We carefully climbed over the gate at about 8 in the morning…so much for my 5:30 exit from Hilo! It turned out an alright time though as we had no problems with the entry or weather. There were clouds around the mountain top, but I just assume there will always be some cloud walking on this hike! As I said earlier, it’s a short walk of a few hundred meters over a double track jeep trail.
The road takes you around the top side of the reservoir, over some hills and winds up at another gate.
We now have another easy walk to the aqueduct. After you climb over the gate the vegetation gets a bit more dense and there are more puddles in the road tracks. At first it is tempting to try to walk around the puddles in an effort to keep dry and clean. Let me just say this: if you came on the WRH to keep dry and clean you are in for a miserable failure! My son-in-law and his sister-in-law made the attempt, my grandson and I decided to let our feet feel some water from the get go so we just trudged through. The entire group got on board with that after they saw our success and their lack thereof!
Once here, you know that you are pretty close to the aqueduct. Depending on the water flow, you may be able to hear it soon.
And then you get to the gate to the aqueduct. The gates are usually closed but not locked. I would respect a lock if you find one…
You’ll be hiking along this aqueduct for much of the rest of the day, although it does go into some mountain tunnels and pipes. However, on the chance that you get disoriented use the aqueduct as a point of reference and follow it back out.
A pleasant walk along the trail takes you through a lot of ferns, bamboo, and ginger. Depending on the season it is often very fragrant for the duration of the journey! It is also very common to walk in the mist and rain. The temperature can get a bit chilly when you are wet so it is not a bad idea to bring a small poncho or trash bag to shed some water in case the rain comes harder. However, since a lot of the trail is in and around water, I would probably come back another day if it really dumps on you!
After a bit you will come upon a section of the aqueduct that flows through a big pipe over a small chasm. The bridge has gates on either end. I like to keep them closed to help keep animals off the bridges.
After you cross over the stream you will find yourself very close to the Waipio Valley. I have always come upon and left the Valley in a shroud of mist, but if the clouds break, be prepared for a fantastic view!
Once you turn into the Waipio you walk along a small trail with a fantastic view of the Hi’ilawe Falls and down to the ocean on a clear day (or 10 minute break in the clouds like we had!). The trail is very easy, and although it is dirt (mud) and rock, we had no trouble whatsoever traversing it.
Shortly after you make the left turn into the valley you may notice a small lava tube opening. It is easy to miss, so you should keep your eyes peeled to the left (whilst being cautious about the ledge!). The tube has a small opening that goes into a large room with two small spurs. It is less than 50 ft in total length, but is worth the time for a picture.
We continued along the rim until we hit a small promontory. Being that my daughter was a gymnast we took the requisite handstand photo. Having never seen this area without a thick blanket of fog I was not concerned…more on that later!
After this pit stop we follow a small valley to the left (the trail follows it so there’s no real question as to where to go) and the fog began to lift a bit
The back of this little valley reunites you with the aqueduct. As the trail u-turns you cross a small concrete bridge that is clearly marked as unsafe. Having done concrete construction for several years I examined it and deemed it very sturdy and took the signs to be “litigation insurance” in case someone hurts themselves. We proceeded with all due caution.
Just around the corner you will discover another pipe crossing a canyon for our friend the aqueduct.
At this point there are some options. The first choice is to enjoy what you’ve seen and turn back. The second choice is to jump (carefully) into the aqueduct and enter the mountain. The third choice is to continue along the trail and risk life and limb while doubling your time to arrive at the water slide. We went with Door Number Two! The water was pretty high on the day we came. Since I was with my 8 year old grandson we decided to do a depth test before getting wet. I found a long ginger branch and checked the water level. It was about midway between his armpits and his navel so we decided to go for it.
A few suggestions by way of preparation before making you way through the mountain. We used one headlamp and gave it to the “locomotive” of the group. If you don’t have a headlamp and don’t want to shell out the money for one a cellphone flash will work just fine. If you are using your phone for a light source I recommend some sort of water resistance enclosure such as a ziplock sandwich bag. I also highly recommend that everyone entering the tunnels wear some sort of head gear, even if it’s just a t-shirt or bandana. The rocks often jut down low and we all left with mud stains on our hats but not our skulls! Also, a backpack is really nice. The aqueduct is about a meter wide and is concrete in construction so you have very sure footing the whole way as well as adequate hand holds. We did not go at a sprint and were able to make the trip through the tunnels in about 30 minutes. We met a group that took the overland route and they said it took them more than an hour. The water provides a pretty good workout and being that you are in virtual darkness the whole time, it does get a bit chilly so keep working and creating body heat. There are three sections of tunnel, each one having a two to three meter opening to the jungle.
Due to slope changes there are sections of the tunnels which have some very strong rapids. They are tough to scale going in, and very awkward coming out due to being pushed downhill. I kept my grandson’s shirt clenched in my hand, and on two occasions his feet flew out from under him. Be very cautious with kids and light adults!
If you notice in that last picture, some places where the concrete walls of the aqueduct have broken off and are lying askew in the path. Virtually all such places occur after the second opening (as you are going to the water slide). I STRONGLY recommend that your “locomotive” shuffle their feet in order to assess the terrain. Ours would call out irregularities to the “box cars”, who passed the word along until the message reached the “caboose”.
Finally you will reach the end and come into a large open area under a section of aqueduct that drops about 40 feet at a 45º pitch. This is what we affectionately call the water slide.
The group we met was using floaties to go down. Some had success, but one of the girls in their group hit the water funny and got disoriented in the water at the bottom. The bottom has a large pool that can churn pretty violently. If you hit the water straight you can hit the bottom and push up with your legs. She did not make it all the way down and couldn’t find which way was up and spent about 5 seconds under the water, sending alarm through all of us and giving her a pretty nasty scare. Due to the volume of water that day I did not allow my grandson to use the slide and I stayed out as well.
The return hike is pretty much “put it in reverse”. However, we did get a brief respite from the fog and were treated to a fantastic view of the entire Waipio Valley.
Coming back is pleasant, but can be chilly due to the water play. Sometimes it’s nice to pack a change of clothes in a bag. When we reached the reservoir we saw that clouds had moved in around Mauna Kea. We climbed the first gate at 8:02 in the morning and returned around 1:30 in the afternoon.
After a long day, our adventure was over. We did our best to clean up a bit, headed into Waimea for a bite to eat then started back toward Hilo. We stopped for malasadas at Tex Drive In in Honoka’a. This is a definite must! Sorry, no pics, but you can certainly find them online by clicking here. AFter that, my weary warriors all sacked out on dear ol Pops.
Aloha and Mahalo!