A Steep Hike on the Big Island

Waipi'o Valley is stunning. This is the southernmost of the seven valleys that are located in the northwest corner of the Big Island of Hawaii. While the view from the overlook is breathtaking, the real way to take your breath away is to hike down to the bottom of the valley.

The road to the bottom of Waipi'o Valley is about one mile at a 25% grade. There are only two ways to get down to the ocean - in a four wheel drive vehicle or by hiking. Since I don't relish the idea of taking any kind of vehicle down an incredibly steep, one lane, rutted, pot-holed road with a sheer drop off - we decided to walk.

The hike down was hard on the legs, while the hike back up later was hard on the lungs. It's only a mile each way, but the steepness of the grade is quite unusual, even for mountainous areas. In fact, back in my rock climbing days I would be roped up on pitches with grades only a few percentage points higher than this. The secret was to take frequent stops to "take photos" and drink plenty of fluids.

Once on the bottom the valley opened up revealing a deep and wide base bisected by a small river. Because of the difficulty getting down, there were very few people exploring the black sand beach. The valley is one miles wide and six miles deep and surrounded by 2,000 foot cliffs. The valley is is also known as the Valley of the Kings and was once the home of King Kamehameha the Great. Almost 10,000 Hawaiians lived in Waipi'o at that time. With it's location on the windward (eastern) side of the Kohala Mountains, the valley gets plenty of rain, which leads to a great variety of tropical plants. We found some plant leaves that were as big as our entire bodies.

While the hike was strenuous, it only took about an hour to go down and just a bit longer to go back up. Hard, but worth it, to see one of the most beautiful spots on the Big Island.

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