Backpack Waimanu Valley
Hawaii › Waipi'o Valley Lookout
Added by Dustin Gregory
Get off the beaten track and lose yourself in your own isolated tropical paradise on the Muliwai trail located on the Hamakua coast of Hawaii's Big Island. A challenging coastal hike with views of the rugged Hawaiian coastline that culminates with a private black sand beach, waterfalls, waves and one of the best views you have ever seen. See above, the valley speaks for itself...
Prep: Before you go, you must book purchase a permit/campsite for the number of nights that you wish spend. You can get the permits online from the State of Hawaii Department of Natural Resources Website. There are 9 sites located within the valley and some are most definitely better than others. I would recommend trying to get your hands on Site #2 - it is the largest with multiple spots for hammocks, easy access to the river, short walk to the pit toilet and the coolest chair you have ever seen.
It is also worth noting that you should be very aware of the weather forecast for your trip duration. This area of the island receives around 100in of rain per year which can make the journey far more difficult and potentially treacherous in the cases of flash flooding. People have been stranded in the valley as well as along the trail by flooding so it is in your interest to have a good idea of what is on the horizon.
The journey to Waimanu begins 8mi to its east in the Waipio Valley. To get there make your way to Honoka’a in the northern part of the island and then take Hwy. 240 west to Kukuihaele. The road comes to a dead end at the Waipi’o Lookout. Parking at the lookout is limited to 24hrs and increases your hike by a mile and a half each way (including as steep climb) so if possible try to finagle a ride and pickup (4x4 vehicle required). If a ride is not possible then speak to the ranger at the entrance to Waipio for suggestions on where to park.
The Muliwai trail starts at the bottom of the west wall of Wapio Valley. From the base of the east wall proceed to the beach, ford the Wailoa stream and then continue along the beach to the trailhead just in from the beach at the base of the west wall. The ascent out of Waipio is a 1,200ft climb in under a mile that is a veritable stairway to heaven, with steep exposed switchbacks cut into the valley wall. With the climb in your rearview, things mellow out a bit with a 5 mile course of moderate hiking through 12 smaller gulches and a handful of stream crossings.
After the 5mi jungle traverse you will finally get your first glimpse of Waimanu - but don't celebrate yet as you still need to descend 1,200ft and ford another river to get to camp. This descent is every bit as serious as the climb out of Waipio. The only difference being that instead of steps cut into the wall it is a steep grade of loose gravel where it is very easy to lose your footing (especially on tired legs). I am not too proud to admit that I biffed it twice on this descent...
Once the descent into the valley is complete, the only thing standing in your way is crossing the Waimanu river to reach the beach and campsites. When conditions are good it is a simple crossing but it has the potential of be a much more serious proposition under poor conditions - if this is the case there is a rope that has been run across to aid the crossing and shuttling of gear.
Note: All of these trails are minimally maintained, very steep in places, rocky, muddy and slippery when wet. Also, depending on the weather the streams crossings be anything from a trickle to a raging torrent so again BE AWARE of the weather before and during your trip. In the case of emergency there are 4 emergency helipads and one shelter located on the 5mi traverse. Be smart and be safe.
Once you have arrived kick back, relax and enjoy your little slice of paradise. When I made the trip we were the only group in the valley and it was the closest thing I have ever experienced to 'The Beach'. Float in the river, hunt for prawns in the river, get shacked in the surf, bask in the sun on your private black sand beach or hike out to the various waterfalls. I would highly suggest at least hiking out to Wai’ilikahi Falls which is the first major fall you will see upon reaching the valley. With a very large freshwater swimming pool it is a great place to hang out, cool off and take a bath. To reach this fall make your way to the west wall and then begin working your way up-valley. There is not a real clear path so you will have to just follow your instincts and the valley wall as you work your way through the jungle. It is hot and buggy but again the reward is worth the effort.
My final tip is this... be very smart about your tent, pack and food! The invertebrate population of the valley is high, most notably centipedes and cockroaches. They will do whatever they can to get at your food and are not ashamed to chew their way in. My friend had his backpack nearly chewed through and as for myself I had probably the most memorable bug experience of my life. On the first night I had food in my bag and left the zipper on my tent cracked a half inch at the top. When I unzipped the tent that night and my headlamp hit the interior of my tent there were about 50 sets of eyes shining back at me. NOT A JOKE - An entire generation of cockroaches had moved in, varying in size from the tip of your finger to 3in long. Needless to say I was pretty bummed out and spent the next hour and a half pulling all my gear out shaking it off and then methodically removing the squatters one by one. So don't be like me...hang your food in a tree and keep your stuff zipped tight!
- Tent or Hammock w/rain cover
- Water filter/tablets to clean river water
- Bug Spray
- Hiking Shoes and GOOD SOCKS
- Rain gear
- Wicking shirt(s)
- Cheap inflatable pool float for the river/doubles as gear raft in deep water
- Hatchet/knife for coconuts
- Fins for bodysurfing
- Mask/snorkel for hunting prawns
- First Aid kit
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
Backpacking, Bodysurfing, Camping, Hiking, Surfing, Swimming
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this is about as far out there as you can get in hawai'i. a long, tough hike that'll be a thigh burner with all the descents and ascents into the valleys and out along the way. well wortth it. i'd advise staying more than one night to enjoy it fully and let your legs recover for the return trip.
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