Waimea Valley is an easy receipe for me. A helping of flowers, a drizzle of river, large dollop of culture and top it all of with a lovely waterfall. It’s as easy as pie. Okay, I’ll stop, but this is the perfect place on the island to just be. To savor. To allow the surroundings to truly permeate your senses. It’s a peaceful stroll (once you pass through the gift shop, café and pay station) surrounded by all things green. At first I wasn’t thrilled about paying the $17 to get in. But once I saw the effort put into the preservation and maintenance of the valley I knew my admission fee went to good use. It’s a facinating history going back to the first settlers on the island. Today the park offers everything from Mother’s Day brunch to a summer concert series.
The day was enchanting with low clouds and a mist of rain. All noise seemed muted except the gurging river and the white-rumped shama bird’s enchanting song. The path, a wide asphalt road, meandered through towering Ohe-makai trees. With a brief break in the rain the sun winked in and out of their bright green canopy. Our final destination was the waterfall 3/4 of a mile away, but we were in no hurry. The atmosphere spoke tranquility and ease.
The valley is 1875 acres with a 300 acre botanic garden divided into regions to highlight where the flora and fauna are found. Fiji, Guam, Central and South America and others. It’s a reminder that much of what grows on Hawai’i was brought to the islands. Familiar trees like bamboo, coconut palm trees, mangrove and banyan, are not native to the island. Even the giant Monkeypod trees did not originate on Hawai’i. Koa trees on the other hand are native, and supplied wood for the canoes for the ancient civilizations. However, for me the flowers were the stars of the garden. Every colour of hisbicus I could ever imagine.
We wandered through the Kauhale (many houses) Kahiko, a historic living site. The carefully recreated village gave detailed insight to how the community slept, ate, interacted and worshipped. The gardens are rich with historic shrines and even an ancient game field. Four bridges crossed the Kamananui Stream before we came to the 45 foot waterfall. With about 50 other people. Even early in the day it’s where everyone ends up. A lovely waterfall, but this is where the ethereal bubble pops. To enter the water we were required to wear a lifejacket, provided at no charge. Of course we did it. As icy as the water was, it’s just something we had to do. We swam up to the pounding water (sometimes a trickle in drier months) and then back out. Refreshing and pretty, but we were ready to make our way back before too long. We left our car in the lot and walked to the end of the drive to exit the park. A dicey dash across the highway and we were on our way to the beautiful Waimea Bay. It’s not worth moving the car as the parking lot for the beach is miniscule and tempers run high in the battle for a spot. Beach goers can park at the botanic gardens. At peak season they charge $5 or $10, but it’s worth it!
In the winter the bay is a popular surf spot and summertime brings calmer tides to float and cool off. The crystalline water affords a view 30 feet to the bottom. While there wasn’t much to see in the sandy center of the bay, we did find a few huge schools of fish to swim through. Both ends of the beach had reef to explore marine life. Like this fellow, who wasn’t very camera friendly.
As there is very little shade on the beach an umbrella or tent is a must. And while the beach is beautiful, one of the biggest draws is the cliff. At 23 feet, this lava formation stands in stark contrast to the aquamarine water. On any given day when the waters are calm you can see at least 15 or 20 people lingering at the top, waiting their turn, or their nerve, to jump in. Having seen the grins of glee on my daughter and niece’s faces, I was anxious to try it out. The climb was easy and the rock smooth enough for bare feet. Not dissuaded by the 20 years we had on most of the jumpers, we watched as 8-year-old girls leapt off the rock and twenty-somethings did flips. With several launching points at varying heights, we could choose our bravery level. We decided to go for it and took our place at the highest point. Peering into the glimmering blue below, I gave it my best Dauntless resolve “Don’t think, just jump” and over the edge we went. In the 1.8 seconds it took for splash down I remember thinking two things: I left my stomach at the top and my top at the bottom. It was fun, but a one-and-done thing for me.
- There’s much more to the gardens than the main road. Take off on some of the smaller gravel paths (staying on the trail) and you will feel like one of the early explorers.
- As you make your way to the waterfall you will see stairs on your left. Take those for a quiet stroll along the river.
- Most of the trails from the paved pathway are comparatively empty including the hisbicus garden.