It's been over a month since I backpacked to Waimanu Valley. Since then, I've been back home on Oahu, working, sitting in traffic, and getting in the usual day hike every weekend; familiar views, familiar terrain: beautiful in its own right by Oahu standards, but compared to the Big Island, everything I've done doesn't come close to Waimanu. Waimanu is surreal in every sense of the word. It is wild, alive, and it affirms every breathtaking expectation you have before you get there, multiplied by a hundred when you arrive. The smell of salt air, the howling tradewinds, the rushing streams, the dark grains of sand: Waimanu is definitely an out of this world paradise. From fishing, to day hiking explorations in the valley, to bodysurfing, or just laying back at camp or on the black sand beach: Waimanu Valley has it all. I once heard a phrase that claims "experience frees the mind." The Waimanu experience frees the soul.
Waimanu Valley is located in the Hamakua district on the Big Island of Hawaii. The valley is lush and filled with water that flows from the upper reaches of the Kohala Mountains, resulting in tall and spectacular waterfalls deep within the valley. The rain water flows into Waimanu Stream and empties into the ocean. The majority of the valley is a large wetland, with only a narrow strip of walkable terrain existing at the base of the northern valley wall. During the times of ancient Hawaii, Waimanu Valley was an ahupua'a (ancient land division) and was once inhabited by native Hawaiians.
Today, no one lives in Waimanu, but camping is allowed with a permit that can be obtained by the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Waimanu can be accesed by boat or by foot along the Muliwai Trail from Waipio Valley. The Muliwai Trail is an eight mile contour trail that weaves in and out of thirteen gulches between Waipio Valley and Waimanu Valley. The start of the Muliwai Trail is located on the northwestern end of Waipio Valley. The trail steeply ascends on switchbacks, topping out on the northwestern wall of Waipio where the trail starts meandering through lush gulches and fast flowing streams. The trail is mostly shaded with much of the views obscured. After the tenth gulch, there is a large hunter's shelter that can be used as a camp site if needed. From the shelter, you walk in and out of three more gulches and finally see the first view of Waimanu Valley. The trail then descends steeply along the southeastern wall of Waimanu Valley to Waimanu Stream, which has to be crossed and is the last obstacle to negotiate before setting up camp.
The Waimanu campsites are meticulously set up and numbered from one to nine near the bay's coastline. Campsite #1 is nearest to Waimanu Stream on the southeastern side of the bay. Campsite #9 is at the northwestern end. Campsite #2 is the largest campsite and can perfectly accommodate a large group and has an unobstructed view of the valley. Because of its luxuries, Campsite #2 is the most popular and is often used by "squatters" -- those without permits. For first time visitors, I'd recommend Campsite #2. For those who are visiting Waimanu for a second time or more, Campsite #9 would be the camp of choice, especially with a group of two to five people. It is closer to Keawewai Springs (the water source), and it conveniently sits right near the section of beach that is the preferred spot to swim.
So what is there to do in Waimanu? Plenty. Doing a day hike in the valley can bring you to four waterfalls: Wai'ilikahi, Kaka'auki, Lahomene, and Waihilau. Wai'ilikahi Falls, a multi-tiered waterfall with a combined height over 1,000 feet, is frequented the most. At the base of the falls is a large, deep pool, perfect for swimming. The trail to Wai'ilikahi is pretty straightforward, and relatively easy to follow. Ribbons mark the way. A bit of trailblazing is required to reach the seldom visited falls deeper in the valley. If you're hungry, either side of Waimanu Bay -- Laupahoehoeiki and Laupahoehoenui -- is great for fishing and picking opihi. The valley has a lot of food options as well, from guava, mountain apples, and even prawns, to name a few. And if you're into riding empty waves with not a single soul around, there are nice surf breaks along the entire stretch of sandbar and along the rocky Laupahoehoenui coastline.
I was very fortunate to experience Waimanu with great company. Aside from my usual hiking pals tagging along -- Ryan Chang, Lei Yamasaki, and Brian Bautista -- I also invited several avid hikers from Oahu known as the Lost Trailblazers -- Reanne Solomon, Justin Ugalino, David Chatsuthiphan, and Cory Yap. We shared stories of our past hiking adventures and future hiking adventures, we shared food we caught from the ocean and the valley, and we shared some hard liquor all around our toasty campfire. Cory Yap runs the AlohaFrom808.com website; David is the owner of UnrealHawaii.com. Both are extremely talented photographers with top of the line camera equipment. If you haven't seen their websites yet, you have to check those out. The pictures they shot from our Waimanu trip are mind blowing.
To get more information on how you can get to Waimanu Valley, check out the following link:
Waimanu Campsite -- Division of Forestry and Wildlife
For more pictures and even more information about Waimanu, check out the following links:
by David Chatsuthiphan
Aloha From 808
by Cory Yap
Wailoa Stream in Waipio Valley. The first stream that has to be crossed on the way to Waimanu.
Crossing Wailoa Stream.
Walking near the Waipio Bay coastline to the start of the Muliwai Trail.
photo: B. Bautista
Waipio Valley. (photo: B. Bautista)
The first view of Waimanu. (photo: B. Bautista)
Descending into Waimanu, looking toward Wai'ilikahi Falls. (photo: B. Bautista)
Crossing Waimanu Stream.
Starting the fire.
Settled in a Campsite #2.
Looking toward the Laupahoehoenui coastline. (photo: L. Yamasaki)
Looking toward the Laupahoehoeiki coastline. (photo: B. Bautista)
Brian, taking it all in.
Pre-packed harami steak that the Lost Trailblazers brought in.
Fresh prawns and ophi.
Waimanu Valley in the morning.
Fun looking wave breaking right in front of Campsite #7.
Panorama of Waimanu Bay.
Group shot at lower Kaka'auki Falls. (photo: L. Yamasaki)
Kaka'auki Falls. (photo: J. Ugalino)
Exploring down the Laupahoehoenui coastline.
Found a perfect, empty wave far along the Laupahoehoe coastline. Surfer's dream.
Using a raft to get our packs across Waimanu Stream. (photo: B. Baustista)
photo: L. Yamasaki
Our last look at Waimanu Valley and its spectacular waterfalls. (photo: B. Bautista)
The hunter's shelter. (photo: B. Bautista)
Back at Waipio.
Video by David Chatsuthiphan (UnrealHawaii.com)
Video by Ryan Chang (http://2-bupaina.blogspot.com/)
Video by Justin Ugalino