On the north end of the Big Island sits a community that has maintained itself for more generations than anyone can count. Waipi’o sits in a lush green valley several hundred feet down a steep one-lane road (with pull outs).
Most persons venture down on foot. We took the easy way. By accident we pulled into a tour office/café. JoAnne wanted a restroom and saw a sign. After using the facility, we struck up a conversation with the proprietor. We had just missed a shuttle tour, and the next one he could assign us to meant a four hour wait. Seeing our unwillingness to waste that much time, he made a call to one of the younger guides.
Douglas is a tall lanky, muscular native of the area. His grandmother had lived in the valley and his 90 year-old uncle still farmed there. As we descended, slowly and in high 4-wheel drive, the scene unfolded- the river fed by countless streams, springs and a high waterfall that brings water from the Waimea water shed swelled and quickened its pace, ultimately to the ocean. On its path the river supplies water for the farms and their major crop, taro, that is used for making the Hawaiian starch, Poi.
Douglas provided insight to the farming of taro and the fact that the entire plant is used, including the stem that is planted for the next yield. Many taro plants have a history as long as the valley, itself, providing crop after crop from one stem. Our guide didn't stop with enlightening us on taro. There is a kikui nut tree that is used for making candles because of the high concentration of oil. He showed us the oil by smashing one of the nuts that lay on the ground. Natives also polish the nut and string them for a necklace. I saw at least one of these necklaces on a guide at the University, but didn't know its source at that time.
We enjoyed taking pictures and walking near the river and a stream. On the return trip I felt sorry for the hikers who had a steep climb back to the top in high humidity. Before leaving, we surveyed the area that we had just explored from an observation point high above the valley.
Whether you hike it or wimp out, this is a highlight you should not miss.