Waipi’o valley is unlike any other place on earth. At one end is the longest waterfall in Hawaii—Hi’ilawe—which falls around 1300 feet. At the other end is the stunning black sand beach where the final scene for the movie Waterworld was filmed. In the middle of the valley is a small village with a stream running through the middle. The village has no running water, sewers, or electricity. The dozens of people living there are a very unique bunch. The village is surrounded with taro fields and horses running around. Waipi’o valley is one place that makes the Big Island different from anywhere else on earth.
Waipi’o valley, also known as The Valley of Kings, has a rich cultural history. It was the home of many Hawaiian kings including King Kamehameha I as well as the center for religious and political life for centuries.
It is also the location of stunning beauty. At the base of the valley, you are surrounded with 2000 feet high cliffs covered with foliage. With the Hi’ilawe falls at one end and the open ocean at the other, your setting is spectacular and simply unforgettable.
The challenge of the valley comes in getting to it. Access is via “the steepest road in the world.” Unfortunately, that’s no exaggeration: the path leading down to the valley floor averages a 25% grade and drops 900 feet in less than a mile. I’m usually one to scoff when it is recommended that you don’t drive your car in certain places, but this place is so crazily steep that I fully endorse that counsel here. I once read a trip report from some locals about a backpacking trip that was intended to end with a ride back out of the valley in the back of a pickup truck. The ride was short-lived, to say the least. The hikers were forced to get out of the truck bed and walk up the valley because while the back wheels of the truck remained firmly on the ground, the incline was so steep that the front wheels kept coming dangerously close to riding on thin air.
I have no trouble believing that. Driving down isn’t any easier as the road is narrow and windy. You can see people who are not accustomed to driving that road straining to negotiate the downward slope. If you’re still tempted to try driving, keep in mind that this is not a course you can give up on half way down, and simply turn around. Once you start down the slope, you are committed to the full trip both down, and back up again. Not only that, but while you’re having probably the most miserable driving experience of your life, you’ll also be missing out of the most fantastic scenery along the way. Your best bet is to hike down on foot or hire a professional to drive you down. Waipi’o valley wagon tours will not only give you a ride down in a four wheel drive but will give you a wagon tour of the valley once you are down there.
Even if don’t think you want to descend down to the bottom of the valley, you should drive to the Waipi’o valley overlook to take in the spectacular scenery from above (although you won’t be able to see the falls). The road down and the overlook is found at the north end of highway 240.