“You might be a redneck if… think Roe Vs. Wade is two options for getting across a river.”


Jeff Foxworthy




Friday started with some bad news.  The stove fuel I’d ordered from REI hadn’t arrived.  Only one store on the entire island sells canister stove fuel, and it was inconveniently located 100 miles away.  So, I’d ordered it from REI and had them ship it to the resort.  Even though the fuel had to go by boat, they thought it should arrive in 4 weeks or less.  It didn’t.  Driving several hours out of our way was out the question, so we decided to rely on cooking over a fire.  I tried not to think about the difficulties we might face, given that we’d be camping in a rain forest.  Well, the worst thing that could happen was that we’d be hungry for 3 days.


We checked out of the resort and drove back to Waimea.  On the way, I called the State Forest office and got vague directions so we could pick up our camping permit.  Somehow we found the state buildings as we approached Waimea on the high (inland) road from Waikaloa.  We didn’t have any trouble getting the (free) permits, as we’d made camping reservations a month earlier.


We drove through Waimea and headed east across the crest of the island.  As we did, the entire of nature of the island changed.  We left the barren lava rock desert behind in favor of a lush rain forest.  The change was dramatic, and appropriately enough, accompanied by rain.  I tried not to think about how our chili would taste cold.


We found a shortcut through the town of Honokaa, and followed Waipio Road to the Waipio Valley Overlook.  The paved road continues beyond the overlook, but it’s very steep and not recommended for 2 wheel drive cars.  We originally planned on parking at the overlook, but posted signs prohibit overnight parking.  What to do?  We’d seen a sign for visitor information a short distance back, so we decided to check with them to see if they had any suggestions.  The visitor information center turned out to be an art gallery / gift shop / ice cream parlor, which surprised me not at all.  It also served as a parking lot.  For $7.50 a day, we could leave our car there.  We paid, and I took Christy and the backpacks back to the trailhead.  Then I returned, parked the car, and walked the ½ mile back to the trailhead.  After the traditional trailhead photo, featuring the stunning cliffs above Waipio Valley, we were ready to hike.  Luckily, the rain had stopped, and the sun was out in full force.


The first mile was tedious.  We pounded our way along the pavement, all the while thinking of how much fun it would be coming back up.  Fortunately it didn’t take long, and traffic was light.  At the bottom of the valley, we reached an unmarked fork.  We turned right to head downstream on a dirt jeep road.  On the way, we passed a few rustic cabins on the banks of Waipio Stream.  The jeep road eventually ended at a rocky beach.  We found a great lunch spot at the edge of the woods, with the surf crashing behind us, and a tall waterfall spilling down the cliff above.


After lunch, we had to face the biggest challenge of the trip.  In my pre-trip research, I’d found that there were two ways to get across Waipio Stream; row, or wade.  We reached the ford, and it looked dicey at best.  Unfortunately, there weren’t any boats to be found.  That pretty well narrowed our options down to just wade.  We’d have to ford the stream.  By the way, do you know what FORD stands for?  Found On Riverbank Drowned.


The water was black, so there was no telling how deep it was.  I decided to wade across without any gear to see what we were in for.  I took one step off the bank and sank far enough in the sand to soak my shorts.  This was not an encouraging start.  After another step, the water was up to my chest.  A third step left the water level at my chin.  Wade?  More like swim.


I backed out and reconsidered.  I had tried crossing well away from the breakers, but logic suggested that the water might be shallower there.  On my second attempt, I tried crossing right where the waves were crashing in.  It wasn’t as deep, but the waves were too unnerving.  I wandered around a bit, and finally found a spot just in from the surf that was safer without being too deep.  By not too deep, I mean the water was up to the top of my chest.  How would we get our gear across?


I made multiple trips.  First I took my camera, book, and wallet across.  All were packed securely in a zip lock bag.  Then I took my boots, before returning for Christy’s pack.  Christy went across ahead of me, before I returned for one last trip.  This would be the tricky part.  I hoisted my 40-pound pack over my head, and waded into the stream.


The ford was grueling.  The water was chest-deep, making my progress slow.  Randomly placed rocks threatened to trip me, and currents from the stream and from the incoming tide pushed me around.  My shoulders were screaming by the time I stumbled up the far bank.  Somehow, I’d made across without getting any of our gear wet.  The entire event of crossing Waipio Stream had taken an hour, but at least that was behind us.


