Trail Report: Hike to Hi'ilawe Waterfall in Waipio Valley

Hiking to Hi'ilawe waterfall big island
Hi'ilawe Waterfall in Waipio Valley as seen from the bottom of the road
This describes my hike to the base of Hi'ilawe Waterfall in Waipio Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii.  The trail goes up the stream for a little more than a mile before reaching the highest waterfall I've personally ever visited.

The Big Island of Hawaii has a reputation for being more rugged, rural and raw.  Every guidebook indicates that the Waipio Valley is the place to go for unsurpassed beauty unspoiled nature.

I would like to describe my experience in 2015 to clarify reality.  I hiked to the base of the valley hoping to reach the waterfall itself.  As I wandered along the road going into the valley, several trucks filled with tourists passed me.  Many of these were parked at the stream, the trailhead.  At the trailhead many folks walked upstream, staying in the water all the way.

I started walking up the stream with my 2 hiking companions. The scenery was immediately quite beautiful.

After hiking upstream about half of the distance, several people passed us hiking back.  We also came across another man contemplating whether he wanted to swim/wade across a deep pool in order to continue on the trail.  This trail requires you to get wet at some places and in one particular location, you must wait up to your chest in order to advance.  This is all part of the adventure.

The trail is not particularly difficult.  It simply takes time:  over an hour going up although quicker coming back.  After the deep waiting, the waterfall comes into view.  It seems to take a long time to reach the waterfall even though you can see it, hear it and almost taste it.
Big Island Waipio Valley Waterfall trail
Hi'ilawe Stream and Waterfall
Finally reaching the base of the waterfall, I set up my camera and took several pictures.  The size of the waterfall, over 1000 feet, cannot be encompassed in one photograph from the base.  I tried to compose some pictures of the water and the boulders.  Several other people hiked up and swam in the pool at the waterfall base.  I took a picture of one woman sitting on a boulder underneath the waterfall which I like.
Naked woman under hi'ilawe waterfall
Some people swim under the falls

There is some danger at the base of the waterfall.  My brother went to the far side of the waterfall and several large rocks (about the size of suitcases) fell without warning, landing about 30 feet from where he was.  He moved away from that location fairly quickly.  I have heard of incidents where falling rocks have killed people.  These rocks fell so quickly, there would be no way to escape if you happen to be in an unlucky location.  Please beware.
Hi'ilawe waterfall in Waipio Valley
Hi'ilawe Waterfall and Boulder

Our group spent about an hour enjoying the scenery, taking pictures and dodging falling rocks before deciding to leave.  As we were leaving, 3 other groups of people passed us in quick succession.  This hike was clearly not a secret nor was it forbidden.  I warned those who followed me about the falling rocks and wished them good luck.

Looking back, I took several other photographs.  I used a very wide lens for some photos and also switch to a telephoto lens in order to capture a single tree with the waterfall behind it.  There are many creative possibilities here.
reaching the base of hi'ilawe waterfall by hiking
Approaching the Hi'ilawe Waterfall
Waipio valley tree and waterfall Big Island Hawaii
Hi'ilawe Waterfall and Tree
Hiking back went twice as fast as hiking upstream.  We stayed on the more established trail on the right side of the stream.  My brother was not prepared with very good shoes and he had a bleeding heel wear his shoes had been rubbing and cutting into his foot.  Because of this, we were not anxious to climb the enormous hill to get back to the top of Waipio Valley.
Evan and his dog drove us back to the top for $20
This is where an unplanned adventure took place.  There was a man in a truck with a dog who offered us a ride.  His name is Evan and we decided to pay is $10 fee per person and he drove us all away to the top.  We made it safely but I do not recommend anyone else catch a ride with Evan because he immediately pulled out his large liquor bottle after we reach the top and drank the very last of it.  He had probably been drinking the rest of it earlier in the day and was not entirely sober.  Nevertheless he was extremely friendly and I will always have a friend on the Big Island in him.

My conclusions about this hike? 
1.  It is an incredible adventure.
2.  The trail is open and used frequently.
3.  The views are spectacular.  Photography possibilities are manifold.
4.  Falling boulders are a true danger.
5.  Don't ride to the top in Evan's car.  Say hello to his dog instead.  The dog is very friendly.

Please visit my Big Island of Hawaii gallery to see more photos from this awesome place!

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