A MIXED BAG AT WAIPI’O VALLEY
It was 7:30am when we left the Uncle Billy’s Hilo Hotel under overcast skies. It was immediately apparent that any aspirations I had from yesterday at taking that photo of a waterfall with Mauna Kea looming behind it were quickly dashed. I guess it was just going to be one of those moments that I let slip away.
We uneventfully made our way towards the rim of Waipi’o Valley amongst some light drizzle. But when we first got to the car park for the Waipi’o Valley Lookout, we were shocked to see that the viewpoint was completely clouded over. After all, there was no indication that there was fog throughout the nearly hour long drive from Hilo to here.
This started to worry me that our Hi’ilawe Falls views would be clouded over. But at least we had Kaluahine Falls and Waiulili Falls along the coast I reckoned. However, in the back of my mind, I was concerned about whether high surf would prevent us from seeing either of the those falls since we had to scramble along coastal rocks to see them.
So without further adieu, Julie and I got ready. We each armed ourselves with sunscreen (even though it was cloudy) as well as the powerful deet to ward of the mosquitoes. We also carried two bottles of water each to ensure we would have enough left in the tank to make the difficult climb back out of Waipi’o Valley.
At 8:45am, we headed down the steep road. We were joined by another family with a pair of children as well, but it didn’t take long before we were much further down the road than they were. The drizzle on the road made the 25% grade paved road a bit slippery and potentially dangerous.
We always knew a 4wd vehicle was approaching when we could hear their transmission making their sounds as they were passing by in low gears and in 4wd mode. If it’s hard enough to walk down this road, we couldn’t imagine how vehicles weighing several tons could make it up as well.
Some of the drivers of the 4wd vehicles smiled and waved to us. But it seemed most of them gave us either stink eye or just concentrated on the road. We had a feeling that the residents of Waipi’o Valley don’t really want this area to become a major tourist attraction because it would disturb the peace. And given how places like the Blue Pool in Maui got too popular, I could see their concern over here.
It didn’t take long before we started to walk beneath the clouds and finally start to see the taro fields, jungles, and coastline down below at the end of Waipi’o Valley. Now the valley seemed much more tangible than the rather distant and limited view back at the overlook. And it wasn’t much longer that we made it down to a fork in the road towards the bottom of the descent. It was a 900ft descent in a span of about a mile.
Knowing the a view of Hi’ilawe Falls wasn’t too much further, we continued down the road towards the back of the valley. And after about a five-minute walk, we could see the side valley and the grooves in the wall where the twin Hi’ilawe Falls were supposed to be. But, we were disappointed to see that only the top tier of Hi’ilawe Falls’ right side had any appreciable flow and the rest of its 1300ft drop was dry.
Oh well, at least the mist in the valley didn’t shroud the falls. But I understood why the Hi’ilawe Falls only flowed at its top tier. That was because I had read that there was a ditch up there that tapped the falls before it made its final plunge.
So I took what photos I could of what’s left of the falls before we headed back to the fork and headed towards the beach. The road leading to the beach was definitely a 4wd road with some pretty deep and murky looking standing pools of water and mud. It wasn’t long before we saw a sign posted by the Kamehameha School Bishop Estate disclaiming responsibility for anything that happens on the coastal waters. We also saw a sign indicating a burial site and that no ATVs, motorbikes, or other motorized vehicles were allowed there. Obviously, the local who was driving his ATV that passed by us ignored that sign.
Julie and I continued to follow the trail onto the coastal boulders. We could see, hear, and even feel the momentarily shake as the power of the waves were immediately apparent. It kind of reminded us of how crazy the waves were at Hanakapi’ai Beach back on Kaua’i’s Na Pali Coast.
We managed to scramble for a few minutes before reaching what appeared to be a gully.
“I think it is,” I said realizing that gullies like this do not happen by accident. And indeed, we must’ve been at the bone-dry Kaluahine Falls. But man was this a bummer.
So after the disappointment at Hi’ilawe Falls and Kaluahine Falls, I was determined to see Waiulili Falls to salvage at least one waterfall out of our excursion to Waipi’o Valley. I was a bit dumbfounded as to how these seemingly “major” waterfalls could be so lackluster in the midst of their wet season.
Having been on Maui under very wet conditions nearly two weeks ago, I was certain there would be some decent volume to the waterfalls on the windward Big Island – in spite the unusual lack of trade wind rains of the past several days.
Anyhow, I continued past the Kaluahine Falls and continued rock scrambling along the coast. The pounding waves to the left were always threatening to pluck me from the coastal rocks and out into sea. And at the same time, the rugged cliffs that produced these coastal rocks also threatened to shed some of their wall and cause rockfalls on top of me. Julie was nervous about proceeding and I started to express some doubt about whether I’d make it too.
