Northern Big Island Hikes -Pololu Valley and Waipio Valley

 

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Pololu Valley Hike

This was a very interesting hike which took us through a variety of different landscapes. The 5 mile hike with 1000 foot elevation gain started with a black sand beach after an initial downhill switchback, meadows growing on sand dunes and a very humid jungle of Pandanus and mango trees. Our trail was adorned with giant ferns as we trudged along the mud.

Pololu Valley View from the top

Pololu Valley View from the top

Trail from the top to Black Sand Beach, at Pololu Valley

Trail from the top to Black Sand Beach, at Pololu Valley 

Pololu Valley View from Trail

Pololu Valley View from Trail 

Nearing the bottom of Pololu Valley at the Black Sand Beach

Nearing the bottom of Pololu Valley at the Black Sand Beach

The humid jungle gave way to a meadow of blossoming wildflowers as we reached a wooden bench overlooking the Honokane Nui Stream, as it streamed it's way to a grey lava river rock beach by the ocean.

Trees behind the shoreline on our way to our trail past the Black Sand Beach

Trees behind the shoreline on our way to our humid trail past the Black Sand Beach

Shrubs beyond the trees leading us to the humid trail

Shrubs beyond the trees leading us to the humid trail

Walking under giant Pandanus trees in the humid section of our trail

Walking under giant Pandanus trees in the humid section of our trail

View from the wooden bench plateau over Honokane Nui Stream

View from the wooden bench plateau over Honokane Nui Stream

 

After a quick rest at the wooden bench, we decided to press forward. The trail beyond was a narrow footpath through some canopying shrubs. I had read about an area of the trail that was separated by a 2006 earthquake, and the way to reconnect is via holding on to some ropes for a few hundred yards. We weren't sure how we would fare down this section, but decided to take a look when we got there. We sent our strongest hiker (my husband) down to survey the area. After a few minutes he emerged from the mangle of roots and branches. With some hesitation he gave the go-ahead. We brought some gloves to handle the rope burn but opted not to use it. Initially, my husband escorted each boy down to a safe spot, heading up again each time to get the next one. As we made our way down, the two older kids got comfortable making their own way down, as did I. I must say that the ropes in some sections did not look their best.

 

Ropes section

Ropes section 

Ropes section  

 

Close-up of some of the ropes at Ropes Section

 Close-up of some of the ropes at Ropes Section

  Close-up of some of the ropes at Ropes Section

 On the way back up the ropes

 

There were two segments of rope, separated by some flat’ish trail area. If I were to guess, I would say the rope segments were at a 60-70 degree slope. I read somewhere that only one person at a time should be on the ropes and I would agree with that.The terrain of the rope area consisted of some roots, rocks and trunks to step onto to get footing, while the rope helped guide us along in an upright position.

Palm tree grove greeted us at the bottom the ropes section

Palm tree grove greeted us at the bottom the ropes section

When we got to the bottom of the two rope segments, we were greeted by a palm tree grove. Further downhill, a bamboo forest welcomed us until we reached the stream that we saw from the wooden bench above. We crossed the stream and continued onto what looked like a trail across but soon had to turn back. It became evident that landslides had plagued the trail. The boys were slipping often, holding on to parental hands and legs. The 20 to 30 foot slope down scared the nervous mom in me, enough to put an end to this excursion.

Bamboo forest leading to Honokane Nui Stream

Bamboo tree forest at the bottom leading to Honokane Nui Stream

 

Once we got back to the stream, we decided to rock- hop in the sleepy stream until we reached the lava rock beach a short ways away.  The nervous mom in me wondered what factors would cause the water level in the stream to change. It's amazing, just a cove away, a short distance away, was a fairly fine black sand beach. Here grey lava rocks larger than a hand or two resided.

Honokane Nui Stream Crossing going towards the ocean

Rock hopping in Honokane Nui Stream towards the Ocean

Honokane Nui River mouth near the Ocean

Honokane Nui River mouth near the Ocean

Rock hopping in Honokane Nui Stream

Rock hopping in Honokane Nui Stream back from the ocean

 

After a quick snack and some time soaking up the views, we decided to head back. Rock hopping up the stream, into the bamboo forest, through the palm grove, up the ropes, over the meadowed plateau, into the Pandanus jungle, over the meadowed sand dunes, and we were back to the black sand beach at the bottom of the popular Pololu Valley hike. The boys spent time fine-tuning their sand arch building skills at the narrow lagoon that had formed between the ocean and the stream flowing from the valley. Once the parental unit tired of watching, we decided to call back the troops to head up the hill. As we made our way towards the switchbacks, we noticed a few rope swings calling our names.

