The Waipi’o Valley (sometimes also written Waipio Valley) is one of the many valleys which is on the Big Island‘s windward side. It’s situated in the Hamakua Coast area and is known as the “Valley of Kings.” This nickname comes from the valley’s history as one-time home to many of the rulers of Hawaii, but Waipio Valley was home to more than just Hawaii’s ruling class. At most, historians think up to 10,000 people lived in this valley at one time, and it also once housed several important temples. Today, only about 50 people live in Waipio Valley.
With a mile-wide opening at the coast, the Waipi’o Valley boasts a stunning black sand beach that is popular with surfers and has also been used for more than one movie set (including the final scene from Waterworld). The valley itself is not quite six miles deep, and there are lots of waterfalls on both sides of the valley. One of the most famous is Hi’ilawe, which has the distinction of being the highest single waterfall in the Hawaiian islands with a whopping 1,300 foot drop.
While Waipi’o Valley is a popular tourist destination on the Big Island, it’s not the easiest to access. The road into the valley is incredibly steep, with an average 25% grade, so to get to the valley floor you can arrange transport in a four-wheel-drive vehicle (or rent one of your own for a day) or plan to hike to the bottom on foot. If you choose to drive yourself in, be sure to ask the rental agency about tips for driving on a 25% grade! You can also join up with a horseback trail ride to explore the floor of the Waipio Valley, or take a ride through the valley itself in the back of an open wagon pulled by mules. However you choose to spend your time in Waipi’o Valley, you’re sure to enjoy it.