5 Days In The Big Island Itinerary

Day 2: Waimea, Pololu & Waipio Valleys

Day two of our Big Island itinerary takes us on a road trip to the island’s northern tip. We’ll start the day in Waimea and then choose from several options. It’s best to follow this itinerary on Saturdays, as you’ll get to visit several farmers’ markets.

Kailua-Kona to Waimea

From Kailua, link up with Highway 190 and head north towards Waimea. This scenic mountain road boasts pretty views of eroded lava fields meeting the Kona coast and snow-capped Mauna Kea. As you pass the Saddle Road intersection, the scenery quickly changes to large cattle ranches in paniolo country and rolling green hills reminiscent of Europe, as you inch closer to Waimea.

Road to Waimea - Big Island Hawaii


Waimea is the Kohala region’s largest town and looks like something out of the Old West. Nowadays, it’s a hub for cattle ranchers, organic farmers, and astronomers working in Mauna Kea. Waimea’s main appeal, in my opinion, is its choice of Saturday farmer’s markets. On any other day, it’s a good pit stop en route to the valleys.

Kamuela is the first farmer’s market on the outskirts of town, just after the small airport. This market springs to life on one of the many Parker Ranch properties. Disappointingly, there were far more artsy souvenir stalls than fresh produce when I visited, but there were good takeaway lunch options. The second farmer’s market worth visiting is in ‘downtown’ Waimea on the grounds of the Parker School. This market is larger and more geared towards locally grown produce and takeaway food.

Waimea Farmers Market - Big Island Hawaii

Option 1: Hawi and Pololu Valley

From Waimea, take Highway 250 for the scenic drive to Hawi. This forested and sparsely populated part of the peninsula is home to cattle ranchers and beloved monster pickup trucks.


The tiny town of Hawi is seriously charming and, like Waimea, seems to have changed little over the last 100-plus years. If you’re visiting on a Saturday, start your visit in the ‘(almost) everything’s organic’ farmers market by the hard-to-miss giant Banyan tree. I found this to be one of the best farmer’s markets on the Big Island and I highly recommend buying a picnic lunch and something to drink because we’re about to visit a special spot. Main Street Hawi has a few good options if you fancy an indoor lunch.

Town of Hawi - Big Island Hawaii
Hawi Farmers Market - Big Island Hawaii

Picnic lunch at Keokea Beach Park

From Hawi, drive on Highway 270 and take the turnoff to Keokea Beach Park. This is one of the best picnic spots on the Big Island, well worth the hungry wait. Park the car and grab a spot, but refrain from swimming in the rough waters even if you see the locals taking a dip!

Keokea Beach Park Big Island Hawaii picnic spot

Pololu Valley

The highlight of this leg is, without a doubt, Pololu Valley – one of the seven majestic valleys that carve the lush Kohala and Hamakua coasts. The view from the Pololu Valley Lookout is breathtaking, the Hawaii you’ve probably envisioned.

Meaning ‘the Valley of the Long Spear’, you can easily hike down to the valley and its majestic beach via a well-marked trail. It might be very muddy and not worth the effort after days of heavy downpours, but if conditions are good, it will only take about 30 minutes to hike down.

Pololu Valley Lookout - Big Island Hawaii

The Pololu Valley beach is a mix of black sand, rounded lava rocks, and very rough seas – not safe for swimming. While exploring the interior of the valley is not really possible, enjoy a picnic lunch or chill on the beach. If you seek more action, walk to the edge of the beach and pick up the hiking trail that climbs the overlooking ridge and continues to the next valley. This challenging hike warrants a full day, but fit hikers can simply climb the ridge and enjoy additional fine vistas (about 1 hour each way).

Pololu Valley Beach - Big Island Hawaii

Drive back to Kona

It’s now time to drive back to Kona, and we’ll do so via the scenic coastal section of Highway 270. Keep your eyes peeled for whales breaching off the coast (in season), as the marine giants frequently visit this section of the Kona coast. If there’s time, catch the sunset in one of the beach parks on the way, stop at the Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company for a tasting, and finish off the long (and hopefully fulfilling) day with some shave ice at Anuenue Ice Cream & Shave Ice.

Option 2: Waipio Valley

My personal favorite, Waipio Valley is the grandest of all Big Island valleys. It is ‘the mother of all valleys’ and not a sight you can afford to miss. The valley runs inland for over 10 km of thick jungle, freshwater streams, and giant waterfalls. Waipio (meaning ‘curving water’ in Hawaiian) was sacred to ancient Hawaiians and was known as the Valley of the Kings – the seat of the highest ali’i (chief) and home to over 1,000 residents. It’s also the site of one of the best hikes in Hawaii.

Pro Tip

You can see Waipio Valley from its overlook as part of a rapid road trip from Kona to Hilo via Saddle Road. Stops include Waimea, Waipio Valley, Akaka Falls, Hilo and the Mauna Kea Visitors Center for sunset and stargazing.

