How to Hike from the Waipio Valley to the Waimanu Valley and camp at the end
20-24 Miles Round Trip
Difficulty: Very Hard
Waimanu Valley Hike
Michael. My brother. 6'3". Has dunked. Featured heavily in the 'Big Island Hawaii' video we filmed all throughout this trip.
Tyler. AKA 'Porkchop.' My cousin. New to crazy hiking expeditions but strong as an ox. Brought a can of peanut butter. This comes into play later.
Our Experience in the Waimanu Valley
My brother Michael, my cousin Tyler, and myself embarked on a week-long trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. We had no idea what to expect. Here is our story.
Around 8 am on a nice, warm, weekday morning we pull up in our bright white, rented Nissan Maxima. Or was it an Altima? Not important. The night before this, we slept in the Nissan in a dark, church parking lot. In the morning we stopped at a gas station on the way to the Waipio valley and chugged some chilled Starbucks latte things to get hyped up for the giant hike we had in store.
When we arrived at the top of the Waipio valley, the foggy clouds covering the valley were disappearing and we could see the beautiful green cliffs and black sand beach about 2000 feet below. For most tourists this view is enough adventure for one day. If you're like us, it marks the very beginning.
We sat in the car to get mentally prepared for what we we're about to do. Also because everyone was waiting on me while I sat there twiddling with my boots and waiting for my drone batteries to charge.
Right before we set off, we each chugged three water bottles and a Gatorade. (We're trying to get maximum levels of hydration because we don't have iodine/chlorine tablets and we're carrying-in all our water for the hike.)
We sling our 40-pound packs and take our first steps down this incredible steep road which goes straight down into the valley. If you have a super legit all-wheel-drive car, you may be able to drive down this road, but I definitely would be very careful. There's no way our Altima could make it up this... Maybe if it was a Maxima.
By the time we descended this vertically-steep road (called Waipio Valley Road), the valley fog had completely disappeared and the blazing sun was high in the sky. It was another half mile North to the black sand beach of Waipi'o.
We got to the beach and readjusted all our packs. We took off our boots and went for a little swim. This is a pretty cool beach, black sand and nestled inside a giant valley. Very few people come down here because of the steep, intimidating road.. Mostly it's locals in lifted trucks and jeeps with sand tires.
We got out of the ocean and threw out boots back on. We walked West toward the next valley-wall and soon had to take our boots off again. There is a river that splits the valley that you have to cross to get to the other side. We crossed the river, I dropped my boots in the water on accident and we continued on. Three thousand feet to the other side, we arrive at the valley wall. Here we found some hiking signs posted. Something about "danger/dangerous something or other." After ignoring this, we started our steep ascent.
This side of the valley is exactly equally as steep as the road we just hiked down, only difference is here there is no road and the hot sun was crushing our hopes and dreams. After getting super hot and sweaty we make it to the top and find some shade. The rest of the hike over the top of this valley is mostly wooded with various types of interesting trees and plenty of shade. From here it was a constant weave from North to South, in and around all the little, mini valleys and tributaries. This constant back-and-fourth gets a little disheartening after several miles but eventually we reach the other side of this mountain/plateau late in the day. There are a few different helicopter landing/evacuation zones up here for emergencies but I don't think our cell phones worked so someone would have to run back to the Waipio to get help.
Anyway, at the top of this mountain thing, we can now see the holy-land. Waimanu Valley. This place is extremely desolate, the only way in or out is our 10-12 mile hiking trail. We could see the new black-sand beach from thousands of feet above. We see the clouds are touching the valley across from us, so we're now hiking from cloud-level to sea level.
We shimmy and slide down this final descent and eventually make it to the beach below. This place is more like a desert island than a beach. I could easily imagine Tom Hanks being marooned here with a volleyball.
There's another stream we need to cross (more about this stream later), so we take off our boots and do that whole thing again. I always have to be careful when I'm doing this as I'm carrying a drone and non-waterproof camera.
We finally arrive at the camping sites. We actually acquired a reservation for this camping spot online somewhere, some Hawaii state government website.
We de-rock our campsite, take off our boots, and then it starts to rain. We rush as fast as we can to get the tent set up and the light rain turns into heavy rain just as we zip-up and dive inside. We're fine with chilling in the tent while it rains because we're insanely tired from the hike and we have some killer cans of 'Chef Boyardee' that we're eager to down.
After eating that luscious tomato ravioli goodness (not sponsored by chef boyardee) the rain had still not stopped. If anything it got stronger.
Oh well, we thought... we're so tired anyway, we'll hit the hay and get up early tomorrow.
