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Hiking the Waipi’o Valley was the second day venturing north to the Kahola and Waimea region. We took the upper highway (Mamalahoa Hwy 190) to Waimea and then Hwy 19 at Waimea out to Honaka’a, instead of Hwy 250 towards Hawi, as we had the previous trip. We learned a little more about Parker Ranch that day. When Captain George Vancouver imported cows to the island that proliferated, Parker was the sharp shooter hired the help control the heard numbers. He was given land in return.
Getting to the Waipi’o Valley
We stopped in Honoka’a, with an old plantation downtown street which resembled something out of a wild west movie with its storefronts built in the late 1800s – 1930s. A thriving community, fueled by the sugar plantations and cattle industry at the time, it is now being revitalized. There’s even a “town jail” on the main street, a curious old barred window structure, placed prominently to humiliate those tossed in it. Be sure to grab a photo of yourself in the slammer! The 1930s Peoples Theatre, that still shows nightly movies, is definitely on our list for a return visit.
The Waipi’o Valley hike access
We drove to Kukuihaele and Waipi’o Valley lookout, also referred to as the “Waipo Valley overlook” by locals. The Waipi’o Valley hike was 3 miles return, initially down a very steep 25 degree, and at points 40-degree angle. While there were a few 4-wheel drives trying to cut down the exercise, we happily made it part of the workout (both going and the return). Our rental car agreement had prohibited taking our vehicle to the valley, so be sure to check the fine print or your agreement.
The Waipi’o Valley
There’s a river running through the beautiful green valley, with wild horses munching grass along the road. Hi’ilawe Falls, flowing off the high ridge to valley bottom is visible, and another hiking option to reach its base. We had our sites set on the Muliwai Trail on the far side of the valley, but to get there it’s necessary to cross the river entrance as it flows out to the ocean. This is easier said than done, since the river current flows out and the ocean waves roll in, all the while challenging your footing on uneven rocks, at times deeper than anticipated without being able to see the bottom clearly. Unless you are prepared to get your hiking shoes wet, having sandals or water shoes would be beneficial, and definitely place phones and camera equipment in a waterproof bag, just in case you slip and take a swim! Using a hefty walking stick for support was also really helpful. These seem to be left at either side of the river by previous travelers, so it’s well worth grabbing one for extra balance!
Extending your hike on the Muliwai Trail
The Muliwai Trail is on the far side of the valley, and takes 15-20 minutes to reach the base, across a valley best described as a Jurassic Park experience, with its huge lush plants, before beginning the assent. There are also numerous “brickett stone circles” used for the Ho’oponopono ceremony, a practice of placing stones and removing them in a ceremony of life.
A permit is required to do the whole 8.5-mile trail and overnight stay in the Waimanu Valley, along this ancient Hawaiian footpath. The trail, part of the Kahola Forest Reserve, Muliwai section, rises 1200 ft, is exposed and hot, and has a sign at the base: “Dead End Trail, wild pigs next 20 miles, good luck!” We climbed about half way up to a switch back and outlook view from the cliffs over the ocean, a view of the valley below, and the decent we had made from the Waipi’o Valley lookout. Of course what goes us must come down, so you’ll get round two of this hiking workout on the return, plus a second chance at “river dancing” as you navigate the crossing, armed with knowledge from your initial experience.
We chose to make the return trip back to Kona via the Mamalahoa Hwy 19 down Hamakua down to Hilo, and back through the Saddle Road mid island. The Mamalahoa Hwy meanders along the northern areas of the Big Island, through areas littered with huge waterfalls and streams through the valleys and out to the ocean below. Trees and plants seem lush green and super-sized in the area, no doubt the result of frequent warm rains. If you happen to hit Hilo on a sunny day, count yourself lucky (we did!) Hilo gets some kind of precipitation 236 days of the year.
I’ve written about many of the beaches on the Kona side previously, which we revisited on our rest days when not hiking. Last year we rented twin scooters and visited eight. Link here to get a run down on some magic places to spend a restful beach day: Touring Hawaii’s Big Island Kona Coast Beaches by Scooter
Great for planning, and you’ll want to pack it along for the trip – check out Lonely Planet’s Hawaii the Big Island. Or search out all of the Hawaii guidebook options on chapters.indigo.ca or on Amazon. If you prefer immediate access in e-book format you can get that through Chapters/Indigo as well, or at ebooks.com Be sure to check out get your guide for savings on advanced booked tours and activities while on the Big Island too!
Accommodations + Car rental
And if you’re looking for accommodations in the Kona area, check out this map guide below with listings offered through VRBO and Booking.com. I’ve marked where we stayed in Kailua for reference. It was a short drive from the airport, offered great sunsets and was very central for all of our day trips. Of course you could also check listings on Hotels.com or Expedia. Some accommodations start to overlap, but it’s amazing the deals or real unique finds that can sometimes squeak through if you’re looking diligently!
One resource we found extremely valuable was Lonely Planet’s Hawaii the Big Island. Be aware it was written in 2017 though, prior to some volcanic activity since then in the southern regions. We’ve updated you here with our experiences since then.
I also love what BookingCredits.com is doing in the accommodation space. Most hotel booking sites have access to rates not available to the public, but are required by the hotel to sell them at a the retail price. When you book your stay, they will pocket the difference between what you paid, and their commission — as profit. With BookingCredits.com instead of pocketing all the margin as profit, they give the majority of that back to you. Booking Credits was founded by former travel industry experts including the President of Delta Vacations and Senior executives from Expedia. There’s no membership required, and the credit goes back as cash on your credit card within 60 days of your booking. A simple, but cool concept! Do an accommodation search HERE and check them out.
Looking for a cheap flight to Kona? Be sure to check out CheapOair.ca or CheapOair.com They make it super easy to compare flight deals across different airlines. Their When to Buy Flights Tool is handy for planning.
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