Waipio Valley Lookout

Start your visit at the Waipio Valley Lookout for your first glimpse of this beauty. Note that parking is limited to 20 minutes in the small lot and is in short supply on the residential street. Apart from million-dollar views, you’ll find picnic tables and bathrooms at the scenic lookout.

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Waipio Valley Overlook - Big Island Hawaii

Reaching the Waipio Valley Floor

From the overlook, the rest of the day’s itinerary depends on your fitness level or if you’re driving a 4WD. To reach the floor of Waipio Valley and its beach, you must either drive a proper 4WD vehicle or walk down one of the steepest roads in the U.S. Allow for about 30 minutes to slowly walk down from the overlook to the valley floor and enjoy the spectacular views along the way without damaging your knees. The hike back up is easier on the body and takes 45-60 minutes. You can theoretically hitch a ride, but I didn’t spot too many ‘nice drivers’ when I visited on three separate occasions.

Pro Tip

Check road closures in Waipio Valley before planning your day. In some years, the road to the valley floor is unsafe, leading to restricted access for visitors.

Steep road to Waipio Valley - Big Island Hawaii

Once you reach the bottom of the road, you have two options. Option A includes a hike to Hi’ilawe Falls and then a visit to the beach. Option B consists of a visit to the beach and an optional hike up the ridge on the Muliwai Trail.

View of Hi’ilawe Falls

Hi’ilawe Falls is the highest waterfall on the Big Island and one of Waipio Valley’s most stunning natural features. Cascading to the valley floor from 1450 ft (442m), Hi’ilawe Falls by turning left as you reach the valley floor. A short walk brings you to a spot where you can see the falls from afar.

Hi'ilawe Falls Lookout - Waipio Valley - Big Island Hawaii

Hiking to Hi’ilawe Falls

The hike to Hi’ilawe Falls is one of the most unique experiences on the island. However, the area lies on private land, so you must ask locals for permission before hiking, and there’s only a slim chance they’ll allow it. I have an unofficial trail map to Hi’ilawe Falls, but I won’t publish it out of respect for the valley’s residents.

Funny no trespassing sign - Waipio Valley - Big Island Hawaii

Though flat-going, it is a challenging hike that involves several river crossings on an unmarked trail. After crossing the Hi’ilawe Stream at several points (sometimes in neck-deep water), you’ll likely reach the base of the falls and be the only ones there!

Hike to Hi'ilawe Falls - Waipio Valley - Big Island Hawai - river trail
Hike to Hi'ilawe Falls - Waipio Valley - Big Island Hawaii
Hike to Hi'ilawe Falls - Waipio Valley - Big Island Hawaii - top of the falls
Hike to Hi'ilawe Falls - Waipio Valley - Big Island Hawaii - lower falls pool

Waipio Beach

Closely resembling the beach at Pololu Valley, this rocky black sand beach is another rugged beauty. Though you’ll see locals going for a swim and a surf, it’s best to avoid the temptation. Do look around for small waterfalls cascading down into the ocean. The Waipio Stream spills into the Pacific Ocean about halfway along the beach if you fancy getting wet.

Waipio Valley Beach - Big Island Hawaii
A Look into Waipio Valley - Big Island Hawaii

Muliwai Trail

I recommend hiking the first section of the Muliwai Trail to get an even better view of Waipio Valley. The 16-mile trail requires two days of hiking, camping gear, and a permit, but the first (and hardest) leg will take you up the ridgeline opposite the overlook for amazing interior views of the valley.

To reach the trailhead, walk the entire length of Waipio Beach, where a sign points in the right direction. For the next 45-60 minutes, you’ll be faced with a challenging ascent that zig-zags its way to the top of the cliff and seems never to end. However, the views keep getting better and better – with a wide-angle far more rewarding than that from the overlook. If the visibility is good, you can even see Hi’ilawe Falls – a magical sight!

View of Waipio Valley from the Muliwai Trail - Big Island Hawaii

Once at the top of the ridge, the trail heads inland through a thick and misty rainforest. It crosses many gulches and doesn’t offer much of a view until you reach the end, so it’s not worth it unless you plan to camp at Waimana Bay. Instead, enjoy the views from up here and head back down to the beach before climbing back to your car (unless you drove to the valley floor with a 4WD).

tropical rainforest - Muliwai Trail Hike - Waipio Valley Big Island Hawaii
waterfall - Muliwai Trail Hike - Waipio Valley Big Island Hawaii

Logistics: It takes about two hours to get from the Waipio Valley Lookout to the top of the cliff. Wear good hiking shoes and a hat, and be prepared for rain. Pack: plenty of water, food, and a full change of clothes.

A Greasy Reward

Before heading back to Kona, stop at the Tex Drive-In for a well-deserved greasy meal and malasada – a donut brought to the island by Portuguese workers way back in the day.