Windward (East) Kohala, Hawaii

Just east of us lies a turning point in the landscape. Beyond it, the weather is wetter, the hillsides greener, and the coast is shaped differently. We set out to explore as much of the shore as we could, and immediately ran into high, steep cliffs. There are some tiny patches of beach and rocks at the base of some cliffs that can only be reached by boat. We went to Keokea Beach Park where local people built a breakwater pool for swimming and snorkeling. Typical for Hawaii, there isn’t much in the way of beach, but restrooms and picnic tables that make it a good spot to spend a day.

The Pololu and Waipio Valleys angle across the top of the island, each huge and lightly occupied. It is possible to walk down to the beach at the mouth of each valley, though many more people visit the overlook than make the hike.

The main road dead ends at the Pololu overlook, only a few miles from our house. King Kamehameha was born in a family compound just over the hill from our house, and spent his youth along the coast, including the Polulu and Waipio Valleys. We are living in his former stomping grounds.

The trail to the beach from the Pololu overlook is steep and rocky. Jonathan decided to make the trip armed with his walking stick, a wise idea as the trail was not only steep but much longer than we thought. Far down the trail we met a woman who had decided not to continue. It was just too much of a hike.

The views were fantastic. Finally at the bottom, we found a sandy beach, driftwood, and rocks. It’s not safe to swim, so we walked along the black sand. A number of other visitors had made the trip, everyone strolling the beach, sipping their water bottles, or sitting on a log.

The walk back up the hill from Pololu Beach got a bit long toward the end. Jonathan took a head start so that he and his stick could take their time, and ended up back at the car first. Lyra walked with me. I began to tire after a while and she insisted on taking my backpack while I sat on a rock. We got all ready to keep going, and found we were about 50 feet from the end of the trail and the parking lot, just around the next curve. I guess it wasn’t so bad after all. Here are a few more photos of the beach and the valley.

Having successfully visited the Pololu Valley, we debated visiting the Waipio Valley further east. The road from the overlook to the beach is described as perilously steep and narrow, only suitable for 4 WD vehicles. Going with a tour is recommended, unless you are game for walking down. Our young folk decided to get an early start one day and hiked to the bottom.

In a separate (large) car, we drove to the Waipio overlook to get a feel for the area. The road down the hill is very steep indeed, and narrow, with shallow pull-outs that indicate passing can be trouble. However, Jonathan has many years experience on unpaved, 4-WD only backroads of central Arizona, the canyons of NE Arizona, the forest roads of the Pajarito Plateau in New Mexico, and generally wild areas. He thought we’d be fine, so we tipped over the edge and drove down. We were extremely fortunate in not meeting anyone coming toward us on the way down.

What we didn’t realize is that the road to the beach makes a sharp turn just at the base of the escarpment, so we drove to the very end of the road up into the valley, and looked at the waterfall (trail to the base of the falls currently closed). We turned back and discovered the beach turnoff and drove out to the shore, surprised at the number of vehicles and the size of the parking area. Who should we see on the road but our children just as they were leaving the beach to hike back up the hill. We persuaded them to stay a while longer and ride up with us (lol).

Away from the beach, the Waipio Valley is home to a number of farms growing taro and other crops. The hills are deep green and unmarked by houses, quiet and imposing. Considering the awful drive to get in and out, the valley is quite isolated. Only tourists spoil the tranquility. Our group interrupted the peace and quiet, but it was a lovely visit…..

We watched a group of horses at the edge of the stream test the waters and then wade upstream to a small island to graze. When is the last time you saw horses roaming on their own? They wanted nothing to do with the beach or the tourists.

I was a bit surprised to find families that had driven down the incredibly steep and narrow road for a day at the beach. They unloaded lawn chairs, towels, umbrellas, picnic boxes and settled in for a stay. I think most visitors are like us, in the valley for an adventure, not planning to stay very long. The drive back up took a bit longer, and we had to pass a few other vehicles v-e-r-y slowly.

The drive from Hawi to Honokaa, the turn-off for the Waipio Valley takes an hour. There are other shore access points marked along the highway with small blue and white signs, but we don’t want to spend that much time in the car to visit a tiny rocky beach when there are many similar places near us. There was one exception. We drove most of the way to Hilo (90 minutes) to visit Honoli’i Beach Park, the one place in Hawaii that is known to be a source of beach glass. I had to see what I could find.

Honoli’i Beach Park. That’s our picnic table below the palm tree.
Jonathan admires the finds

It was a long drive, but we went with all our visitors so everyone could try their hand at collecting beach glass. We took a picnic and found a table in the shade, a good home base. Everyone found glass, in lots of colors, though mostly small pieces.The surf is rough, so swimming isn’t recommended, even though there are lots of surfers. The river that enters the ocean at this site pools behind a sand bar, creating a safe swimming hole. On the drive toward Hilo, we passed over a number of streams with rushing waterfalls heading to the sea.

Waterfall in the Umauma Valley

It took about three weeks to get all these visits into our plans, and I am thoroughly pleased with the range of places we’ve been able to visit and the wonders we’ve seen.


Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

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