V: Pololu Valley

It’s been awhile, but this past weekend was full of adventure! In short, the crazy Gemini interns decided that waking up at 3:00am and driving to the northern tip of the island to see the sunrise would be a fantastic idea. And yes, we did exactly that. Pololu Valley is not in my magazine’s list of 101 Things to do on the Big Island; we heard about this hike from some friends working at Subaru Telescope. It sounded as if it was a little bit off the beaten path and hopefully less crowded, so we decided to check it out. It’s also the northernmost valley of the same chain that includes Waipi’o Valley, which was shown on the first trip. This trip turned out to be my favorite experience on the Big Island so far. The views were absolutely breathtaking. The day’s route is shown below and you can click to enlarge it:

Big Island Day Trip Map 8

As usual, the dark blue lines show the roads we drove and the light blue boxes show places we visited. The itinerary below is obviously a little bit different than most.


3:30-5:30 (AM!): Drive from Hilo to Pololu Valley

5:30-6:30: Watch the sunrise over Pololu Valley

6:30-11:00: Hike into Pololu Valley

11:00-1:00: Take a Road Trip to Hip Hawi (#28) and explore Kapa’au

1:00-2:00: Drive to Waimea

2:00-3:00: Stop for lunch and Dairy Queen at Village Burger in Waimea

3:00-4:30: Drive back to Hilo


Pololu Valley

After some of us slept for a few hours on Friday night (and others decided to just stay up the whole night), we departed for Pololu Valley around 3:30 in the morning. Not far outside of rainy Hilo the skies cleared up displaying fantastic views of the night sky and the Milky Way. We drove through darkness all the way along Highway 19, but by the time we turned onto Highway 250 the skies had begun to brighten. Highway 250 is a winding, curving road over rolling hills in cowboy country, which made us think it would be absolutely stunning to view by daylight. Despite being a short segment on the map, this portion of the journey actually took quite awhile (probably about 45 minutes).

When we got to Pololu Valley we spent about an hour watching the sunrise. It was surprisingly windy and chilly standing in the dark next to the ocean, but warmed up quickly with the rising sun.

Pololu Valley 13_edited-1
Pololu Valley beach.

Turning around, we were greeted with this view of the valley:

Pololu Valley 14_edited-1
Pololu Valley sunrise.

We estimated our total hike to be about 3.5 miles round trip. This includes the descent into Pololu as well as the climb up the other side to overlook the Honokane Nui Valley. Although we stopped at this point, I later returned to hike down into Honokane Nui. The third one apparently has ruins and I hope to go back before I leave Hawaii to further explore this trail. But for this weekend, we left it at hiking down into Pololu Valley and onto the next ridge.

Jul 20 2013_2852_edited-1
Pololu Valley trailhead.

When you get down into Pololu Valley, you can look inland along the valley, or you can walk along the famous black sand beach, which was just listed in the article “35 Beautiful Beaches You’d Love to Be On.”

I have to say I think this was my favorite trip on the Big Island so far because it was completely isolated there, except for two campers. Sadly, on our way back to our cars we saw many many visitors hiking in the valley, making it just as populated as Waipi’o was on my visit. Apparently our isolation was due to our 6:30 arrival (who would have thought?!). Still, I much preferred this short dirt and rock trail compared to the steep mile-long road into Waipi’o Valley. The drop in elevation is only about 400 feet and the hike took us about 25 minutes. As you hike through the switchbacks, you’ll be greeted with views that look like they belong in pirate adventure movies:

Pololu Valley 5_edited-1
Pololu Valley and beyond.

From this vantage point you can see where each following valley enters into the ocean.

The view into the valley was just as spectacular as looking outward, and this is what made me absolutely fall in love with Pololu Valley. We all spent a good 20 minutes just taking in this view in its entirety, completely isolated from the rest of civilization (at least for the moment). Please do feel free to click and enlarge this photograph in particular.

Pololu Valley 1
Looking into Pololu Valley and the Kohala mountains.

Now, you’re probably wondering why a 3.5 mile hike took us 4.5 hours to complete, and the answer is shown below:

Rope swings!
Rope swings!

