When you visit the Big Island of Hawaii, you’re sure to see some truly amazing sites. The Waipi’o Valley is a recommended stop for any traveler looking for a bit of adventure alongside memorable and majestic views of a remote section of the islands. The valley is full of waterfalls, lookouts, lush green foliage, and several hikes that give you access to this stunning section of Hawaii.
History of Waipi’o
Waipi’o means ‘curved water’ in Hawaiian and describes the twisting nature of the river that has carved out the valley over eons of heavy rainfall as it winds towards the sea. This region of Hawaii is beyond beautiful, but it also holds an important cultural significance in the history of the Hawaiian people.
Waipi’o is also known as the Valley of the Kings. The royalty of the Hawaiian Kingdom, known as Ali’i, resided here for many generations. These kings and queens ruled Hawaii and held Waipi’o in great regard. One look at the surroundings here, and you can still easily sense its regal power.
Ancient legend also states that the end of the valley holds a hidden gateway to the underworld, Lua-O-Milu, where recently departed souls leaped of the jagged cliffs and entered the next realm. This makes Waipi’o an important spiritual location for the people of Hawaii and an integral aspect of their creation story.
After the Ali’i moved elsewhere, the valley remained heavily populated with Hawaiians who planted taro fields and took advantage of the pristine environment to enjoy happy and healthy lives. A tsunami caused significant damage and wiped out many of the houses and structures in 1946, and the area has only been partially populated with full-time residents.
Waipi’o Valley Geology
The wonder of Waipi’o is in large part a result of its unique geology. The Waipi’o river has eroded the valley to shape dramatic cliffs, epic waterfalls, and a famous black sand beach. The valley itself takes shape from the slopes of Kohala mountain. Its floor sits at sea level with the surrounding peaks and cliffs shooting skyward in excess of 2000 feet.
This makes for some amazing lookout points from the valley’s vistas and impressive views when you’re deep in Waipi’o near the river. It is about a mile across and nearly six miles deep – an impressive size for an island attraction. There are five fingers at the back of the valley and these capture rain that falls on the mountain, directing the water into the Waipi’o river and shaping the land on an endless path toward the Pacific.
What to Do at Waipi’o
There are many good hikes and viewpoints to check out in and around the Waipi’o Valley. You can easily drive to the viewpoints for a quick photo as part of your Big Island adventures, but if you have the time and the energy, a hike into the valley is highly recommended. You can even go on a multi-day backpacking trip for an authentic Hawaiian experience here.
If you only have a short amount of time to visit the valley, you will definitely want to stop at the Waipi’o Valley Lookout. It’s the perfect spot for a picture, and there is a designated parking and picnic area here for a quick lunch or to soak in the beauty. From the lookout you can see much of the valley and its impressive cliffs. But since you don’t need to hike or drive anywhere off the beaten path to get here, it can be very crowded.
To beat the crowds and explore the Waipi’o Valley in full, check out any of all of these hikes and sights:
Waipi’o Valley Trail
This is a very popular trail that gives you quick access to the valley floor. You’ll get a taste of the entire valley and have access to both the beach and the river. You’ll also be able to see one of the many impressive waterfalls that cascade from the cliffs. Be prepared for some elevation gain and expect to see a crowd. It’s open year-round and one of the most heavily used trails on the Big Island. The Waipi’o Valley Trail is just under 5 miles out and back.
Muliwai and Waimanu Valley Trail
For a more adventurous approach to Waipi’o, the Muliwai and Waimanu Valley Trail is highly encouraged. This trail gives you access to some of the most remote regions of the Big Island and will leave you feeling like you’ve taken a step back into time. It is an aggressive hike to accomplish in a single day, but possible if you are in shape and well-prepared. The trail is over 15 miles long and has some serious ascents and elevation gain. If you’re up for it, you’ll get an unreal view of the valley and up close and personal with the waterfalls.
Driving/Hiking the Access Road
There is a road that goes down to the black sand beach. But unless you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle with good clearance and experience driving off-road, I wouldn’t recommend it. It features 25-40% grades, and if you don’t know how steep that is, you shouldn’t drive it! The hike is very doable, and you might even be able to hitchhike back out if you want to. There are also tours that will take you down the road.
Black Sand Beach
The black sand beach at the end of the Waipi’o River is beautiful and one of the top attractions here. Once you reach the valley floor, the beach is easily within reach by turning right and following the river. At the end, you’ll find the black sands – just be careful if you cross the river if it’s high and know that the currents and surf in the waters can be dangerous.
Once you make it to the black sand beach, you might be able to catch a glimpse of a beautiful cascade arching into the sea in Kaluahine Falls. I say ‘might’ because the waterfall doesn’t always run and is typically only visible after heavy rainfall. This is a truly wonderful sight to behold if you’re lucky enough to visit Waipi’o on a rainy day. It should also provide the incentive to get to the valley floor even when it’s wet outside.
What to Bring to Waipi’o Valley
If you don’t plan on doing anything other than the lookout, you won’t need to bring much. Remember your camera and pack a picnic if you want to use the tables available in the parking lot.
If you want to venture to the valley floor or go on any of the other amazing hikes, be sure to bring plenty of water, some snacks, and your swimsuit. It’s also a good idea to bring a rain jacket or umbrella. Bug spray to keep the mosquitos away is nice to have in case they are bad.
If you are going on a multi-day backpack, bring your essentials, and don’t forget a first aid kit. It’s a remote section of the Big Island, and it can take a while for rescuers to reach you in case of an emergency.
If you are on the Big Island, Waipi’o Valley is a highly recommended stop. It’s not as well-known as some of the other major attractions on the island, but it’s easily as impressive. Its rugged and remote nature keeps the crowds away a bit as well. If you want to tackle some serious hiking and get a taste of wild Hawaii, Waipi’o will deliver.