Hawaii’s Valley of the Kings: Hike, Horseback or Jeep the Big Island’s Waipi’o Valley

Any enthusiast of natural landscapes on a trip to Hawaii would expect to see fertile green mountains, pristine black sand beaches, waterfalls that drop from the face of sheer cliffs and waves that rise high enough to put fear in the heart of an east coastian.  What he or she may not expect is to encounter each of these majestic features in one place.  But overwhelming it is not, for the hike (or 4wheel drive) into Waipi’o Valley is one of the most relaxing and fulfilling excursions on the Big Island.

The Waipi’o Valley spans a mile wide and nearly six miles deep and is encased by cliff walls that rise to an elevation of 2000 feet.  It is often referred to as the Valley of the Kings because it was once home to many of Hawaii’s rulers, many of which are buried in ancient caves along the steep canyon walls.  Prior to Captain Cook’s arrival to the Big Island in 1778, the valley was inhabited by as many as 10,000 people.  According to natives, Waipi’o Valley was the most fertile and productive valley on the Big Island.  Today, only about fifty inhabitants reside within the valley, most taro farmers and fishermen, left after the 1940 Tsunami and the 1979 flood which filled the valley from wall to wall with four feet of water.

The trail from the top leads for a little over a mile down the south side of the valley.  The descent follows a once, though not recently, paved road with an incline steeper than 25% (incredibly steep).  Coincidentally, this is where you’ll wish you had the car, but don’t actually need it.  Reaching the valley floor, you’ll have the option to turn east towards the sea or west into the valley (heading west leads to Hi’ilawe Falls, at about 1600 feet, the highest waterfall on the Big Island).  Enjoy the significant decrease in air temperature and the sudden abundance of shade from the forest full of fruit trees and ferns.  The last third of your trek (if you chose to head east) follows a muddy road that runs along the valley floor to the breakers.  This is where 4 wheel drive, if you chose to bring a vehicle, is required.  Lifted trucks and jeeps have fun splashing through the mud holes.

At the ocean front, the fertile forest floor gives way to huge ironwood trees.  Fellow travelers bring rented jeeps and eat lunches on the onyx beach.  Stroll along the coast and count the waterfalls that crease the canyon walls like giant blue dikes.  Heading north up the black sand, you’ll reach an opening in the canopy and catch a mile long view up the valley reminiscent of Colorado.  A smooth pebbled, large-mouthed river dumps the valley’s massive rainfall runoff into the sea here.

The surf here is top notch for the Big Island.  Ten foot breakers are more reflective of some of Oahu’s surf spots and are more welcoming to experienced surfers than beginners.  However, as a day traveler (camping is not permitted in the Waipi’o Valley in case you were wondering) you won’t feel threatened by the sometimes exclusive surfing sub culture, for few locals actually make the drive into the valley to surf.  For intermediates and seasoned surfers, it’s the perfect spot to bring a rented board for the day.

The hike out of Waipi’o Valley is steep and grueling and absent of shade.  As always, take frequent stops and drink plenty.  If you’re feeling cheery, don’t hesitate to thumb a ride in the empty bed of a passing pickup.  Fellow day travelers and tourists might feel generous, but as they say, there’s no one friendlier than Hawaiians.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Le BCM on May 10, 2010 at 2:21 am

    Was this copied and pasted out of your Lonely Planet Guide? Or was it Frommers?

  2. So you’re saying it’s got potential? Like if Outsider Magazine or NG Traveler saw it they might want to pick it up?

  3. Posted by Le BCM on May 10, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    If they don’t sue for plagiarism, they’ll probably just run it, claim its their own writer’s, and leave you to rot. Or something like that.

  4. Posted by Joe Richmond on May 25, 2010 at 12:01 am

    Tank tops…love it.

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