The second biggest challenge of the hike was just ahead of us.  The trail to Waimanu Valley is sometimes called the “Z trail”, presumably because of the visible Z shape of the path as it switchbacks up the cliff above Waipio Valley.  We headed towards it on another sandy jeep road.  On the way, we passed a couple of homes as well as some people camping.  Then the valley ended.  We began the long slog up, and the beautiful views of the valley and beach did little to distract us from the heat and the pain.


Near the top, we passed a huge pack of teenage girls heading down.  Their counselor warned us to be careful of the crossing of Waimanu Stream, which we’d reach just before the campsites.  He said that we’d hit it right at high tide.  I had planned the hike so we’d cross Waipio Stream at low tide, but hadn’t given much thought to the other creek.  I decided we’d worry about it when we got there and continued on.


Once we reached the top of the switchbacks the hike eased up.  We wandered through a beautiful, dark forest that offered the blessed relief of shade.  For the next several miles, we contoured around, crossing over minor ridges and splashing through small streams.  At the second of these streams, we found a small waterfall and a fantastic swimming hole.  We were running late though, so we didn’t get to take full advantage of it until we hiked back on Sunday.


This part of the hike was much easier, and we made good time.  We passed all kinds of fascinating vegetation, including some massive trees.  A couple of hours later, we arrived at a big, ugly trail shelter with trash scattered around.  I knew we were getting close, and we reached the rim of Waimanu Valley a mile or so later.  This gave us a great view of the valley, with a beautiful beach tucked under a massive rock face far below.  Across the valley we spotted a lovely two-tiered waterfall.  Around the valley, several other waterfalls spilled over the cliffs.  For a moment, I thought we had somehow wandered into Rivendell.


We descended a slippery, rocky, nasty section of trail to get to the base of the cliffs.  Loose rocks and dirt added to the excitement, but at least it wasn’t muddy.  After an eternity, the treacherous descent was behind us.  We arrived at Waimanu Stream right at high tide.  Unfortunately, it was almost sunset, so we couldn’t delay the crossing.


We forded Waimanu Stream in the same fashion as we had Waipio Stream earlier.  Luckily, this stream is smaller and the crossing isn’t as bad, even at high tide.  I finally got my pack across, and we headed up a rough, rocky trail parallel to the beach in search of our campsite.


The State of Hawaii had assigned us campsite 8 (out of 9), so we headed towards the far end of the beach.  On the way, we passed a naked guy trying to start a campfire.  I thought I was having flashbacks of Kalalau, even though there was hardly anybody around.  He was the first person we’d seen since passing the huge group of teenagers hours before.  The next people we found were camped in our site.  I was annoyed, but it hardly seemed like a big deal, since the place was mostly empty.  Plus, site #8 didn’t look that nice, anyway.  We simply moved on and camped at site #9.  This was a better spot under some large trees. We were almost at the end of the black sand beach, just before the wall that forms the west side of the valley.


We set up camp, and I went out to find some water.  I’d heard that there was a good water source near campsite 9, but couldn’t find it in the dark.  I wandered around for a while, and startled a wild pig the size of a bear.  This was hazardous at best, so I returned to the main stream.  I wasn’t sure how far upstream I’d have to go to avoid salt water.  I went as far as I could, until the vegetation prevented further travel.  I got my water, and was relieved to find it fresh when I returned to camp.  By the time I returned, Christy had a fire going and was starting on dinner.  We relaxed that evening, looking forward to the day of leisure to come.




Saturday morning didn’t feature cartoons or doughnuts, but it was still very relaxed.  We wandered on the beach for a while, and met a new set of neighbors.  They were a couple from Oahu who had kayaked in early that morning (no, they didn’t kayak in from Oahu.  Now you’re just being silly).  They set up camp in the woods behind our site, and the guy set about harvesting coconuts.  He offered us one, and asked if we had a machete to open it.  I explained that we were machete deprived because airport security had confiscated ours.  I don’t think he realized that I was joking.  Anyway, we gladly accepted his coconut, which we thought would go nicely with the wild bananas someone had left hanging in one of our trees.  I’m not sure where the bananas came from, as it certainly wasn’t a banana tree, but they obviously didn’t come from the grocery store, either.


