This area is one of the top tourist attractions on the Big Island aside from the volcano. The views in and around Waipio Valley are spectacular. Known as the “Valley of the Kings,” for many years it was the home to Hawaiian kings and their families; a lush, awe inspiring valley with towering waterfalls and cliffs and beautiful black sand beaches. It is the largest of seven valleys along the Hamakua Coast. And although the general public is allowed in some portions of Waipio Valley, Hawaiians consider these lands very sacred. Most of the valley is private land. And for this reason we highly suggest you book a tour rather than exploring this valley on your own. This is the reason you will see posts which speak of unfriendly locals in the valley. You would be pretty unhappy too if strangers were trampling all over your backyard! These people live in this valley. Please be respectful.
The overlook view is unbelievably dazzling, but you need to go into the valley to really appreciate its splendor and history. There are plenty of tours to choose from including 4-wheel drive vehicles, horseback and ATV’s, a shuttle and guided hiking tours. This assures you have permission to be on these lands. We chose the “Waipio Valley Wagon Tour,” and highly recommend it. This tour allows you to safely view this gorgeous valley and also gives you the opportunity to learn of the history of these lands from a native Hawaiian tour guide.
Their website gives good directions to the meeting place at Neptune’s Gardens. The tour takes about 1 ½ hours. You start off in a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get down to the valley. Those are the only vehicles allowed down the road to the valley. The grade is over 25% in spots. This is the steepest paved road in the US and possibly the world. I wouldn’t want to drive down that road after experiencing it myself. It’s not only steep but also very narrow. It’s barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. And, it is a very busy tourist spot with multiple vehicles trying to access this road at the same time. We’ve driven the “Road to Hana,” and that road was a piece of cake next to this! Hiking down doesn’t look bad but the hike up is definitely not for amateurs.
Your tour guide then drives you to their horse stable. Here is where you get on the charming mule driven red wagon that tours you through the valley. They even have a dog “guide” who accompanies the mules on the tour. It is a very quaint experience driving through the taro fields and farms and across small streams that make up this valley. The valley is simply gorgeous and gives you a very different perspective from the lookout. We even got a glimpse of one of the wild horses that roam freely through this area. The ride is somewhat bumpy in spots, but would not be uncomfortable for most able bodied people. However, you probably should avoid it if you have back problems. We viewed Hialawi Falls through the gentle mist that generally settles in this valley. It is over 1200 feet tall and is the tallest waterfall on the island. The flow is smaller these days because of ditches dug for cultivation diverting water for farmlands. We have read the waterfall is “dry” sometimes, depending on the rainfall. But it was still impressive when we saw it. Just an FWI: viewing this waterfall is only accessible from private land, so don’t believe any posts saying otherwise. Through the entire tour, you hear about the history of the area, see the local farms, fruit trees, plants and flowers and learn about the modern day inhabitants from their very knowledgeable tour guide. It is a very “up close and personal” way to see Waipio Valley, while still being respectful to the locals.
While you are in the area, there are a couple of restaurants we highly recommend. Tex’s is on the way to Waipio Valley from the Hilo direction and you can’t miss it. They boast of making the best malasadas in Hawaii. We’ve had a few others, and have to concede that they are telling the truth. Their malasadas are served HOT, and boy does that make a difference! They are heavenly. We wish they had another location closer to where we were staying. The other place we recommend is Village Burger a little further away in the Parker Ranch Shopping Center in Waimea. It is a 30 minute drive from the tour, but they have the best burgers were ever had, EVER! Their burgers are completely antibiotic and hormone free, and come from locally raised cattle. Their burgers are unbelievably flavorful and delicious. It is well worth the extra drive time to get to.
Waipio Valley is one the most stunning, magnificent areas of the big Island. Take a tour and experience this unique place that captures the real beauty of Hawaii and its rich heritage.
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