Waipio Valley | Big Island

Waipio Valley (Hamakua Coast) with beautiful cloudscape - Big Island, HawaiiThe majestic Waipio Valley is approximately a 1.5 hour drive along the Hamakua Coast from The Big Island’s main town of Hilo. Located along the Hamakua Coast in the small town of Honokaa, Waipio Valley is the second most visited place on The Big Island. Visitors all over the world travel to The Big Island to get a glimpse of this breathtaking natural wonder.

Waipio Valley is approximately one mile wide and five miles deep measured from the top of the valley to sea level. It is surrounded by lush greenery and up to 2000 foot cliffs in some areas. From the Waipio Valley Lookout you can get an overall view of the beauty of this area and the historical ancient Hawaiian culture that is still alive in the valley.

It is often very windy at the lookout area as the wind blows through the valley, but is calmer once you enter the valley, if you choose to. No matter how you choose to experience Waipio Valley, one thing is consistent – it’s historical beauty. Visitors and residents of Hawaii alike have agreed that Waipio Valley is one of the most beautiful natural creations in the world.

History

Waipio Valley is often referred to as the “Valley of Kings” as it was home to King Kamehameha I when he was a child. It was the start of some battles that would eventually lead King Kamehameha to begin his quest to conquer the other Hawaiian islands, thereby being one of the most important places in Native Hawaiian history and one of the most sacred. In ancient times, many Native Hawaiians lived in this valley that provided fresh water, shelter, and food from the land and the ocean. In the 1800s, this area was home to many immigrants from China. The tsunami of 1946 took out the community, but amazingly the town was destroyed but no lives were lost. Although the population in the valley has decreased, the residents still practice many of the ancient Hawaiian ways and expect visitors to respect their property, their privacy, and their lifestyle.

Breathtaking Natural Beauty

Everyone that visits Waipio Valley, whether from the lookout or down the steep road to the bottom of the valley, is astonished with the natural beauty that this area resonates. It is full of tropical vegetation, breadfruit trees, orange trees, lime trees, and the old practice of taro farming. On the Hamakua Coast, the valley is greeted at sea level with high surf from the Pacific Ocean along its wide black sand beach, making this a popular spot for surfing. Waipio Valley is also home to Hawaii’s highest waterfall, Hiilawe Falls, which has water cascading down a 1300 foot fall into clear, refreshing rivers that lead to the sea. Entering Waipio Valley is like going back in time, where horses still run wild in this mystical environment.

Access

There are a few different means of accessing Waipio Valley down to sea level if you are ready for an astonishing adventure. Your adventure begins with choosing to either travel by foot, 4-wheel drive, ATV, mule drawn wagon, or horseback. The road down the valley is very steep, narrow, and winding, which ends with rugged unpaved roads and trails full of mud holes. If you decide to not take a tour, you are required to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle. When renting this type of vehicle, ensure that the rental car company allows travel down the Waipio Valley. You may also opt to walk the road down to the valley, but start early and bring food and lots of water as it is a very heart-pounding, strenuous hike for a little over a mile. You also want to have comfortable shoes, a waterproof jacket, a hat, sunscreen, a first aid kit, and a bathing suit for entering the beautiful waters once you arrive at the bottom of the valley. Ensure that you follow the marked paths and be respectful of the private property signs out of respect for the residents of the valley. There are no trash cans in the valley, so it is also asked that what you bring in, you also take out to keep this natural environment healthy and beautiful.

Tours

Waipio Valley Artworks in the village of Kukuihaele is where the horseback tour begins and ends. This community store also offers visitors a chance to view and purchase handmade items from local residents to take as souvenirs of their trip to The Big Island and to the famous Waipio Valley. The horseback tour is kept personal by only taking about nine people down the valley at a time with a 4-wheel drive van. The ride takes approximately 30 minutes. In collaboration with Naalapa Stables in the heart of the valley, a guide will take you on a horseback tour throughout the valley experiencing the beautiful water falls, vast black sand beach, lush greenery, and low flowing rivers. The entire tour lasts almost three hours. Another fun tour is the Waipio Valley Wagon tour. A wagon is pulled by two mules with a tour guide at the realm. Tours run at 10:30am, 12:30pm, and the last one at 2:30pm. The entire tour is approximately two hours where you will intimately learn about the Hawaiian culture and history. If you are a little bit more adventurous and want to go off-roading, you can take the Waipio Ride the Rim tour, which is done by ATVs. You can either ride your own ATV or ride along with a tour guide. The tours run twice a day and take you off-roading to explore the eucalyptus and ginger forests, as well as view the entire terrain and landscape of the valley.

Hawaiian Culture

The one main rule that must be followed is the respect for the Native Hawaiian land and the residents of Waipio Valley. They are very traditional and have an ancestral relationship to the land they work and live on. In the valley, there is one of the two main heiau (place of sacrifice and worship) on the island where ancient Hawaiians sought refuge, which is Paakalana. This is one of the most sacred places on The Big Island. The cliffs that surround Waipio Valley are marked with caves that are also of great ancient Hawaiian significance and reverence. These caves mark the burial sites of some Hawaiians, which is kept safe, respected, and untouched in honor for those that have passed.