Waipio provides a place of refuge for a few fortunate people who want to avoid the twenty-first century. But don't expect to be showered with aloha if you trespass on their kapu (private) property. Honor their privacy - you don't want to experience the mana of irritated Waipio residents!
As you walk around Waipi'o, see and smell tropical flowers and fruit, especially guava, which grows here like a weed. Remember that the banana, avocado and citrus trees all belong to someone. Your mouth is likely to water as you walk around the valley. (I enjoy the strawberry guava that grows wild on the access road - the fruit is smaller than the more common white guava, and sweeter).
Beware swimming in Waipi'o. Playing in the surf is fun but the undertow and rip currents can be VERY dangerous. People have drowned in shallow water here. You could find yourself in Milu, the land of the dead, before your time. Keep in mind that if you see people surfing here, they are probably locals, that their surfboards are great flotation devices, and that they have fins (flippers) on their feet.
Milu - Hawaiian Underworld
Early missionaries to Hawaii distorted Hawaiian traditions to strengthen their own dogma. The old gods Kane, Ku and Lono were named a Holy Trinity of male deities. There was no Hawaiian equivalent of Satan, so Kanaloa, the god of the ocean, was re-labeled. The closest traditional Hawaiian concept to Hell was called Po-Milu or Milu - the land of ghosts - the place of the dead.
Po-Milu was named after a chief of Waipi'o named Milu who drowned at Waipio (following a warning by the god Lono) ... and he become a 'chief of ghosts' (see Hawaiian Legends by WD Westervelt, Ellis Press,1916). Waipi'o beach is a traditional entrance to this land of shadows. Another traditional entrance, on the south side of Hawaii, are the cliffs of Ka Lae - now called South Point. (Both are very dangerous places for water sports.)
In Hawaiian traditions, Milu was a peaceful place where people went after death to forget and to be forgotten. Going to Milu was preferable to becoming a lost spirit on the mountain sides; lonely and eating spiders. And Milu was far better than having your spirit captured by a sorcerer (kahuna ana'ana), enslaved (as a kino makani or wind-body) ... and forced to do horrible things.
Practical Tips for Waipio
Although beautiful fresh-water rivers and streams merge in Waipio to flow into the sea - don't drink from them. A bacteria (leptospirosis) could mess up your health and your holiday. There is an unmarked fresh-water spring at the back of the valley, where local people get clean water, about 3 km from the beach. It is not so easy to find although you can ask around.
Pack water in. I suggest one gallon (4 L) per person. After a long walk in the heat - you will want it, and having some left over is much, much better than not having enough. The stream water looks tempting when you're hot and dehydrated ... but don't drink it unless you want a bad week. Been there ... done that ... got the prescription.
There are no public footpaths from the Waipio access road to Hi'ilawe falls, nor direct to the Ali'i trail. Yet these unmarked walks are some of the most beautiful on Big Island. Pack a lunch and make Waipio a full-day journey. I recommend walking boots or strong shoes ... certainly not beach slippers.
In 1946 a tsunami flattened the valley (the same tsunami that damaged Hilo). Many people left and did not return. Waipio has no electric power, water, sewage or phones (mobile phones still don't work here in 2004). Forget about coffee bars and shave ice. Instead enjoy wild horses, taro fields and a tiny road that fords several rivers. (After a rainstorm, some of these fords can be flooded by fast moving water).
Some important heiau (pre-Christian Hawaiian temples) are in Waipio. Since the 1946 tsunami, however, the Paka'alana, Holuwelowelo, Moa'ula and Honua'ula heiau now look like sandy hills. Why not meditate here, under the ironwood trees, with the sound of surf and a cool trade wind?
Go with the Flow at Waipio
The waves on the beach at at Waipio are enticing ... and dangerous. Rip currents move faster than strong swimmers. I have been unpleasantly surprised here, especially when jumping into the waves after a hot and sweaty jungle walk. I have felt afraid and utterly exhausted in waist-deep water! Please be careful! Remember that this bay is a traditional entrance to the world of the dead ...
Be aware and beware of Waipio horses. They are gorgeous, especially the young foals ... and they are wild. Use a zoom lens for photographs. A bite or a kick from a wild horse could seriously damage you and your vacation.
On the far side of the beach from the access road is the start of a TOUGH walk to the next valley, Waimanu, over a high ridge. This is NOT a day trip - if you go, plan to camp in Waimanu - but get permission (1-808-974-4221) to camp first and prepare carefully. It's a strenuous walk even for fit people, cell phones won't work there, and you must pack everything in and out with you - up and down steep cliffs.
On the right (east) of Waipio beach are two waterfalls. The first is close and the second is a long walk over loose, slippery rocks. But if you've always wanted to stand under a tropical waterfall ... as the setting sun gets low in the sky you may find yourself standing in a small circular rainbow. If the sky is clear towards the end of the day, it may be worth the walk. (If it's sunset, please, please take a good flashlight or two.)
Keep in mind the long - long - long hike back up to the car park. Unless you are blessed with a 4-wheel drive vehicle, or a lift on a pickup truck (if someone stops for you - a $10 donation increases aloha and it's a bargain), by the time you reach your car you can expect tired legs, a chorus of coqui (tree) frogs and a sunset that you will remember with nostalgia.
E komo mai. Welcome.
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