Honokane Nui Valley
Round Trip Mileage: 2.92 miles (to the lookout for Honokane Nui Valley). Just going to the beach and back is about .75 mile.
Elevation Gain: 650’ (about 350' to the beach)
Gear: The trail down to Pololū can be wet and slippery, so choose your footwear carefully. The trail is hot and sticky the whole way, so bring plenty of water. It’s not difficult to pack plenty of provisions down to the beach for a nice day.
Map: Topographical Map for Pololū Valley
Overview: Pololū means long spear, and carves a long cleave on the northern side of Kohala Mountain. This magnificent wild valley is at the head of the Kohala Coast, apparently the oldest part of the island with deeply in-cut valleys towering over picturesque beaches. Most people only drive to the end of Hwy. 270 and gawk at the beauty of the rugged northern Kohala coastline from the Pololū Overlook. It’s a shame that they don’t realize that hiking one or two switch-backs down toward Pololū Beach provides a much better photo vantage. And of course, hiking down to the valley floor and over to the next valley provides a sublime adventure in this special place. Unfortunately, only the beaches of these valleys are public. All of the land upriver is privately owned. Camping, although officially prohibited, is common in the tall trees behind the shore.
Getting to the Trailhead: Take Hwy. 270 to the northern Kohala Coast, past the towns of Hawi and Kapa’au. Park at the end of the highway at the Pololū Valley overlook. There is room for about 10 cars at the end of the road in a parking area that fills up quickly, especially on weekends. If you must park along the road, ensure that you respect the private homes along the road.
The hike: Start at the Pololū Valley overlook and find the trailhead marked by an extensive array of “danger” signs. Hike down the wide trail and stop at each switch-back in the trail to take in the awesome views of the northern Kohala coast. One switchback is a particularly good spot for a photo (you’ll know). The valley floor is 0.36 mile from the trailhead. Once on the valley floor, the flora changes abruptly into large forest trees just behind the beach. Quickly cross the Pololū River where it meets the sea (may be dry). This river is fed by agricultural runoff, so carefully consider how you treat this water before drinking.
The Pololū Valley beach is mostly made up of moderately-sized polished lava rocks and is very beautiful. The water here is notoriously dangerous and should only be attempted by very experienced swimmers and surfers. The mounds of sand behind the beach are a fun place to spend some time. Look for the rope swings that are usually present. You’ll probably also notice some nice campsites, but camping here is technically illegal.
Hike 0.40 mile to the eastern side of Pololū Valley beach and find a faint trail in low ferns about one hundred feet behind the shoreline cliffs. This trail climbs for 1.1 mile to the overlook for the Honokane Nui Valley. The beginning of this trail is in a stagnant, buggy rainforest until you begin to crest the top of the next valley. Ensure that you stop whenever you have a vantage in the rainforest for views both inland and along the coast. Stop and pick wild guava and other fruits along the trail.
The trail ends at a wooden bench that overlooks the Honokane Nui Valley and part of the Honokane Iki Valley. The trail used to continue down into Honokane Nui, but a recent earthquake created a rift in the land and a landslide that forever changed the nature of the valley.
Even More: The valley floor is accessible with technical climbing gear. Take care exploring this area: you’re often above sheer cliffs just below the jungle canopy. If you hike down the old trail to rappel into the valley, you’ll also face the fun of rocks raining down on you from above from where the earthquake tore a rift in the valley. You might even find some decaying old ropes in the trees. Use your judgment.