After we spent longer than I care to admit playing on the probably unsafe rope swings, we began to hike up into the next valley over, Honokane Nui. This hike is a bit longer than the hike down into Pololu; it takes about an hour to get up, through dense rainforest with sparse overlooks of Pololu Valley.

Jul 20 2013_2988_edited-1
Dense overgrowth surrounds the trail leading into the next valley.
Pololu Valley 10
Overlooking Pololu Valley from the opposite side.

After about an hour you’ll come up on a gate, and this is where things get tricky. Obviously a gate doesn’t exactly invite you to continue hiking, but there were no signs explaining exactly why the gate was there. We knew we were looking for another overlook and this gate was in the middle of the rainforest – not quite what we expected for the grand finale. Since we had just walked about an hour and weren’t quite happy with the substandard view, we decided to proceed. The trail continued until it finally opened up with another “okay” view of Pololu Valley. Still headed in the right direction, we started to descend just a bit into what we thought was the next valley. It was such a short hike we ended up on the other side and decided to stop for lunch. While it was only 9:30, keep in mind it felt like 1:00 to us. One member of our group finished early and went ahead only to come back absolutely ecstatic about the view up ahead, insisting we get up immediately and join him. Twenty minutes later when we finished our lunch, we followed the trail to find our co-intern overlooking the true Honokane Nui Valley.

Pololu Valley 4
Honokane Nui
Pololu Valley 6
Honokane Nui

We spent quite awhile enjoying this view as well before we turned around and headed back to Pololu Valley and our car. It was at this point we started seeing many other hikers beginning their day (who had also apparently walked around the ambiguous gate). The journey back was much shorter, with no stops for lunch or rope swings. At this point we were all ready for the next part of our trip, to Haw and Kapa’au.


Take a Road Trip to Hip Hawi

Hawi is the northernmost town on the Big Island, and also happens to be the town where the world-famous Ironman Triathlon bike trail turns around and heads back to Kona. Hawi used to be a thriving town for the sugar industry of the Big Island, but is now mostly composed of small art galleries and food shops. The town between Hawi and Pololu Valley, Kapa’au, holds the very first statue of King Kamehameha.

Overall, I would have to say this part of the trip was fairly disappointing. While Hawi may have once been a main meeting point for Hawaiian industry, it now seems very touristy. The main strip we went along was all art galleries and stores. We stopped for a quick coffee, some shave ice and fudge, but then backtracked to Kapa’au to find King Kamehameha’s birthplace.

Some iPhone research told us that Kapa’au is not actually the birthplace of King Kamehameha: that lies a bit west of Hawi, and if you’re following the map above, Kapa’au is to the east of Hawi. Nonetheless, we pulled off at the Kapa’au Civic Center to look at the very first statue of King Kamehameha. Not too impressive considering these statues are all over the island, but I’ll check this and Hawi off the list. What I did find moderately impressive was the large number of Kapa’au veterans that were listed at the Civic Center. It seemed like a town of maybe 200 people driving through, but apparently there were about 1200 citizens as of a 2000 census.


With the extra research I’ve done, I will try to visit the true birthplace of King Kamehameha at some point in the future. However, I would not recommend Hawi as something to check off for people with limited time here. Pololu Valley though, I highly recommend.



There is much more to come from Waimea in the future, but we had a quick lunch here and I must give a shout-out to Village Burger, which is located right next to Parker Ranch. Parker Ranch is the largest ranch in Hawaii and has a very nice store and restaurant in downtown Waimea. It looked a bit more expensive than what we were looking for so we decided to try Village Burger. This turned out to be a great choice, as Village Burger gets all of their grass-fed beef from the multitude of farms on the Big Island. A couple of awards were listed on the wall, as well as the story about the chef who had worked for years in large cities at famous restaurants and resorts before deciding to focus on simply perfecting the burger. And he certainly had perfected it! He also seems to have perfected his recipe for parmesan fries while he was at it. If you’re looking for a nice and simple meal in Waimea, Village Burger was enthusiastically recommended by all four interns on this trip.

After a quick stop at Starbucks and Dairy Queen, we were more than ready to start heading home and rest up, because Sunday held more adventures.

Next Up: South Point and Green Sands Beach

One thought on “V: Pololu Valley

  • Thank you for not telling me about the rope swing until after you were done. Can’t wait to see some of these places!

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