We loved our experience exploring Waipio Valley by horseback. This excursion made the visit into Waipio valley less stressful. They picked us up at the top of the valley, 2000 feet above the beautiful rainforest below, and drove us down in a 4-wheel drive van along a road that gains 800 vertical feet in 0.6 miles at a 25% average grade, with steeper grades in sections. Part of the fun of horseback riding in Waipo is traversing this road to the valley in a van full of tourists. We had a guide that was a bit of a comedian and toyed with us about the brakes going out. It was one of those experiences where you are having a great time but wondering a bit about the safety record of the tour company. Rest assured we made it down safe and everything with the van seemed to work fine!
The tour guide talked about much of the history and culture of Waipio Valley. It is the childhood home of King Kamehameha I and was an important center for religious life in Hawaii. Due to the fertile land and abundance of fresh water, this valley was once the home of thousands of native Hawaiians. Today there are less than 100 residents living there. This is mostly due to the fact that the valley is only a few feet above sea level and is easily devastated by tsunamis. In 1946 a huge tsunami hit the valley, and it has been sparsely populated ever since.
One of the highlights of the horseback tour was viewing the huge waterfalls in the valley. Hiilawe Falls cascade down the 1,300 feet cliffs in the back of Waipio valley. There are fruit trees everywhere. Our guide would often reach out and pluck some fruit off the trees and offer it to the group. All of it tasted good and was fun to try things that you can’t buy in your local grocery store.
I found the culture of the residents that live in Waipio Valley very interesting. It seems that they mostly want to be left alone. Our guide talked of how they have permission to enter the valley and made a big deal that they have exclusive access to certain waterfalls and trails on private lands. I wonder if this is just talk to make the horseback riding tour more adventurous, but I personally wouldn’t roam around the valley on my own. I know that some walk down the steep road on foot (watch out for the vans along the way) and try to hike the trails on their own, but I have not yet been that brave.
Overall the horseback riding experience was a blast and very enjoyable. I think we had a great guide which made the activity better. Don’t forget to wear long pants and closed shoes. We saw a couple in our group with sandals and shorts which did not look comfortable.