All night it rains, and apparently the tent isn't very waterproof. At midnight our feet are in puddles but at least it's warm enough since it's Hawaii.
Two hours after the sun rises it's still raining and nobody's talking and our bodies are all wet.
The first word out of anyone's mouth was when Michael said, "how many cans we got left?"
"Yeahhhh buddy!" Shouted Tyler as he threw me and Mike a can of Chef. (I'm open to a sponsorship deal...)
"Exactly what I was thinking!"
So we downed our final canned calories for the day.
It's still raining and there is an incredible waterfall I still want to see before we leave. Tyler and Michael are too battered to go on this hike so I have to set out alone. (Definitely not really a good idea to go to the waterfall alone, but at least I had two walkie-talkies and left one for the boys in the tent. I set up my backpack with a lighter load of camera supplies and pulled the waterproof cover over it as I stepped out into the warmish rain.
My journey is about 3 miles round trip from the tent to the waterfall, but much harder in the rain with slippery rocks and a confusing jungle. I got lost many, many times and had no idea where I was going other than I was following the valley-wall South. It was taking so long and I knew I had a massive hike back to the car still after this. The problem was, we had just ate our last food and we were all running low on water, so this extra exertion was kind of worrying to me.
While slipping and sliding my way through this jungle as the rain poured down, through the leaves I stumbled into a family of wild boars. The big one, mama boar? .. was light brown.. spotted me and ran off. I'm glad she didn't charge because according to a fiction book I read in high school, boars are dangerous. From here-on I carried a "boar stick" (a giant stick I acquired from the jungle-floor to help fend against future boars). After getting turned around in the jungle for almost an hour I started to lose hope when I finally heard the waterfall off in the distance. This was an incredible and unmistakable sound. It sounded like a tornado, crushing and tearing through the sky like thunder.
I pushed forward as fast as I could go, boots soaked and slippery over the rocks. I moved through the trees and came out into a giant clearing. I turned my head to the heavens and stared in amazement as the two-thousand-foot waterfall fell from the sky. It crashed into a giant pool below, so large you could swim in it. The millions of gallons of water fell so hard and with so much strength that the entire area was blasting with wind like a hurricane.
I wasn't going to come all this way and not get this on film. All I had was my expensive DSLR (not waterproof). I tried to quickly rack focus and press play as I propped the camera up under my backpack and under a bush to try and save it from howling spray of the waterfall.
I grabbed my stick and ran down the hill to the bottom of the waterfall at the edge of the pool and had an amazing moment of glory.
Nothing quite like the incredible power and beauty of nature at its finest. This was especially cool because very, very few people have ever stepped foot here, this far into the Big Island's Valley.
After my 'one-with-nature' moment, I ran back up the hill to save my camera, wiped it off with my soaked t-shirt, threw it in my backpack and started my hike back through the jungle to the Waimanu beach and our tent.
As I returned to the tent, the boys were ready to go, but I was already exhausted. I have one and a half bottles of water and no food for the next 10-12 miles of hiking up and down two massively tall valleys.
You remember when I was talking about that little stream we had to cross last night? Where we took off our boots and waded across? Well, since it had been raining for 14 hours straight. That stream turned into a massive river. Every drop of water from the waterfalls and slopes of the giant valley were all joining into this river and flowing into the ocean. The little, two-foot stream was now 6 feet deep and 50-70 feet wide.
There was a giant rope tied to each side of the river (this must happen often). So we grabbed-on and pulled ourselves through the water, across to the shores of the other side. This fresh-water swimming actually felt wonderful on our tired bodies and revitalized us for the trek ahead.
We summited the first valley and got a good chunk of our hike done. I'm completely out of water at this point and incredibly hungry. I ask in desperation if anyone has any spare food left and Tyler says, "Yeah!" ... "I got peanut butter!"
So... a jar of peanut butter is literally the worst thing one could possibly eat while on a giant hike and with no water and worse, no spoon.
But I'm falling apart from starvation so I graciously accept his offer and we all eat the peanut butter with our hands. Gross, I know...
This jar provided us with the last burst of energy we needed to get through the rest of the hike.
We finally descended into the black sand beach of Waipio valley as the rain subsided and the beautiful, warm sun blanked our wet skin.
We marched up the insanely steep road, burning every last calorie our bodies had. I grabbed the keys, unlocked the doors to the Altima, we threw our packs in the trunk and crashed into the hugging seats of the car. We sat here for an hour. Discussing the awesome adventure we just had while sipping on an unlimited supply of trunk-temperature Gatorade.