on the amount of water it could be difficult to cross.
Yet it is marvelous. Take a moment to absorb what surrounds you.
It is pristine nature in all its glory. It is the mighty ocean in all its supremacy. It is a blessed land that we mustn’t take for granted.
Waipi’o Valley is a mystical place that defies the powers of written description and although you cannot help going on picture-taking binge, photographs hardly do it adequate justice. This beach is known for its rip currents and high surf, making it a dangerous place to go swimming especially during the winter months.
And then comes the return trip! All the best. It takes grit, muscle and sheer determination to power your way back up the steep gradient. Unless you are in top physical condition, you will need to take a few breaks on your way out to catch your breath.Trust me, you will be wiped out by the time all is said and done. Our comic relief was watching visitors tra-la-la-ing their way down. We now know what lies in store for them. And don't forget to get your 'after' picture to brag...that is if you still have the inclination (pun very much intended)!! Regardless, it’s an unforgettable experience to be had and a place worth the visit. You will cherish it for many years later.
TIP: Take plenty of water with you as no fresh drinking water is available. If the parking lot near the Information Booth is full, park along the road leading there. Lock your car.