With huge cliffs rising more than 2,000 feet (610 m) from the valley floor, Waipio Valley measures about 5 miles (8 km) long and 1 mile (1.6 km) across. The fertile valley soils are used for various agricultural endeavors and picturesque taro patches line the valley floor.
Secluded and serene, the lush and tropical Waipio Valley is the largest of seven expansive valleys on the east side of the Kohala Mountains and was home to thousands of Hawaiians in ancient times. Waipio means “Curved water” likely referring to the winding Waipio River which flows through the valley.
The paved road that winds its way down into Waipio Valley is very steep and narrow, and a four-wheel-drive vehicle is required. You can also park at the top and hike down though it is quite an arduous trek, especially coming back up!
A nice view of the valley is seen from the Waipio Valley Lookout on the upper rim. Guided van tours offer a ride down into the valley along with narration about the legends and history of this special place that was once home to many Hawaiian chiefs and royalty. Horseback riding tours are also offered in Waipio Valley as well as wagon tours.
Waipio was known as the “Valley of the Kings,” and was the boyhood home of King Kamehameha I. Many heiau (sacred places of worship) are located in the valley including Paka’alana which was a puuhonua, or place of refuge. Kings and other royalty of ancient times are buried in hidden caves in the steep valley cliffs.
Beginning in the late 1800s, many Chinese immigrants settled in Waipio Valley. During the 1900s many homes were built as well as schools, churches, restaurants, a post office and even a jail. On April 1, 1946 a tsunami devastated Waipio Valley destroying homes and businesses. Since that time the valley has only been sparsely populated. Today about 100 people live in Waipio Valley.
The black-sand Waipio Beach along the valley shoreline is a great place for exploring. Swimming is not recommended, especially during the winter months, due to frequent high surf and strong currents as well as the remote location. This beach was the set of the ending scene of the movie Waterworld.
At the back of Waipio Valley is the spectacular Hiilawe Falls plunging 1,450 feet (442 m) down the mountain, including more than 1,000 feet (305 m) of free fall. Hiilawe is the Big Island’s tallest waterfall.
Waipio Valley is located at the end of Hwy. 240 about 8 miles (12.9 km) northwest of the town of Honokaa. The valley marks the end of the Hamakua Heritage Corridor Drive which begins in Hilo and follows the Mamalahoa Hwy. (Hwy. 19) along the scenic Hamakua Coast and then follows Hwy. 240 to Waipio.