It’s my last day of big island adventuring!
I kicked off the day with another free hotel breakfast. Switched it up a little bit and went with the bacon instead of sausage. Wild, right? I also reconfirmed my claim that guava juice is delicious.
Since the prior day was spent traversing the south end of the big island, today’s focus was the northern and eastern shores.
First stop on the list was to finish up the national parks & sites, so I hit the Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site. It’s a site where a king eventually ruled all of the Hawaiian islands in the early 1790s. The walls of the site are still standing, which is pretty impressive, considering it’s on the shore to catch the wind and no mortar was used to hold the wall together. There’s also the Mailekini Heiau, a previous temple that was older and converted to a fort once the new one was built, and the Hale o Kapuni Heiau, an even older temple off the coast now underwater (last seen in 1950) built to the shark gods. Black-tipped reef sharks live in the surrounding waters year-round but I didn’t manage to see any.
The plan was to head east and hit the Waipio Valley lookout but I changed my mind at the last minute to head north for the Pololu Valley lookout. The Pololu Valley lookout takes more of an effort to get to since it’s at the end of the road instead of on the way to Hilo on the east coast. You don’t stop by Pololu, you go to Pololu. Also, in my experience, if a place is harder to get to, the payout is typically worth the extra work.
Pololu Valley Lookout was incredible.
You get to the Pololu Trail head and you’re kindly greeted with signs showing you there are at least four ways of dying on this trip: a dangerous shore break, a strong current/undertow, hazardous cliffs, and falling rocks.
Being a member of the boy gender, this only validated my decision to do the trail.
The views were breathtaking. The path was pretty worn going down to the beach, so it wasn’t too bad. I recognized how steep it was going down though, so I dreaded the climb back up. There were lookouts along the way showing different angles of the beach and cliffs, of which I stopped at each to take too many pictures.
As crazy as it sounds, once you get to the bottom, the views were infinitely better. Off to the right of the path, the Pololu Valley opened up in front of you like it was a set for Jurassic Park. It was vibrantly green with a calm stream running through the center into the ocean.
On the left was the black sand beach, the Pacific, and what looked like miles of cliffs dropping off into the ocean. Since I was wearing long pants for the hike, I held off crossing the stream to get to the large stretch of beach, as the current seemed to be pulling hard. It was fun watching people struggle through the knee deep water but I could easily see how someone could have been swept out if they weren’t careful.
One family I walked down the path with stopped at the bottom and the dad picked up a coconut, peeled the husk off, hunted for the perfect rock, and went to work on busting it open for his family. I got a good laugh because besides the $100 shoes, sunglasses, and baby backpack, it was no different than any monkey in any issue of National Geographic doing the same thing. What an experience!
It’s a place I could have stayed for hours.
But hours, I didn’t have. I had more lookouts and waterfalls to attend to, so I gathered myself and powered up the trail back to the top. I drove back down the mountain, around the valley, and back up the other side to visit the Waipio Valley lookout.
The Waipio Valley lookout was much easier to get to but much harder to get down to the valley from the top. Similar to the green sands beaches, the only way down was a 4×4 vehicle, of which there was no shortage at the top willing to taxi you to the bottom. It’s known as the steepest road of its length in the country with an 800 foot drop in 0.6 miles with a 25% grade. There are taro farms in the valley that local families still farm and harvest. It would have been nice to try going down if I had more time but it just wasn’t in the cards this time.
Finished with the lookouts for the day, I turned my attention to waterfalls. Akaka Falls State Park was the next stop on the list, as I continued circling the northern half of the island. The drive there hugged the coast, so you’re often looping in and out over the land and valleys. I passed a stretch through the woods with the tallest trees I’ve seen since the redwoods and sequoias in California. They dwarfed the telephone poles in the foreground.
It’s also crazy hilly this side of the island is, as I lost count of the number of bridges I went over that spanned valleys housing rivers and runoffs into the ocean. If there were ever a decent sized earthquake, there would be pieces of the island that were completely inaccessible by land if they lost the bridges.
Clouds had begun moving in over the ridges, so I was a little concerned about traipsing around cliffs and 400+ foot waterfalls if it was going to be wet. Luckily, when I pulled into the state park, the rain held off. The clouds stuck around though, so I missed out on some pretty amazing shots of the plant life and any chance at seeing rainbows. But you can’t win them all, right?
The path was relatively short (0.4 miles), so I took to walking. Instantly, you’re thrust into a jungle. The landscape and vegetation is so different than anything I’ve ever been in before. It’s how I’d envision a South American rainforest – surrounded by massive plants, trees, and the color green. It was really quiet too, as it sat off the main road and the leaves absorbed every other sound.
First stop on the path was the Kahuna Falls. They’re downstream from the Akaka Falls and “only” drop 300 feet. It was hard to get a good angle on this waterfall, as it was more ocean-facing than the trail had room to maneuver around and see.
The path paralleled the Kolekole stream through more jungle and trees. The picture I included above was this massive tree that had branches or roots extending from high in the air down to the ground. Almost like hundreds or thousands of tiny tree trunks planted next to one another. It was wild.
Akaka Falls was further up the path and exploded into view. At 442 feet, it’s twice the height of Niagara Falls. While tall, it pales in comparison to the Waihilau Falls deep in the Waipio Valley at 2,600 feet. Unfortunately, that one would be a bit more difficult to reach. The Akaka Falls were impressive though. The falls had carved out a nice bowl in the stream that opened everything up.
The last notable falls on the trail was a small falls right off the path. The 1934 movie “Four Frightened People” was filmed here by Cecil DeMille starring Claudette Colbert. The sign described the plot as:
4 people who escape a ship when there is an outbreak of bubonic plague. They land on an island in Malaysia and become lost. Locations in Hawaii doubled as the jungle where the four people confront wild animals and fierce natives.
My first thought? I almost guarantee you that my step dad has seen this movie. The crew cut a rectangular pool out of the basalt rock at the base of the falls to use in scenes where Colbert bathes in the jungle.
The last stop on my tour of the big island was Rainbow Falls. It’s practically in the middle of downtown Hilo, which is a pretty cool landmark to have in your town. It’s named for the rainbows typically created by the sunlight. But still more clouds and still no rainbows.
There was a couple plus one at the very top edge of the falls that give you perspective on how high they were. It was also awkward because they were on display for everyone to see. The girl was also making out with the guy on the right while the guy on the left gave her an extremely sensual back massage. Weird.
Following the trail into the woods, there was a gigantic tree covered in people climbing it. It created a huge canopy over the area but didn’t have any leaves going up the trunk or branches, making it a climbing kid’s dream. It made me nervous when I kept seeing people higher and higher. The large tree connected to a smaller one off to the right and a couple of guys were dangling at least 50 feet in the air. One of them would hang from his arms and do pull ups. Open heights like that make me anxious.
With that, I called an end to the day and hopped onto the saddle road to take me back to the west coast and my hotel in Kailua Kona. I had originally wanted to go to the summit of Mauna Kea to see the observatory and the huge telescopes. There are current protests taking place to try and prevent a new telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope, from being built. But with it being after 4:00pm and still incredibly cloudy on the mountain, I decided to pass on that little adventure.
Once I made it back to down, I strolled down to the port area where the cruise liner offloads its passengers to do some souvenir shopping. And since it was my last night in town, I sprung for a known quantity for dinner.
Only this time, I added a jar of homemade strawberry lemonade to go with it. So amazingly good! With a collector’s edition (not really) Hawaiian mason jar!
I’m getting good at ending my days on full bellies of delicious food.