Eventually, Julie decided to stay behind while I pressed forward. But I knew that anything bad could happen with the hazards present so I tried to make sure to stay as far away from the waves as I could even if it meant some very steep and uncomfortable scrambling amongst the loose rocks stacked against the base of the cliff. I also made haste since I didn’t want to keep her waiting anxiously for too long.
After a pretty hairy scramble close to the water just past Kaluahine Falls, the rest of the scramble stayed further inland – albeit uncomfortably. The whole time the crashing waves and encroaching whitewater conspiring to climb up the rocks kept me on my toes. Clearly the water was no place to be around here.
I saw a corner up ahead that I had to get to in order to look around the bend and see what lies ahead. I didn’t want to spend any more time than I had to so I was hoping it would be enough to see the falls.
In the distance on the other side of the short cove before me, I saw Waiulili Falls lightly falling right into the ocean. The view from here was already pretty nice and comprehensive and I saw no reason to scramble any further close to it. Clearly there was no way to get directly under the falls itself for it went right into the churning ocean.
And with that, I immediately took my photos and headed right back to the relative safe haven of the area before Kaluahine Falls.
I gave her the thumbs up. “It was definitely flowing. So at least we salvaged something out of this excursion.”
At this point, we decided to start heading back up the 4wd road and then make the arduous steep climb up the paved road to the Waipi’o Valley Overlook. It seemed like some rain was falling as we walked beneath the canopy of trees at the 4wd part of the track.
We also saw a handful of tourists walking the other way. They seemed to be the only ones who were openly saying “hi” to us as if we were a welcome sight in an area where they expected to be greeted with scowls or stink eye or half-hearted waves from those more accepting to the fact that Waipi’o Valley had now become an attraction.
Julie started to make her way up the steep road while I was going to have one last look at Hi’ilawe Falls hoping against hope that somehow a flash flood might bring the falls back to life.
As I made my brief walk over to the falls, I was amused to see a stray horse following me. There was also a group of people walking before me as well. But while I let the horse pass me to graze and keep on trotting, I continued to the falls. And not surprisingly, the falls was still dry. But what was worse was now the clouds shrouded the entire upper half of the falls.
Now it was time to make the climb back out. Right off the bat, I was already beginning to huff and puff as the climb was relentless and without any flat areas to catch a breather. Four-wheel-drive vehicles were passing by me in both directions. To my surprise, some of them were driven by tourists, which I’m sure does not go well with the locals here. Plus, not all the people heading down were yielding to the uphill traffic to the chagrin of locals. There was even one guy in a convertible who was about to drive down the road before some folks at the top stopped him from foolishly trying his luck and creating a potentially hazardous situation for all involved.
I saw quite a lot more people walking down into Waipi’o Valley perhaps to at least get better looks beneath the clouds shrouding the overlook. Finally after an hour of relentless exertion resulting in me drenched in sweat, I met up with Julie who was waiting for me at the overlook. And into the car we went where we put the AC on full blast to start cooling ourselves off as we decided to leave Waipi’o and head over to Pololu Valley.
It was now 11:30am and off we went back towards Honoka’a and then over to Waimea. As we were driving the highway skirting the northern side of cloud-covered Mauna Kea, I suddenly heard Julie screaming hysterically.
“Ahh! Honey, there’s a spider!” she screamed.
And as I momentarily glanced down at the glove compartment in front of Julie, there it was. My heart jumped for a moment for I had never seen a spider that big let alone in a rental car while we were driving!
It was a pretty big brownish spider with some white lines along the contours of its furry body. It had long thin legs that were easily longer than the lengths of my finger. But it certainly was no tarantula as I knew they tended to be thicker.
It quickly scurried into a dark area beneath the car stereo.
“Pull over!” Julie screamed.
“Pull over!” she screamed again. “It’s poisonous!”
I doubted a spider that big was poisonous. I didn’t see why it needed toxins to survive while clearly it was big enough to not have to resort to those measures and consume its prey.
Nonetheless, I pulled off to the side of the fast-moving highway at the nearest shoulder I could find which happened to be in front of someone’s house. After Julie opened her door and got out, I reached over to my sunglasses, which the spider was holding onto in that dark area, and flung it outside. Unfortunately, the spider, dropped onto the floor beneath Julie’s seat as the sunglasses flew out the door.
“Honey, it’s still inside!”
So I got out of the car and both of us started to take stuff out of the car so we could try to find the spider and get it out. With the drizzle continuing to fall, our stuff started to get wet as we spent nearly a half-hour looking for the spider underneath Julie’s car seat.
But the spider was nowhere to be found!
Eventually, I figured that the spider must’ve crawled into some fairly large holes underneath the car seat. I really had no idea why they were there, but obviously the spider must have sought refuge in it.
Julie was very hesitant to get back in the car with the spider still there. So we did the next best thing. We took some of the spare Wal-mart bags (obtained from our grocery run a few days ago) and covered up the holes underneath both of the front seats. That way, if the spider was still there, it wouldn’t get back into the seating area and potentially cause problems while I was driving.
