18 miles, a mile and a half in elevation gain, a dozen gulches with some small streams, and two major stream crossings. That's the price of admission for Waimanu Valley. Well, that and the camping fees.
When my buddy Mark first asked me if I wanted to go on this hike with him, I was rather reluctant. Some say that this hike is among the most difficult hikes Hawaii has to offer. I had also never gone camping before and had never hiked a trail quite this intense. But Mark and his girlfriend Estelle were leaving the islands and really, how could I say no? Although, a part of me feels like Mark just invited me so they'd have someone to take pictures for them. Anyways...
Our journey started early in the morning as we caught the 5am flight out of HNL to ITO. After stopping off at Walmart to grab some camping fuel and drinking water, we grabbed a quick, but rather big bite at Ken's House of Pancakes.
I had bacon and eggs, which also came with pancakes. I ate about half of this.
Everyone else got breakfast burritos. Those things were huge!
After scarfing down our food and using the last civilized bathroom we'd see for the next three days, it was off to Waipio.
The hike starts off at the Waipio Valley Lookout. You know, I must have been here over a dozen times in my life, but I saw this in a very different light that day. The view is breathtaking and daunting at the same time as you're able to get a small glimpse into what lies ahead. Basically, you have to get down to the beach, walk across the beach, which also involves a stream crossing, then hike up the opposite hill, cross a dozen gulches, then get down that hill until you make it to Waimanu.
A little more about the road that leads to the beach... It drops/gains about 800 feet in elevation over a 0.6 mile stretch. It's not a government sanctioned road, but I'm told if it were, it'd be the steepest road in the country. You have a few options here. You can find someone with a 4x4 vehicle to give you a ride, or you can pay a tour group ~$20 to get you down, or you can just suck it up and go down on foot. For me, I thought $20 was a bit steep for a 5 minute car ride so I decided to walk, which later turned into a jog halfway down. Doing that with a 35 pound pack probably wasn't a good idea. You can see what the road look like in another picture later in this post.
Also, for parking, we parked our car at an art gallery about a mile away from the lookout. I believe they charged us $20/night.
Anyways, once you get down to the beach, the view is pretty gorgeous. There's some horses for tour groups and some people cruising, but for the most part, it's pretty secluded.
You can see the first stream crossing in the picture above. I was a bit nervous crossing this. If I took a dip, not only would my pack wet, but also my pretty camera. We ended up crossing in what turned out to be a pretty deep part of the stream with the water coming up to our waists. There were some parts where you'd step and your foot would sink like 6" into the sand. We made it across safely though.
A shot from farther down the beach. If you look closely, you can see the switchbacks they call the "Z-Trail". It's 3/4 of a mile long and gains 1,200 feet in elevation.
The official start of the Muliwai Trail
Mark striking his usual Nixon pose
This was the part when I thought, you know, that $20 to get me to beach would have been a wise investment. I struggled hard getting up this part of the trail. But quite some time and effort later, you're rewarded with this view:
Waipio Valley. Beautiful. You can see the lookout, where we started, and the road you have to travel down off in the distance. There also, a couple of waterfalls to the right and a small waterfall to the left (you have to look really closely to see that one).
After getting to the top of the Z-Trail, you have to hike 5 miles, back and forth through a dozen or so gulches. The trees provide a nice shelter from the sun.
Some of the gulches have small streams which gives you a chance to refill your water, but watch out for the mosquitoes!
The Payoff. Waimanu Valley.
After rounding the corner of the last gulch, the trees open up a little, just enough to give you a view of the valley. Beautiful. We ended up hiking to the waterfall on the right side the next day.
I didn't take any pictures of the switchbacks going down because I was pretty exhausted and was slowing people down (sorry guys!), but going down this part is about as difficult as the Z-Trail. Maybe a little more dangerous because the ground is much more wet. I also didn't mention this before, but as I was walking along the trail, I kept an eye out for branches that I could use as trekking poles. These saved me big time.
Once you get to the bottom, there's one more stream crossing before you can get to the campsites. On this day, the water was about crotch deep. Not too bad.
Our humble abode.
And here we are walking back to camp after rinsing off in the stream. The scenery in the valley is pretty gosh darn gorgeous.
But our journey didn't end there. Read about the rest of our hike and Waiilikahi Falls.