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. This valley was home to old Hawaiian kings and is said to have been very densely populated. Now however, Waipi’o valley is mostly wilderness and hosts taro fields (Taro is a traditional Hawaiian staple food) and a couple of dozens of inhabitants.

Waipi’o Valley is named after the river that runs through the valley ( wai-piʻo means curved water in the Hawaiian language) and is about one mile wide and six miles deep. Towards the back the valley splits into 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?

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.

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 waterfalls already from the access road down  into the valley, but the best view can be gotten from the Muliwai trail. This trail goes up the sea cliffs on the other side of Waipi’o Valley and continues into the next valleys.

private property sign in Waipi'o valley (Big Island)
Please stay on the public road when hiking in Waipi’o valley. Respect the private land and the people living in the valley. Image credit: hawaiivolcanovacations

Waipi’o Valley lookout

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 lookout, 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 that the ocean 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.

waipio valley, waipi'o valley, hawaii, black sand beach, big island
Turn right once you reach the valley floor to get to this beautiful black sand beach. Image credit: Georgios Tsiminis

The Kaluahine Falls

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.

Kaluahine falls, waterfall, big island, hawaii, waipi'o valley
The Kaluahine falls are visible towards to east from the black sand beach on the bottom of Waipi’o valley. Image credit: Georgios Tsiminis

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 floor as part of the tour. Visit the website of Na’alapa Stables for more information (more about horseback riding tours on our website).

waipi'o valley, horse, horseback tour, big island, hawaii
Sometimes you will m encounter horses on the road. These horses are among other things used for the guided horseback tours in the valley. Image credit: Georgios Tsiminis

What is visiting Waipi’o valley like?

Several of the images in this guide have been provided by Georgios Tsiminis (Instagram, Flickr). Waipi’o valley was his favorite stop on the Big Island, and Georgios has kindly provided us with his impressions of the trip into the valley to read for whomever is interested in doing the same.

The following is his account:

Waipi’o Valley on Hawaii’s Big Island – By Georgios Tsiminis

As a first-time visitor to the Big Island I didn’t know what to do so I got some local knowledge on where I could go to make memories.

“Go to Waipi’o Valley. No matter what else you do, go to the valley!”

Was the best advice I could have gotten!

I checked the map, packed my backpack, and off I went early in the morning. The vista that greeted me when I arrived to the valley outlook was breathtaking. Lush green forests covering every hillside and a beckoning black beach made for a timeless landscape.

waipi'o valley access road, big island, hawaii
The views are amazing as you take the steep access road into the valley. Image credit: Georgios Tsiminis

Walking down into the valley is not easy, but listen to the park keeper’s advice and you’ll be rewarded by an amazing tropical landscape. At the bottom of the steep road turn left to explore inlands, where banana and avocado trees line the road leading into the valley.  Horses roam free and waterfalls cascade from tall cliffs. Explore and enjoy, and then turn back and walk down to the shore of the ocean.

Black sand, trees down to the water and huge waves barreling onto the beach make for an experience that is hard to describe. Walk west along the beach as far as you can, take care when crossing the stream as the water is as strong as it is cold, and reach the end of the beach underneath the cliff for an unforgettable view.

hi'ilawe falls, waterfall, big island, hawaii, waipi'o valley
The Hi’ilawe falls (center left) are visible from many points in the valley. Image credit: Georgios Tsiminis

Look east across the beach in the distance and notice a waterfall straight from the cliff onto the rocky shore. Walk back along the beach and prepare for a tricky trek along boulders battered by the waves and a constant spray of salty water. You will lose sight of the waterfalls but fear not and persist, for standing next to Kaluahine Falls is an experience somewhere between calm ecstasy and utter relaxation.

I had to leave the valley as I was running out of daylight to cross the rocky path and climb up the incredible steep road back onto the lookout. To this day, the memory of Waipi’o Valley fills me with joy and dreams of going back.