Sand building at Black Sand Beach at the bottom of Pololu Valley

Sand building at Black Sand Beach at the bottom of Pololu Valley

Practical Information (as of June 2017):

Our hike: 5 mile rt, about 1000 ft elevation gain, out and back hike, so can turn around anytime, narrow trail, at times overgrown, muddy, slippery trail becomes unmaintained as you near Pololu Valley near the black sand beach; if hiking only to the black sand beach from the top parking area, the hike is about 2.5 miles rt

Features: A walk through many different flora types, from meadowed sand dunes, to humid jungles of giant Pandanus trees and ferns, to palm grove and bamboo forests. Two segments of downhill rope-guided trail at 60-70 degree angles

Directions: Take Hwy 270 at the northern coast of Kohala until the end.  Limited parking and some street parking.

Amenities: limited street parking, though most people only stay for the 2.5 mile hike to black sand beach, so parking turnover was pretty quick.

Don't Forget: lots of water, hat, sunscreen, gloves (if desired)

 

Waipio and Pololu Valley Geology

Pololu and Waipio Valleys are part of an extinct volcano named Kohala. A ranger at Volcanoes NPS explained that when a volcano is extinct (defined as a last eruption more than 10,000 years ago, Kohala’s last eruption is believed to be 150,000 years ago), the forces of erosion leave it's mark on the volcanic mountain, forming deep valleys as flowing water does it's magic. One of two things can happen after this. The extinct volcano can collapse into the ocean to disappear forever, or the mountain can form an island of its own, separate from the rest of the island, due to erosion. It is possible that sometime in the far future, there might be an island of Kohala on the north side of the Big Island.

 

Waipio Valley

To the east of Pololu Valley, at the east end of the string of valleys on the north coast of Kohala Volcano, you will find Waipio Valley. The view from the lookout was pretty, juxtaposing blue ocean water against a plunging green cliff in the distance. The hike down to the bottom of the valley (0.8 mile, 820 foot hill) is accessible by hiking and via a 4WD vehicle. It looked like there were shuttles taking people down the valley and up. What that means as a hiker is that you get to share the steep, winding, one-lane road with 4WD vehicles. There were pullouts which we made use of as a place to wait out oncoming vehicles, though a 4WD driver making her way down made it known that she did not appreciate our use of it. So, it wasn't clear where we could safely wait out oncoming vehicles. Anyhow, to make a long story short, we made it down safely and then back up with a little bit of huffing and puffing.

VIew from midway down the hill at Waipio Valley

View from midway down the hill at Waipio Valley

 

Beyond this hill is a fairly flat road that continued straight ahead into the valley to a view of a tall waterfall from a little neighbourhood. The trail to the waterfall was marked closed.

Hiilawe Waterfalls at the back of Waipio Valley

Hiilawe Waterfalls at the back of Waipio Valley

 

If you turned right at the bottom of the 4WD hill, you would go towards a black sand beach. To the right of the beach, we saw another waterfalls falling over rocks into the ocean, though we didn’t make it all the way there. The tide starting coming at us beyond my comfort level. Not knowing the tide schedule, we returned back towards the black sand beach where we enjoyed our bento roll picnic lunch (purchased from Earl's Paauilo Store for about $5 each) and the boys spent some time building sand arches, their latest obsession since our trip to Utah. 

Waipio Valley Black Sand Beach

Waipio Valley Black Sand Beach

 

Near the shores of the black sand beach, we found big trees that looked like it had large pineapples for fruit. I did some research when we got back to wifi and to find out that it was a Pandanus plant, aka Pandan tree. The Pandanus that I know in Southeast Asia is a fragrant plant used in cooking/baking that is more a shrub and a 12 foot tree. This particular species is not fragrant and the female version of the plant produces pineapple looking fruit.

To the left of that black sand beach, we were stopped by a fairly deep river (knee high for adults) with a strong current. At this point we decided to follow the free range horses back inland towards the waterfalls in the valley with the closed trail. We did discover where the horses probably came from - there was a stable in the valley.

Our hike from the top was about 2 miles one way including some explorations at the bottom to the black sand beach. Including the waterfalls in the valley, our hike was 5 miles and about 1000 ft. It took us about an hour just for the 0.8 mile uphill, having to pull over every time a 4WD came by. If I had to choose between this hike and Pololu Valley, I would choose Pololu Valley.

On the way to both Waipio and Pololu Valleys from the Hilo side, square malasadas (Portuguese donuts) from Tex’s Drive In made a sweet mid morning snack. These malasadas were served warm. They come plain or filled with one of the various flavors of the day. At under $2 each, they were a good treat.

 

Practical Information (as of June 2017):

Our hike: 5 mile rt, about 1000 ft elevation gain, out and back hike, so can turn around anytime

Features: Walk down a steep hill to a view of the north eastern coast of Big Island of Hawaii

Address to Waimea Lookout: 

Amenities: limited street parking, but many people stayed just for the lookout

Don't Forget: lots of water, hat, sunscreen

 

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