A day trip to Waipio Valley starts with an unbelievably beautiful scenic drive along the Hamakua Coast. Waipio Valley is more than a valley, it is a window into the deep history of pre-contact Hawaiians all the way up to the days of statehood. The valley is home to Hi`ilawe, a huge tall waterfall and swimming pool at the back of the valley, a winding river, a black sand beach, wild horses, and perhaps most importantly, a feeling of peace and solitude found nowhere else.
You'll begin your day trip on either the Kona side of the island or the Hilo side. Either way, your trip to Waipio will be about two hours long in the car. Coming from Kona you'll pass through the beautiful rolling green hills of Waimea, and then the cow pastures with a blanket of mist before reaching the turn down to the valley. Coming from Hilo time will be spent along the Hamakua Coast drive, where the ocean is in full view most of the time. Here you'll pass through several gulches, pass waterfalls, and a lot of green pastureland.
Black sand beach — Photo courtesy of Let's Go Hawaii
Once at Waipio you have a choice. Drive down the ridiculously steep winding four wheel drive hill into the valley, or walk or hitchhike down. To be frank, unless you are a master four-wheel-driver, walk down or ask some friendly people around if you can hop in their vehicle. If you walk, make sure to wear good hiking shoes and bring plenty of water and lunch. This is a very steep hill and quite intense. But it's worth it.
Once down the hill take a right to the gorgeous black sand beach that is broken up by a river. The ocean here is usually not good for swimming except for seriously experienced ocean people. But you can get in the river (at the river mouth) and a little into the water. At the back of the valley is the trail to gorgeous Hi`ilawe, the huge waterfall with a pool that is usually great for swimming at the bottom.
You'll likely see wild horses wandering the valley. They are usually minding their own business and are munching on foliage. Take photos and enjoy the sight, but it's best to keep a slight distance. After all, they are wild. The taro patches you'll see are a testament to how the root crop sustained Hawaiian for generations and is still a reliable source of food and nutrition. The crop is still farmed traditionally in the valley