Famous Waipio Valley on Hawaii Island closed to nonresidents

For the most recent Hawaii Vacation Podcast, Aloha Bruce and Yaling Fisher offered listeners some important information about “Big Island Pro’s and Con’s.” It got us here at the blog thinking in terms of “dos and don’ts” for Big Island visitors. New restrictions at Waipio Valley came immediately to mind.

Back in February of this year, Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth closed the road into Waipio Valley to anyone not currently living there. Treacherous, winding conditions along the almost impossibly steep road have created a significant hazard, in no small part due to vastly increased visitor traffic. So, we’d have to say that planning a trip to the sacred valley is firmly in the “don’t” category.

The head of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau has said that the agency stopped promoting Waipio Valley as a visitor destination a decade ago. We have the social media accounts of visiting “influencers” to thank/blame (in large part) for the increased visitor traffic to Waipio Valley, and ultimately for the closure of the road into it to nonresidents.

The valley is home to only about 100 people, mostly farmers of taro and other crops, so the negative impact tourism has had on the valley and the road leading into it is undeniable. Waipio Valley became a casualty of over-tourism. It needs time to heal, and its residents deserve relief from throngs of illegal hikers and campers

The history of Native Hawaiians in Waipio Valley goes back many centuries. It is steeped in legend and alive with a resonant spirituality. It was childhood home to Kamehameha the Great and it is the final resting place of the bones of ancient chiefs. It remains a natural cathedral and an immensely sacred site. Its remote black sand beach has been made famous for its seclusion and dramatic beauty.

Waipio Valley Beach.

The vertiginously steep, 2,000-foot walls of the valley are streaked white with waterfalls along the several miles into Waipio Valley’s impossibly lush interior. Most famous among them is Hi’ilawe Falls. The spectacular 1,200-foot cataract is the subject of beloved Hawaiian musician Gabby Pahinui’s “Hi’ilawe”, a song covered by others stars in the Hawaiian music firmament. Sadly, the waterfall has been known to go dry during drought conditions.

Legend holds that Hi’ilawe Falls is the physical embodiment of the spirit of an ancient chief of the same name, and that after his death, his body was transformed into a massive boulder.

For visitors willing to make the long drive, the Waipio Valley Overlook at the end of the Hamakua Heritage Corridor Drive remains open to the public. It’s possible to experience Waipio Valley, albeit from a distance. But the ethereal power, the mana of Waipio Valley is palpable even from a single lookout at its beginning at the sea.

It’s vital to be aware of closures of visitor destinations when planning a Hawaii vacation. Here at Hawaii Aloha Travel, we’re monitoring the closure of Waipio Valley to non-residents, as well as happenings and closures at other world-famous Hawaii locations. We’re on the ground, and we can help you avoid disappointment.   

Posted by: Jamie Winpenny