Waimanu Valley is the seventh valley deep on the Big Island’s Hamakua coast. Having grown up in this area I have spent much time exploring both Waipio and Pololu (the 13 valley chain’s book-ends.) This Christmas I vowed to make the infamous, much-procrastinated trek into the valley.
After gathering a group of 5 handy man-scouts, we packed our bags with strange dehydrated edibles and headed out- or rather, up. This 18-mile round-trip hikes begins with a heart-stopping, intention- reevaluating 1,200-foot switch-back, straight up the face of Waipio Valley. This gives you plenty of time to do a mental checklist of all the unnecessary things you brought- (whiskey- whhhy?!!.)
Once you’ve passed this test the sailing is pretty smooth. The hike takes you in and out of 6 more valleys. None being quite as large as Waipio and all with a lovely ecosystem change at the peaks. The well-maintained trail through each valley is lush tropical jungle, filled with waterfalls and plenty of tree shade. Each time you summit you find a completely different world with pine trees, sunshine and cool air.
The final decent from hela-pad 4 is perhaps the scariest aspect, as your 40-pound pack seems to push harder than the breaks on your worn out legs. Again, more time to re-evaluate your packing choices. The trail is slippery, but the Lauhala tree legs reach out to offer a much-needed hand.
With a barefoot river-crossing and an exhausted backpack drop you find yourself on a beautiful, black sand/rock beach in the mouth of Waimanu. I was surprised to find that Waimanu looks a lot like Waipio with its deep valley, rivers, waterfalls and crashing shore break. The biggest difference I noticed was the age of the forests. I was humbledby the ancient kukui, lauhala, ulu and mango groves, expanding their huge canopies 80-100 feet above us. Wandering back through these massive forests in search of water, I was hyper-aware of the ancient world that existed here not so long ago. My Hawaiian legend senses are dangerously attuned and I made sure to exude respect and fear- leaving near by ‘night marchers’ confused on their next move.
Time to nest: river dip + pop tent+ fire building + an exploration into the world of dehydrated astronaut food (not living up to my 3rd-grade memories of sweet ice-cream) and a campfire Toddy that reminds me why I lugged that bottle of Makers 7 miles in.
Despite the aching quadriceps we decided to explore the back of the valley and hike to Waihilau falls. We head deep into the valley, under the shade of giant canopy’sfollowing nothing pig trails. Well worth the effort as we found ourselves beneath the chilling mist Waihilau. Waihilau is one the largest single drop waterfalls in the US falling a dizzying 3,000 feet. Some of us brave enough to withstand the cold water (me and my cold blood stayed ashore) swam out to climb the face of the wall and jump into the pool.
When we arrived back at camp we were met by our friendly (aka menacing large Hawaiian man with a gun) offering up an 8-pound bag of fresh bloody pork he has caught earlier that day. “No, no, we couldn’t possibly” – followed by several hours of engulfing ourselves in most intense pork consumption of our lives.
Waimanu Iron Chef we called it. Pork 3 ways!
The players- Steve-o- Sesame oil and onion sauteed boar strips. Leandra- Filipino-style adobo kabobs. Smartly strung on the spine of t-leafs. J Cohn- Hawaiian style Laulau with river-soaked wild Taro leaves
And the winner? J’s Laulau took the cake. Despite the minimal taro splinters felt only by me (but easily remedied with a whisky flush) Jason’s creation was creative, resourceful and of course,authentic kine Hawaiian grinds. Ono!
The hike out seemed to be double the distance and time spent coming in. All weight lost from used supplies, was gained in pork-full bellies. The last 2 hours were torture, but when we finally turned the last bend we were once again struck by the sheer beauty of the valley and our tiny role in its history. Took me 27 years to make the trek, but I will not wait another year to do it again.
Mahalo nui loa Waimanu!