The Wonders of Waipio
Tales from the Big Island: Part 2 (you can read Part 1 here)
We woke up to the sounds of the roosters crowing early in the morning. It was a relaxing feeling, reminding us of a simpler life, away from the stresses of the city. As I threw open the blinds and walked into the lanai, I was greeted by the scent of the fresh Hawaiian air, with a view of forests and ocean blending together in harmony.
Our Airbnb host greeted us and offered to take us on a quick tour through his fruit, vegetable, and animal farm. It was an offer we couldn’t refuse, so we put on our flip-flops and waded into the greenery. There were rows of banana trees with dark green, lime green, and yellow fruit hanging in bunches, inviting the viewer to climb up and grab them. We saw tropical flowers of various shades from an artist’s palette snaking in and out of our host’s property. We saw sheep waking up from their slumber, looking at us with an inquisitive eye. And ducks that followed us along the way hoping to grab a treat that might fall down from our hands. We sampled fresh honey bananas, chayote seasoned with ground pepper, and honey extracted from bees that pollinate the native Ohia trees. In the city, this organic, farm-to-table, locally sourced experience would cost us several hundred dollars. On the northern slopes of Big Island, this was a friendly gesture, an invitation to enjoy the riches of the land.
After saying goodbye to Mr. T and his family, we drove along the northern coast towards the famed Waipio’o valley. On the way, we stopped in the town of Honoka’a to sample a renowned Hawaiian delicacy (a spin on a Portuguese bakery staple) — Malasadas. Literally translating to “under-cooked”, this is a fried doughnut filled with custard and sugary goodness. While there was nothing undercooked about it, it did do enough to give us the sugar rush we needed to fuel us for the day.
Just when we thought that we had left civilization far behind, we saw quite a familiar sight at the trailhead for Waipio Valley. Cars. Lots of cars. At that point, it felt like we were back home in the Bay Area — where every trailhead is swarming with cars and people. We parked at the side of the road like we usually do, hoping that the Hawaiian cops would be lenient enough to not ticket hapless tourists like us.
The good thing was that we reached the place around mid-afternoon. The morning visitors had already finished their hikes, while the afternoon visitors tend to be the less adventurous types who’d just drive through, take some pictures, and head back to their beach resorts. So hopefully, not a Yosemite Valley situation here.
You can always tell the quality and strenuousness of the hike by looking at the faces of the hikers who have just finished the hike. In this case, there were tired, sweaty, smiles all the way — a mixture of joy, satisfaction, relief, and the longing for a good fiesta and siesta.
We took out our natural hiking poles — the ones we had salvaged from the Polulu Valley hike and set towards our descent in to the Waipio Valley. Called the Valley of Kings, Waipio Valley is quintessential Hawaii — lush green hills sloping in to the Ocean, black and white sandy beaches, waterfalls wherever you look, and a cool tropical mist descending along the slopes. In other words, Jurassic park.
The first section of the hike was a steep road, shared by hikers, 4 wheel drives, and ATVs. The grade was fairly steep spawing butterflies in our stomachs as we thought of the ascent back. Snaking through the hills, we made our way down into the valley. The crowd started thinning out while the foliage started to thicken around us.
To our right, we could see a glimpse of the Pacific with a black volcanic sandy beach guarding its entrance. To our left, we could see a wide windswept valley flanked by tall grassy mountains. The valley was dotted with fields of Taro. Most of the land here is owned by private farmers, locals who descended from the great kings and queens of Hawaii, who now, live a semi-reclusive lifestyle away from the tourists and cultural transformations that the Hawaiian islands have seen recently. Taro not just produces the famed syrupy Poi, a Hawaiian staple, but its cultivation also has a deep, spiritual connection.
Paying our respects to the land, and staying clear of those foreboding No Trespassing signs, we made our way through the valley, admiring the wild horses, the spiders, and the occasional songs of the native tropical birds. At some points, we had to walk through precarious stone bridges, and take off our shoes to wade through waterlogged areas. Thrilled, and tired, our rumbling stomaches and the setting sun forced us to make our way back.
Our way back turned out to be more adventurous. The sun dipped under the horizon quickly, shrouding the entire place in dark twilight. It also started drizzling, the winds and the rain intensifying as we made our slippery, grueling hike back up. We neither had headlamps nor did we have ponchos. The windcheaters that we had were no match for a turbulent tropical storm.
Let’s just say we lived to tell the tale. Like the faces of those hikers we had seen in the afternoon, our faces also revealed how tired, satiated, and relieved we were.
Being close to the equator, the sun sets quite early here. While the roads are excellent, they lack sufficient lighting — which makes sense because not a lot of people drive during the night. That made for an uhm…thrilling drive. Winding our way through the north eastern coast of the island, we made our way to Big Island’s second largest city — Hilo. As we approached Hilo, familiar American sights welcomed us — a Taco Bell, a strip mall, a park by the ocean with a promenade, and of course, a Thanksgiving parade.