HORSING AROUND IN WAIPI’O VALLEY
We woke up at 4:30am knowing that we had to get an early start to arrive in Waipi’o Valley in time for me to do a little bit of self-exploration. I had a feeling that the horseback tour wouldn’t give us sufficient time to see Waiulili Falls or take photos of Hi’ilawe Falls. So I wanted to get to the valley in time to walk down and back up before the actual horseback tour itself.
So by a little before 5:30am, we were already packed up and checked out of the Outrigger Resort. It wasn’t until about 7:30am when we finally arrived in Hilo.
After filling up on some gas, we then proceeded to head north along Hwy 19. We managed to stop by a pair of familiar gulches (one for Umauma Stream and the other for Nanue Stream) for photographs. Actually, the one for Umauma was quite a treat as we got to photograph the stream’s lower waterfalls with the summit of Mauna Kea still visible in the background.
It was about 9am when we arrived at the rather busy Waipi’o Valley Lookout. Julie wasn’t particularly interested in doing the walk so she stayed at the overlook and let me do the physical challenge on my own.
After putting on the mosquito repellant and sunscreen, I quickly made my way down the road (almost letting gravity help me trail run my way down), and made it to the bottom in less than 20 minutes. I then walked towards Hi’ilawe Falls knowing that I’d finally get to see the falls in its normal state.
I guess something had to rain on my parade.
Nonetheless, I got my shots of the falls and then proceeded to walk towards the black sand beach.
Once at the beach, I then did the familiar boulder scramble towards both Kaluahine Falls and Waiulili Falls. I also noticed an interesting inaccessible ocean-bound waterfall on the far side of the valley.
The boulder scramble didn’t seem as scary as last year’s excursion thanks to the relatively low tides, but I was still a little worried about falling rocks and the occassional rogue wave. And even though the weather forecast had said it was low tide at the time I was there (around 10am), the waves were still quite big enough for surfers to hang ten.
When I got to Kaluahine Falls, it was dry, which further confirmed my hunch that this waterfall was no longer legitimate.
I then went further down the coast to a view of Waiulili Falls, which was flowing much better than when I saw it last year. I was content to get my distant view not wanting to press my luck with the waves and with the time constraint of having to get back to Julie and checking in for the Na’alapa Stables Tour.
After having my fill of Waiulili Falls, I headed right back up the 25% grade road to the Waipi’o Valley Lookout. Like last year, the climb back up wasn’t easy thanks to the steepness of the road.
When the 45-minute thigh burning ascent was over, I was drenching wet with sweat and it was about 11am.
The ranger in the kiosk by the lookout said in that distinct Hawaiian accent, “You went all the way dahwn?”
“Yeah,” I said, breathing heavily.
“Wahw!” he said.
With still about 90 minutes to burn, we headed right over to the Waipi’o Valley Artworks building getting there in about 5 minutes. The day was quite hot and we decided to treat ourselves to a little lunch and ice cream while we waited for our tour.
Our lunch consisted of cold sandwiches and a tasty banana bread. We also couldn’t resist the passion fruit sorbet and tahitian vanilla ice cream.
The time passed was thoroughly relaxing, but when 12:30pm rolled around, the 4wd van driver showed up and rounded up the tour participants.
His van’s air conditioning didn’t work so he left the side door open. The Na’alapa Stables was not much further past the Hi’ilawe Stream crossing. From there, the van driver introduced himself as Jay and we were also introduced to the lovely Maile, who was the daughter of the owner of the stables.
But once the tour got going (a little after 1pm by this time), the horses ended up being quite easy to ride and there weren’t any real drama with them.
Now my camera was too big to fit inside any of the saddle bags, and eventually I just slung it around my neck to take photos. However, taking photos while bobbing up and down on the back of the horse was very nontrivial.
Still, there were a couple of thinner waterfalls (one of them was some Shark Man waterfall) deep in the valley that I was determined to photograph. I even got my horse to stop so I could take a photo, but that was when Jay told me to not get too far back from the crowd.
Before we knew it, the tour promptly ended at around 3pm – just as we really started to feel connected with the horses. But with sore legs, we eventually ate some local fruit, recovered our stuff, and headed back up to the Artworks center.
Jay was giving me a hard time trying to photograph Hi’ilawe Falls from the van (as I was trying to take advantage of the late afternoon cloud cover for even lighting on the falls). But he ultimately stopped the van and took photos with my camera before continuing on up the steep 25% road.
There, we regained the car at the art center at 3:15pm and left for Hilo.
The drive back down to Hilo was mostly uneventful. Julie and I discussed how our horses did during the tour. Apparently, she got a competitive one who always wanted to be towards the front. I got a more laid back one who tended to get thirsty.
At 4:15pm, we did manage to stop by the What’s Shakin’ shack for some fresh fruit smoothies. At $6 a cup, it was very pricey, but it sure hit the spot.
Finally at 5pm, we were back at the familiar Inn at Kulaniapia Falls where we checked into our room at the Harmony Pagoda, which seemed like it was newly completed with the hardwood floor and the new furnishings. It seemed much different than the room we stayed at 3 weeks ago in the main building.
With pretty much everything we wanted to accomplish on this trip, tomorrow and the day after would pretty much be free days. For once, I wouldn’t be leaving the Big Island with that sense of still having work to do. I’m sure Julie was quite happy with this state of affairs…