Finally, we managed to put our stuff back into the car after checking thoroughly through them to ensure the spider wasn’t inside any of those items. When we finally started driving again, I noticed Julie would periodically check the floor to make sure the spider wasn’t crawling on her. She made me nervous thinking the spider could also be crawling onto me as I was driving.
POLOLU VALLEY AND AKAKA FALLS PART II
Anyways, we eventually got into Waimea town in one piece, but the whole spider episode made me think we ought to get a takeaway lunch instead of a sit-down place. It was now around 12:30pm and we still had to drive out to Pololu Valley before heading back to Hilo with a stopover at Akaka Falls (now that the lighting conditions were better for photographing the waterfall). We still felt like we had to check in online to United since we knew the flight home tomorrow night was sold out.
But since it was Sunday, many of the local dives were closed. Only the more expensive sit-down places were open and we opted to pass.
So we continued to drive right through town and up the Kohala Mountain Road. The moderately winding road was going in and out of the swirling cloud cover as we could see their movement before our eyes.
We’d eventually make it to the Hwy 270 where we turned right and headed towards the end of the road at Pololu Valley. We were wondering if there was any takeaway lunches at Kohala Rainbow Cafe in the sleepy town of Hawi. But since it was Sunday, it didn’t surprise us that it was closed.
At 1:30pm, we finally made it to the end of the road and the Pololu Valley Overlook. The view of the sea cliffs from here were quite impressive and easily better than the Waipi’o Valley Overlook. But there were no waterfalls to be seen here.
I took a few minutes to hike down part of the trail to get better looks at the sea cliffs beyond the valley. Afterwards, I returned to the car with Julie. But as we headed back to the car, I noticed some strange whitewater streaks that all of the sudden disappeared. I thought it was strange for boats to pulling disappearing acts like this, but then it hit me.
“Honey, I think those streaks are caused by whales down there,” I said.
Sure enough, there were folks with spotting scopes who looked back towards the water down below and confirmed the whale sighting.
Having had our fill of the Pololu Valley, we started heading back. But first, we made a stop at the Waikama Stream. I had read somewhere that there was supposed to be a waterfall here. So I thought I might take a look.
We stopped at the stream and we didn’t see any of the everpresent “No Trespassing” signs. However, a worn-looking wired fence that was torn down did place some doubt in my mind that this might not be a place for the public.
As I continued scrambling further into the dense overgrowth filled with mosquitoes, I got to a point where further progress involved straight walking into the boulder-riddled stream. I decided to just turn back at this point and forget the waterfall, which I was sure was still further upstream.
So back in the car we went and we returned to Waimea at around 3pm. But by then, none of the lunch spots we wanted to try out were open. So we just continued driving back towards Hilo with another stop at Akaka Falls.
At 4pm, we picked up some smoothies at the Woodshop Gallery Cafe. After having it the second time around, we realized that it really didn’t compare to the quality of the expensive What’s Shakin’ place near Onomea Bay.
At 4:45pm, we were back at the car park for Akaka Falls. There were certainly many more cars here than we remembered just two days ago. But at least it was overcast with some drizzle and the lighting was ideal for waterfall photography. Julie opted to stay in the car while I hastily made my way to the falls.
Once at the falls, it was as I expected. It was still flowing impressively and there were no shadows from the sun. There were still lots of people enjoying the falls and many of them were gathered around some non-local-looking guy selling shells. I didn’t agree with what he was doing (as he probably illegally took them), but I just took my photos and left.
Julie and I got back to Hilo at 5:30pm. It allowed us some time to get cleaned up so we could eat at Pescatore in downtown Hilo for our last night out on the Big Island. Julie also took the opportunity to try to check in to both Aloha and United since she was worried about United overselling our flight back to LA from Honolulu. We would also have to fly from Hilo to Honolulu with Aloha since we couldn’t find a direct flight from Hilo to Los Angeles.
When her check-in was unsuccessful (because we had to transfer in Honolulu), she was determined for us to show up at the Hilo Airport first thing tomorrow morning even though our boarding passes said our flight was supposed to be 10:50am.
A little before 6:30am, we dined at the Pescatore Restaurant. We enjoyed the Italian food with a Hawaiian twist as I had Seared Ahi Tuna on my pasta along with some Ahi Tuna for appetizer. The waiter and waitress got us some unique concoction that we could dip the bread into. We certainly loved that and didn’t really dip into the marinara sauce all that much. This inspired Julie to ask what their concoction was made of so we could try it at home.
Eventually, we got back to Uncle Billy’s at 8pm. Once again, parking was hard to find and we had to park curbside in front of the Hilo Hawaiian Resort, which was a little farther than where we had been parking the prior three nights.
All in all, it was a mixed bag of waterfalling. It was too bad we had to get back to reality starting tomorrow when we would be spending most of the day at the airports before finally getting home at least around 9:30pm (especially with the daylight savings starting early this year).
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