This is Part 2 of my 3 part series on the Big Island of Hawaii. For Part 1 describing our travels on the Kona (West) side of the island, click here.
Although it’s only about an hour and a half drive from the Kona side of the Big Island to the Hilo side, meteorologically and aesthetically, they are worlds apart. While the Kona side is drier and more volcanic, the Hilo side is wetter and thereby greener. We stayed in Hilo and it rained every. single. day. In fact, Hilo has been called the wettest city in the United States where it rains approximately 275 days every year. (Wow, wish I had known that before we’d gone.) Thankfully, the Big Island is full of microclimates, so although it was wet in Hilo, we were able to drive about an hour away and get plenty of sunshine. Two of our adventures on this side of the island were Waipio Valley and Green Sand Beach.
Waipio Valley (or Waipi’o Valley)
Waipio Valley is named after the river that flows through it, with Waipi’o meaning “curved water” in Hawaiian. Many Hawaiian kings and chiefs have lived in this valley. The ruler responsible for uniting the Hawaiian islands, King Kamehameha the Great, was hidden in this valley as an infant to protect him from warring chiefs. Although no longer containing royal residences, this valley still has people living here and benefiting from its fertile land.
Now visiting Waipio Valley takes a bit of planning. The view from the overlook (pictured above) is accessible to everyone. To travel further into valley (which you definitely should) takes a bit more effort.
Due to the extremely steep nature of the road leading down into Waipio Valley and the unpaved roads on the valley floor, only 4WD vehicles (NOT AWDs) are allowed into Waipio Valley. If you rent a 4WD, it’s possible that the rental car company will void your coverage if you take it down here. Thankfully, our friend with a 4WD (who was very knowledgeable about the area) took us. Other options would be to hike down (just remember that what goes down must come up!) or to book a tour.
The highlight of Waipio Valley was the black sand beach, which the river traveling into the ocean splits in half. Because this beach is so difficult to get to (and also likely because it was off-season), we virtually had this beach all to ourselves.
Not only is Waipio Valley full of beautiful sights, but there was such an interesting diversity of animals and plants throughout the valley. We identified (through our friend of course – we’re total city folk) starfruit, bananas, mango and wild ginger. Waipio Valley was truly one of the highlights of our visit to the Big Island.
Green Sand Beach
I had heard of black sand beaches and white sand beaches, but a green sand beach was a completely new idea to me! Apparently there are only 4 green sand beaches in the world, including this one on the southern tip of the Big Island. The green sand is created by green olivine crystals which are broken up by the waters, forming this beautiful green sand beach.
Some Other Cool Nearby Sights
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
The black sand on this beach is corse, making it pretty painful to walk on in anything other than tennis shoes. But seeing these guys up close (but not too close) and personal was worth it!
Not too much to say here, except that it’s the southern most point in all 50 states of the United States. And no, I didn’t jump, though I’ve heard that many do. 😬 🙅🏻♀️
Whittington Beach Park
On our way back to Hilo, we stopped to catch the beginnings of a sunset at this beautiful park that was once the location of a bustling fishing village. The village was destroyed by an earthquake and a tsunami, and although briefly reestablished as a port for a nearby sugar plantation, the pier was bombed by the US military who were trying to prevent Japanese forces from landing during WWII.
We continued to be surprised by the diversity of sights that the Big Island has to offer. And although there were tourists around, we found most of the areas we visited to be relatively quiet allowing us to appreciate the beauty of these places and to feel safe during these COVID times.
Coming up: Part 3 of our visit to the Big Island, including driving to the summit of the tallest mountain in the world!
Until next time,
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