There’s a 22 miles stretch of the northern Big Island coast, from Pololu to Waipi’o Valley, that isn’t accessible by car. At the southeast end of that stretch, the road ends at the Waipi’o Valley overlook. From there, a paved road descends into the valley. It’s rough, winding, and very steep. The average grade is 25%, steeper in places. Four-wheel drive and healthy brakes are a must.
The alternative is to hike into the valley, which is what I did. The road drops about 800 feet in just over half a mile. It’s hard on the knees, but easy on the eyes. There’s a gradual unfolding of details that aren’t visible from the overlook – fields, dwellings, horses. The valley, which is important in Hawaiian history, was wiped out in a 1946 tsunami. Now it’s populated by taro farmers and people who tend to shy from society. It’s a bit of a clash for it to be a popular tourist stop.
At the foot of the hill is a junction. The road continues straight on into the valley, but the public access soon ends. In the opposite direction the road heads to the sea. After a little under half a mile, the sandy, lake-filled road breaks out to the beach. There’s lots of parking under the trees. On the other side of them is the beach, a long, curved stretch of smooth sand, interrupted only by the ‘stream’ that has to be crossed to access the far end.
I can’t say where it’s best to cross this stream; conditions vary from day to day depending on the state of the tide and the flow of water. I waded out just inland of the furthest reaching waves. I felt my way across the rounded rocks underfoot, feeling reasonably pleased with my progress. But about three-quarters of the way across, I reached the fastest flow of water, which had also cut the deepest channel. It was probably only a couple of feet deep, but it required great care not to lose my footing. This fast-flowing channel was soon crossed and I hauled myself out, somewhat relieved, on the sand at the other side.
A deserted beach stretched out ahead. I strolled along the water’s edge and, at the far end, cut inland to find the Muliwai Trail, which leads to Waimanu Valley eight miles farther on. The trail is steep and narrow as it zigzags up the cliff. After a short while it breaks into the open and lovely views emerge, back the way I’d come and up the valley where there’s a good view of Hi’ilawe Falls. This was my turnaround point. The return across the stream was easier, knowing what was involved. The hike back up the road to the overlook a steady, sweaty haul, though I was surprised it only took me 10 minutes longer than the descent.
For more information about the Waipi’o Valley trail, go to bigislandhikes.com/waipio-valley/.