Waipio valley

Waipi’o Valley (Big Island): How to visit and what to see

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Waipi’o valley is named after the river that flows through it: wai-piʻo means curved water in the Hawaiian language. This valley was home to old Hawaiian kings and is said to have been very densely populated. Now however, Waipi’o valley hosts taro fields (Taro is a traditional Hawaiian staple food) and a couple of dozens of inhabitants.

Waipi’o Valley is about one mile wide and six miles deep and to the back of the valley you can find many ‘fingers’ each with its own waterfall. The valley faces the ocean with a beautiful black sand beach.

Did you know that the ending of the blockbuster “Water World” was shot in Waipi’o Valley?

Hiking in Waipi’o Valley

This valley is one of the most beautiful and secluded places to go to for a hike on the Big Island. These hikes however are not easy.

The Hike down Waipi’o Valley is one of our top-5 short hikes in Hawaii. The hike to the Hi’ilawe Falls in the back of the valley is not possible without crossing over private property and shouldn’t be attempted without the landowners permission. You can see these falls already from the access road to the valley, but the best view can be gotten from the Muliwai trail, a trail going up the sea cliffs on the other side of Waipi’o Valley.

Waipio valley
Overview of Waipi’o Valley from the ‘opposite’ side. You can see the steep Waipi’o Valley access road, the black sand beach, and taro fields.

Waipi’o Valley overlook

Waipi’o valley is stunning, and even if you do not manage to go down, the views from the overlook are dramatic and breathtaking . There is historic information available at the overlook, and you are sure to snap some pictures here that will leave your friends at home very, very jealous!

If you do go down to the valley floor (and this is not straightforward, as you can read below), make sure to bring your swimsuit. The black sand beach is a great place for a quick dip. Be aware though, the currents can be strong so do not go into the water too deep.

Getting down into Waipi’o Valley

The road down to Waipi’o valley is one of the steepest roads on the island. On the steepest part, it rises 800 ft in only 0.6 miles. The average grade of the road is 25%, but peaks at 40%. Driving down this road with a 4WD will give a good tilt to your horizon :).

To get down to the valley floor you must either have your own 4WD car, or be willing to pay for a tour, hike down, or hitchhike down. Some Hawaiian car rental companies explicitly mention in the rental agreement that it is not permitted to drive your rental car down into Waipi’o valley, so be sure to ask them if you are allowed to take your car down into the valley. Alternatively, you can join a tour that will take you down to the valley floor.

Cliffs from Waipi'o valley
Looking east from Waipi’o Valley you can see the steep cliffs that formed when parts of the Big Island collapsed into the ocean

The black sand beach of Waipi’o valley

To get to the beach, turn right as soon as you reach the valley floor. After a few minutes you will reach a black-sand beach. The beach is split in two by the river coming out of the valley, and depending on the amount of water it can be difficult to cross.

The beach looks beautiful and is a very good place to relax after coming down into the valley, but take care with going into the water.  This beach is known for its rip currents and high surf, making it a dangerous place to go swimming especially during the winter months.

The black sand of Waipi’o beach and the Kaluahine Waterfalls. Source: ALaskaDave, licensed under CC BY 3.0

If you are very lucky (or unlucky, that depends on your point of view) you can see the Kaluahine Falls on your right hand (east) side once you get to the beach. These falls only exist when it is raining a LOT.  You can read more about this waterfall at the worldofwaterfalls website.

Explore the valley on Horseback

It is also possible to explore the valley on horseback. If you join such a horseback riding tour you will be driven down to the valley as part of the tour. Visit the website of Na’alapa Stables for more information. (more about horseback riding tours on our website)

The back of the closest valley of Waipi'o valley
Hi’ilawe (the tine waterfall in the back of the valley) is one of the highest waterfalls of the Big Island