Waipio Valley Rim Hike


The Waipio Valley was The Valley of the Kings for the ancient Hawaiians; before that, it was the Valley of the Gods. Lush and almost unbelievably green, the valley features significantly in Hawaiian history and mythology, and in modern times served as an agricultural center until the devastating tsunami of 1946. On the rim of the valley, streams lead to seven waterfalls that crash 2,000 feet to the valley floor below, providing an impressive display of nature's power.

Hawaii Forest & Trail is creating a new hike to introduce visitors to this quietly powerful wonderland, and our group was treated to a preview. With the soft-spoken and spiritual Matt as our guide, we set off on a misty morning to hike around the valley’s rim. After driving over unpaved roads to a just-cleared area in a eucalyptus forest, we were provided binoculars, hiking sticks, bottles of water, snacks and backpacks for anything we did not want to leave in the van.

We set off over terrain that quickly got our hearts pumping, stopping frequently to look at little streams (that, later in the trail, became big streams and even bigger waterfalls), and to look down from the cliffs into the valley. Because of the foggy weather, we would frequently only see mist when we looked down into the valley, but Matt passed the time by telling stories about each area we (theoretically) were viewing. Without fail, by the end of each story, the mist had parted to show us the spot that featured in each story. (Neat trick, that.) The stories made the vistas more than just views; they added history and depth to what could otherwise be merely a photo opportunity. 

The hike also offered a different perspective of Hawaii from what people usually imagine. The Big Island could fit all of the other islands of the state twice over, and features 11 of the planet's 13 climates. As such, there is a wide variety of things to see and do here far beyond sitting on a beach and sipping mai tais (not that there's anything wrong with sipping mai tais, especially on a beach). Walking through dense groves of bushes and trees; fording streams; and seeking out historic sites lets visitors see another side of Hawaii that they could easily miss otherwise, and that can enrich their vacation in remarkable ways.

Photo by Paul Hirst