Pololu Valley hike

Pololu beach and coastline

Pololu beach seen from the trail down from the parking area.

The bench at the lookout above Honokane Nui valley and the views toward the Kohala Mountains.

The bench at the lookout above Honokane Nui valley and the views toward the Kohala Mountains.

The bench at the lookout above Honokane Nui valley and the coastal views.

The bench and coastal views.

This is the only lifeguard at Pololu beach.

This is the only lifeguard at Pololu beach.

Pololu valley lies at the end of highway 270. It’s a popular destination. Most people find a parking space (not easy), snap a few photos, then climb back in their cars and try to get out without hitting anything (there’s no real turnaround).

A moderate number brave the steep switchback trail to the beach. This is worth it as better views open up, even part way down the trail. It’s 15-20 minutes down, 25-30 back up, depending on your condition and rate of hiking. If it’s rained recently the ground can be super slick.

Once at the beach there are options. (Bear in mind that only the beach is public. Everything else is private land.) There’s the view inland, up the Pololu River valley to the mist-shrouded Kohala Mountains. There’s the area just inland from the beach where people camp among the trees even though that’s not allowed. There’s the beach itself, which is mostly rounded rocks with black sand if the tide is low. And there’s the ocean, which looks inviting after that hot, sweaty hike, but is exceedingly dangerous with fierce rips, and only for those who really know what they’re doing, which excludes me.

Then there’s another option which very few take. This is to walk to the far side of the valley (following the trail just inland from the beach itself is easiest) until it trends upwards into a narrow gulley. This area gets a lot of rain, so this part of the trail is likely be muddy. It’s steep, narrow, and cut off from any breezes that may have been blowing on the beach. From time to time, views back to the beach open up and are worth taking in, if only to catch your breath.

After a while the trail comes out into the open and is less steep. I always think this is the end, but it’s not. It dips again into a shallow valley with low hung branches and much traveled by wild pigs. Then it’s up the other side, far less steep than the first part of this stage, until the trail pokes through some low bushes into an open area. And there, in my humble opinion, is one of the finest sights on the island.

There are views up the Honokane Nui valley towards the mountains. There are views along the coast and out across the ocean. And to make it more enjoyable, there’s a bench where you can sit and take it all in. I have to say that on my most recent visit the bench was in much worse shape than the last time I saw it. The wood supports had rotted out on one side so there was a jaunty lean to it. But with care, it was still possible to enjoy a solid seat with an unparalleled view.

From the parking area to the bench is about an hour walk (your timing may vary). Beyond the bench, the trail descends into the next valley, but an earthquake in 2006 rearranged this, basically taking the trail and dropping it several hundred feet. You can still get down there, but it involves scrambling directly down a steep hillside using ropes that have been strung there. Bear in mind that the ropes are no doubt going through the same decline that the bench has.

From the bench, the hike back to the parking area is about the same as it was on the way out (steep hike down, steep hike up). The last time I did this I saw a ton of vehicles and people around the parking area, 20 or 30 people on the beach, and three on the hike from the beach to the bench and back.

For more information about the Pololu hike, go to bigislandhikes.com/pololu-valley/.

The Pololu River and view toward the Kohala Mountains.

The Pololu River and view toward the Kohala Mountains.

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