We explored up the valley in search of more fruit.  We followed a primitive path from our campsite back into the woods.  We found a few guava (very seedy, but the juice is tasty), but not much else.  The trail runs parallel to the valley, but stays in the trees and out of the overgrown taro fields. The trail was difficult to follow as it wound through the trees, but occasional ribbons marked the way.  After a few minutes, we reached a great water source at the base of a waterfall.


The path grew even rougher beyond the creek.  Then, we heard the alarming sound of gunfire somewhere up ahead.  A few minutes later, we stumbled into a small clearing.  Here we found our new neighbors, the squatters in campsite 8, and a native named Lonnie.  Lonnie was the source of the gunfire, as he’d shot a wild pig.  He’d just finished gutting it, and had hung the pig in a tree.  Lonnie invited us to the Waimanu Luau that night, as they planned to barbeque it.  We accepted enthusiastically, and followed our new friends deeper into the woods.


15 minutes later, we reached a large creek and turned to follow it upstream.  A few minutes later, we emerged from the woods in an open basin at the bottom of Wuiikkanini Falls.  The falls freefall several hundred feet into a deep green amphitheatre full of boulders and a deep pool.  That pool was impossible to resist, and our neighbors were already swimming.  I’d been cautioned against swimming there, as rocks frequently fall off the cliffs above, but sometimes you have to take a risk or two.  We swam through the chilly water and sat on a shelf next to the falls.


After our swim, we sunbathed among the boulders and had a light lunch.  Then we hiked back to camp, where we lounged vigorously on the beach for the rest of the afternoon.  We even took advantage of Christy’s lightweight hammock, which we’d brought for exactly that occasion.  It worked great, at least for a couple of hours.  That all ended when I was dozing in it.  One of the ropes let go, and I fell on a pile of boulders.  My back was pretty sore after that.  Who knew you could get injured taking a nap?


That evening, Lonnie was nowhere to be found.  I was looking forward to pork ribs, but I didn’t even see a sign of a campfire anywhere along the beach.  Finally we decided to cook and eat our chili.  I figured I could eat again when they started the luau.  After dinner, a brief shower chased us to the tent.  It didn’t last long, but we were worn out from our day of relaxation.  All thoughts of barbeque vanished as well fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves.


We were up early Sunday to break camp.  We had briefly considered spending an extra day at Waimanu, but I was eager to get to Volcanoes National Park.  We had a light breakfast of wild bananas before heading out.  We were on the trail early, as I wanted to reach the ford of Waipio Stream at low tide.


Crossing Waimanu Stream was much easier than it had been Friday evening.  Then we endured another brutal climb up the east wall of Waimanu Valley.  An hour later, we were on top of the ridge, and the next couple of hours of hiking were easy.  We reached the swimming hole at the small waterfall in time for an early lunch, and this time I indulged myself with a swim.  The water was absolutely frigid, as the swimming hole is in a shady glade.  Christy wouldn’t come anywhere near the water, as a large, creepy crayfish was crawling around the edge of the pool.


We hiked on, and soon began the long, knee-pounding descent into the Waipio Valley.  On the way down, we passed another group of teenagers, this time heading in.  Somehow, we had timed our trip perfectly to avoid the teenagers. 


It was a different world at Waipio Beach on Sunday.  I didn’t think there was much difference in Hawaii between weekdays and weekends, but I guess I was wrong.  There were dozens of people at the beach today, surfing, swimming, fishing, and picnicking.  The ford was every bit as challenging as it had been on Friday, but this time we had an audience.  We crossed in the same fashion, and made it without incident.  All that was left between us and ice cream was that long climb up the road to the Waipio Valley overlook.


We hiked up the valley and started up the paved road.  We hadn’t gone far up the hot asphalt when a pickup stopped next to us.  There were three locals inside, and they offered us a ride to the top.  Normally I wouldn’t cut out part of hike, but I make exceptions for paved roads.  Especially for paved roads going steeply uphill on brutally hot days.  We didn’t think long about their offer and hopped in.  They took us all the way back to the visitor information center (i.e. ice cream parlor) where our car was.  They mentioned that they’d seen us fording the stream, and were, you know, really impressed.  They asked us all kinds of questions about our trip, and seemed fascinated by our tales of thundering waterfalls and machetes and wild pigs.  We offered to treat them to a round of ice cream (the visitor information center didn’t sell beer), but they declined.  It was a shame to see them go, as their hospitality had really eased our day.


Continue reading about our honeymoon as we tour Volcanoes National Park.

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