Round Trip Mileage: 3.0 miles (from parking to the center of the beach)
Elevation Gain: 975’
Gear: If you’re just hiking down to the beach, you’ll only need standard hiking gear.
Map: Topographical Map of Waipi'o Valley
Overview: The southernmost and largest of the seven windward valleys of Kohala Mountain, Waipi’o is the Valley of the Kings. Meaning curved water in the Hawaiian language, Waipi’o is a place of indescribable beauty and is of great historical significance to the Hawaiian people. The valley is deeply cut into the mountain, with three thousand foot cliffs and some waterfalls up to fifteen-hundred feet. Inhabited for hundreds of years by Hawaiians growing taro and other crops, most of the history of the valley was wiped out completely in 1946 by a powerful tsunami. Since then, a small community of people who generally want to avoid society live here, some permanently and some seasonally. Property rights are difficult to determine. I have not included any routes that take the hiker up into the valley or to the famous Hi’ilawe Falls because I do not think it is possible to get there without crossing private property (I’ve tried and turned around). My two cents: there are so many other places on public land to go on the Big Island, so why deal with private property issues and potentially anger the residents of this peaceful place? Some tourists describe unpleasant encounters with locals, but I have never found this to be the case and I often wonder if the tourists’ behavior isn’t the reason for the unpleasantness. After all, trespassing on someone’s property (recorded or not) isn’t met anywhere with pleasantness. The residents of Waipi’o are there because they don’t want to be very connected with modern society, so the more modern society you bring to them, the more unpleasantness might be encountered. I’d wager that quiet, polite hikers who don’t cross barbed wire fences and keep on obviously public land will never get bothered in Waipi’o.
A Note on Waterfalls: Many tourists make the arduous hike or drive down into Waipi’o only to find the famous spindrift waterfalls to be dry. What gives? It has nothing to do with rainfall. A large landowner recently purchased most of the land above Waipi’o Valley, and also even owns some of the back of the valley itself. The agricultural activities of the landowner sometimes “cut off” the water to the waterfalls. I don’t know of any way to predict the flow given this human-imposed variable. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know if Hi’ilawe Falls is running until you get down into Waipi’o. Maybe ask the sweaty, huffing people on the way out?
What is not included here: I wanted to note a few things I’ve seen in other sources about this area that are either outdated or now private. As stated above, I think it’s impossible to find a public easement through the settlements in lower Waipi’o, and the back of the valley is almost completely owned by a private landowner. So, any hikes to the back of the valley, including the hike to the base of Hi’ilawe Falls are not covered here. Also, there used to be a way to access the top rim of Waipi’o by parking at a trailhead near Waimea town. This “trailhead” is now a fence indicating clearly-posted private property. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to get here without trespassing. This hike may never have been legal in the first place.
Getting to the Trailhead: From Honoka’a in the northern part of the island, take Hwy. 240 west to Kukuihaele. The road comes to a dead end at the Waipi’o Overlook. Parking can be difficult at the small parking area, and take care to park in an appropriate place if you park up the road. This is the trailhead for two-wheel drive vehicles, and is the place most tourists stop. There is a good overlook worth a stop near the parking area, although you can’t see much of the back of the valley. With a sturdy four-wheel drive vehicle and above average driving skill and nerve, you can drive down to the black sand beach. The road is narrow, impossibly steep (25% average grade), and rough. If you make it to the bottom in one piece, find an appropriate place to park and do not drive on the beach. A number of guiding services, shuttles, and horseback tours operate in Waipi’o and take visitors down to the valley floor.
The hike: From the parking area, walk west and walk down the knee-jarring four-wheel drive road for 0.75 mile until the road levels. Follow the road toward the beach for 0.45 mile and arrive on the black sand beach. This is the beginning of the Muliwai trail, covered on the Waimanu Valley page. To visit Kaluahine Falls, which are located below the parking area and invisible from above, walk east along the coastal boulders for 0.42 mile. Don’t try to hike here if the tide is high and covering the boulders because it would be too dangerous. These falls are sometimes dry, but you won't know until you're pretty close. Return to the black sand beach. You might want to walk along the road back into Waipi’o and explore a bit. There are wild horses in the valley, likely leftover from before the tsunami. The surf at the black sand beach is notoriously rough and should only be swam or surfed by experts. For information on crossing the stream and continuing along the Muliwai trail, see the page on Waimanu Valley. The best view of Hi’ilawe Falls (if they are running) and of the entire valley is from the Muliwai trail, about halfway up the sea cliffs on the other side of Waipi’o Valley.