Beautiful Hawaiian coastal views

The Significance of Waipio Valley

Located on the northern Hamakua Coast, the sacred Waipio Valley is a lush, tropical, fairytale valley with many waterfalls, rivers and a black sand surfers’ beach. The valley was a favorite retreat of King Kamehameha I (one of Hawaii’s most famous monarchs) and his royal family.


View from the Overlook

During the early days, the royal family oversaw the cultivation of taro root (loi) in the fertile valley.

Waipio valley
Beautiful coastal views from the Overlook

Dubbed “The Valley of the Kings”, Waipio Valley still stands today as an important religious and political center in Hawaii.


About The Valley

Waipio Valley is the southernmost and largest of the seven windward valleys of Kohala Mountain.  Largely untouched and isolated from the outside world, it offers astonishing views of the coast.

The valley itself is about 50 miles north of Hilo. It is approximately one mile wide, five miles deep and dissects the Kohala Mountains, surrounded by cliffs up to 2000-feet high. As you can imagine, it is quite a challenge to reach it; and so if you do make the trek, you’re in for quite an adventure.

During the olden days, the valley was once home to thousands of Native Hawaiians. Today, a little less than 100 residents live among the waterfalls, taro fields and rivers.


How To View The Valley

Waipio valley is easily one of the most beautiful and secluded places to go to for a hike on the Big Island.

If you choose not to hike, you can:

  1. View the valley from the coastal Waipio Valley Overlook: Visitors can view the valley from the Overlook at the end of the Hamakua Heritage Corridor. Waipio valley is stunning, and even if you do not manage to go down, the views from the overlook can be breathtaking.
  2. Take a guided van tour: There are also shuttles and wagons you can hire to take you in and out of the valley.
  3. Horseback Ride: Most tours will drive you down to the valley before you mount your horse for the adventure! Visit the website of Na’alapa Stables for more information.
  4. Helicopter Tour: The Volcano Helicopter Tour often gives guests a clear view of the valley.

If you decide to go by tour guide, they will happily share the stories and legends of this special place as you explore the hidden wonders within.


May I Drive?

A paved but very steep (25% grade), treacherous road leads down from the Waipio Valley Overlook, but only four-wheel-drive vehicles may attempt it. The road requires a god driver and cautious driving. In general, driving isn’t recommended, many visitors choose to walk.

The one mile walk takes about half an hour going up and about 45 minutes coming up. If you decide to drive, take it slow on this road, after-all you’ll better enjoy the wonderful views this way!


The Waipio Valley Floor

Once you get there, turning to your right will take you towards the beach and Kuluahine Falls while turning to your left along the country road will take you towards the back of the valley and Hi’ilawe Falls (1,450 feet).


The Beach at Waipio 

The coast features a long black sand beach. The black sand beach is a great place for a quick dip. Be very careful when enjoying the beach and stay out of the water unless it is very calm.

The waters can be quite rough and known for rough surf, strong currents and string undertows. Going out too far, the waters will may very well overwhelm even experienced swimmers. Swimming, surfing, and picnics are all popular activities here.

Black sand beach at the foot of the valley
Black sand beach at the foot of the valley

Along the walls of the valleys to the valley floor, you will find several papaya, mango, avocado, grapefruit and other types of fruit trees that decorate the valley.


Kuluahine Fall

If you continue to the right on the coast, you will reach the Kuluahine falls. The falls can usually be seen from the right side of the beach if flowing (often, it is not flowing).

Kuluahine Falls
Kuluahine Falls


Waiulili Falls

To view the larger Waiulili Falls, you will have to follow a boulder-strewn trail along the surf. You will find the trail if you turn right once you near the black sand beach.

Waiulili Falls
Waiulili Falls

However, you should only attempt this trial when the sea is calm and the tide is not rough, otherwise itmay be quite dangerous.


Hiilawe Falls

Hawaii Island’s highest waterfall, Hiilawe Falls cascades down 1,300 feet towards the back of Waipio’s. The high drop makes it the highest waterfall in Hawaii and one of the highest in the world.

Hiilawe Falls
Hiilawe Falls

There is no publicly accessible trail to this waterfall and the stream leading up to it is quite dangerous for hikers. Because of this and the risk of trespassing into private property and gglandslides in the area, Hi’ilawe Falls should be appreciated from a distance.

Hiilawe is often seen from the road at distance if you follow the country road (as mentioned, turn left once you reach to the valley, i.e in the opposite direction of the beach).

As mentioned, please be reminded that some areas are private land, especially at the back of the valley, so be mindful of areas that look like people’s homes.

You can also consider taking a horseback or guided hiking tour as quite often, the guides have permission to take you closer to the waterfall. The best way to avoid intrusion is to hike to the end of the beach and behold the falls from there, enjoy but be respectful.


How To Get To Waipio Valley

To get to Waipio Valley, turn off of the Hawaii Belt Road (Highway 19) onto Highway 240 at the town of Honokaa. From there, follow Highway 240 for about ten miles. Continue until the road ends at the valley’s lookout point.

As mentioned, if you don’t have a 4 Wheel Drive vehicle, don’t drive any further; as only 4WD’s can reliably make it down and up the challenging road.

A stop at Waipio Valley is a must if you’re driving around the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. Once a favorite retreat of Hawaiian royalty, you’ll find the astounding views quite befitting.

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