BEST HIKES ON BIG ISLAND | WAIMANU VALLEY

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN HIKING TO WAIMANU

WAKING up before 5am was a stretch for us on a weekend; however, knowing that a Starbucks run was in order before heading to the valley, we actually made it out of the house in less than thirty minutes! Ryan envisioned us being at the bottom of Waipio as the sun was rising (always the photographer mindset). We got to the valley and started our hike zig-zagging our way down the steepest road in the United States with the birds cheerfully chirping below us. When we reached the bottom of the valley, the river crossing was manini due to low rainfall the week before.  Quickly, we hiked across the mile-long black sand beach as the sun was rising in the distance. Ryan’s vision came true!

Taking the more challenging part of the hike head on, we charged up the infamous ‘Z-trail’ gaining more than 1,200 feet elevation as we panned the various switchbacks to the top of the valley's ridge. We continued our day’s hike enjoying the shade and cool island breeze from the massive trees towering over us. We hiked through eleven gulches passing small waterfalls and mastering the jumps across streams as we hop scotched across on top of large boulders to prevent our shoes from getting drenched. 

WHAT TO DO ONCE WE REACHED WAIMANU

Eleven miles later, we saw the first glimpse of Waimanu Valley and Wai’ilikahi Falls as we stood above the clouds looking down on this breathtaking scene. When we finally made it down the steep and narrow path to the valley's floor, we realized the campsite we reserved had been occupied by a lovely, hippy couple (who we eventually renamed, ‘The Scavengers’).  We didn’t have the heart to kick them out of another campsite, so we made the best of the situation and found a spot of our own further down the beach. Situated between campsite 5 and 7, we found a perfect location to set up our hammocks blocked enough by the trees to avoid the wind, but we were still able to score an oceanfront view! The rest of the day consisted of finding enough wood that was dry enough to make a fire, meeting other happy campers in the valley, cooking our Tasty Bite Indian/Thai meals (these are a great healthy alternative to heavily processed dehydrated meals for any of the health nuts out there ;D) and sipping small bottles of wine and chocolate as we stared up at the billion stars above.

ADVENTURING TO HIDDEN WATERFALL 

Sunday morning, I could feel the moist hammock from the early morning dew and previous night of sprinkling rain showers. As I lay unmoving in my hammock, I knew it was cold (cold for Hawai’i is a mere 58 degrees!), damp, and overcast. This was motivation enough to snuggle back in my sleeping bag and knock out for a few more hours. Not for Ryan. He was up and ready to go as soon as the sky revealed a glimpse of sunlight. After a cup of black coffee, he was off on his own to explore the valley. I decided to stay back at camp, cook up my breakfast, enjoy every last sip of the warm coffee, and journal my thoughts and recollections of our journey so far. While I was enjoying my warm oatmeal with all the fixins' (goji berries, cacao nibs, peanut butter, and coconut flakes - I like to make sure my food is on point!), Ryan was exploring ancient Hawaiian caves and relishing in the tranquility and peaceful sounds of rain sprinkling in the dense jungle surrounding him.

Before long, Ryan returned to camp eager to hike to the 1,000 FT waterfall in the back of the valley. For just over two miles, we hugged the valley wall crossing over several streams and passing small waterfalls. As we heard the thundering power of the massive waterfall, the rain began to downpour, but there was no way that we were going to turn back!  We inched closer and closer to the bottom of the falls, but we were completely taken away by the powerful force pushing us backwards. Ryan and I were completely mesmerized and overwhelmed by the incredible vortex of energy resonating from Wai’ilikahi Falls. Because of the hard rain the previous night, the waterfall was flowing more than usual and it was nothing short of breathtaking, majestic, and ultimately rejuvenating for the both of us. We hiked back completely soaked from head to toe, but we both felt incredibly revived by our experience under the waterfall. When we arrived back to camp, we immediately decided to cook up a hot lunch to warm ourselves up. Soon to find out, our propane was shot! We pondered for a few minutes and realized our camping neighbors ('The Sweet Couple') had built a fire nearby. We asked if we could join them to cook our meals, and they gladly welcomed us around the toasty and inviting fire. While cooking our delicious Spanish rice and beans, we happily shared travel stories and life experiences as we gazed out at the crashing waves and listened to the subtle rain drops hitting the tarp above. A few hours had passed and we decided to head back to our hammocks before the sky was too dark. We finished the last of our yummy, dark chocolate and manini red wine, while soaking up all the blessings of the past two days. Dosing off minutes after the sun had set felt so normal and in sync with our natural rhythms.

WHEN YOU SHOULD LEAVE TO HAVE A SAFE HIKE BACK

We woke up on our final morning feeling refreshed and thankful that it had stopped raining in the middle of the night. This meant that our damp clothes and hammocks had time to dry a bit before we jammed everything back into our packs. Ryan was already up while it was still dark and began strolling along the coast to capture some epic shots of the sun rising beside the valley's cliffs (one of his favorite parts of the day!) I’m still getting used to the whole waking-up-before-the sun-rises thing. I’ll get there someday ;) After I finally rolled out of my hammock, Ryan and I contemplated what to do for breakfast without propane for the stove. To be honest, I was mostly worried about not having coffee while we still had another 11 miles ahead of us on our trek back to Waipio Valley. Thankfully, another group of campers ('The Hilo Crew') offered to share their freshly made coffee with us. Thanks to Ryan for always making the extra effort to make sure we are ready to go! We enjoyed sipping our coffee talking story with the friendly group of campers as we gazed up at the seven waterfalls that poured off the cliffs towards the back of the valley.

After our coffee, we decided to make our first attempt to cross (the now more powerful) river to get to the trailhead. The tide was high and we got a bit soaked crossing, so we decided to enjoy our breakfast and let our feet dry off before trekking out of the valley. We sat there on a massive, fallen tree log and cheered on the final group of campers ('The O'ahu Clan') treading across the river with the same struggles.

As they all made it across, we talked story with them for a bit and one of them @hiifish, was so sweet and snapped some great shots of Ryan and I before we left. With motivation from all the kindness and generosity that other campers shared with us, we charged up the valley in 5 ½ hours! (A whole hour less than it had taken us to get there!).

This journey made us both realize that it wasn't the seven waterfalls, the black sand beach, or the ocean view camp site that made this trip so special, it was the genuine and sincere encounters with the other campers that created an experience that we will never forget.


waimanu valley Hawaii island hiking