Waipio Valley is very beautiful and definitely worth seeing, but the road down into the valley is steep, narrow and 4WD only (not AWD). We read the reviews and decided to take the Waipio on Horseback tour. The crude sign at the entrance to the staging area pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the tour. The restroom facilities are porta-potties. At the office, a waiver was thrust into our hands while being told that no backpacks or fanny packs were allowed. The manager did not smile at us or welcome us. While waiting for the tour to start, which was late, none of the staff talked to us, looked at us, mingled with us, or tried to engage us. The staff wore plain clothes, so we couldn't tell the staff from the guests. We really felt like unwelcome outsiders.
We loaded into the van which had dirty windows and broken hardware which did not exude confidence. At the start of the decent, the driver and his sidekick cracked jokes about mechanical failure and exiting the van in an emergency. To me, that was unprofessional. I didn't come here to listen to wisecracks, I came for history and interpretation which I got little of. We passed several great photo opps, but the van never stopped and our only choice was to try to snap pics through dirty windows while bouncing over a rough road- that didn't work. At one point, there was a great view up the valley, but it was only visible by those in the front seat. We were told to hand our cameras forward and they would take a pic for us- that didn't work either.
Once in the bottom of the valley, the van forded several streams. This was probably a unique experience to many of their guests, but again the van did not stop for photo opps. At the stable, they gave a good orientation on the horses and riding. Wear grubby clothes for this tour, it is wet and muddy in the bottom and the horses splash water and mud going through the streams.
The scenery in the bottom is spectacular, but just as in the van, the horse tour did not stop for photo opps. The tour follows an old road to the end and the return trip is on the same route. It's a nose to tail riding experience that anyone can do and it was very pleasant. We passed several waterfalls but taking pics on a bouncing horse is not easy. There was a lack of interpretation on the history, vegetation, and significance of the valley. Many people chose to walk down into the valley and they probably learned as much as we did plus had better photo opportunities.
It rained on the way back and we got soaked. We had ponchos in the backpack that we weren't allowed to take. What really bothered me is that the native tour leader picked a broad leaf to use as an umbrella. The lady in front of me followed that example and picked one too. I couldn't believe what a poor example was set by the guide! If everyone did that, there would be little vegetation left. Most places that we have visited in our travels strictly prohibit the removal of any vegetation. This was unprofessional.
On the way back, they pose each group for a pic on their horses with the valley in the background. These turned out good. Once back in the van, the driver and his partner talked and joked to themselves. Wait a minute, we are the paying customers here, talk to us and engage us. We know we're outsiders, but we don't need to be made to feel that way.
We like horseback riding and overall the tour was an interesting experience, but the hosts and staff need to learn what the tour business is all about- making sure that your customers are smiling, having fun, and getting what they wanted out of the experience. WOH does not do that.