I am a big fan of Hawaii Forest and Trail. They are not only one of Hawaii's top tour companies but one of the world's top ecotour companies. In 2006 they were awarded the prestigious Ecotour Operator of the Year by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association. You can read more about the company in our Hawaii Forest and Trail profile feature.
I have taken and written about their Kohala Wai PinzTrek Adventure (now called Kohala Waterfalls Adventure) as well as their Mauna Kea Summit & Stars Adventure, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Waipio Rim Hike
In December of 2009 I was invited, along with a group of travel writers and friends to take their Waipio Rim Hike Adventure. Waipio Valley has always been one of my favorite places in all of Hawaii, but I have only ever seen it from the valley viewpoint or from horseback on the valley floor. The thought of exploring the ecosystem along the rim of the valley and getting some rare views down into the valley was exciting. I was even more pleased when I learned that our guide would be the founder of the company Robert J. Pacheco.
As the day of the hike approached I began to worry about my own ability to complete the 3-mile hike unscathed and actually enjoy it. I'm in my mid-50's and I shattered by left elbow in Hawaii several years ago. I'm also flat-footed and have had a surgery on each of my feet. When folks try to get me to take a surfing lesson in Hawaii, I politely decline, telling them that I have a hard enough time standing on land.
I was relieved to learn that among our group was a grandmother in her 70's and her young teenage grandson as well as a few others of us who weren't in prime physical condition. So, with hiking stick in hand and knapsack on my back loaded with plenty of water, the day arrived.
Normally the Waipio Rim Hike Adventure is an 8 hour round trip tour departing from either Hawaii Forest & Trail Headquarters in Kailua-Kona or from the Waikoloa Queen's Marketplace on the Big Island's Kohala Coast. Since our group was already staying in North Kohala and headed to Hilo in the afternoon, we met Rob at a location just east of Waimea town.
The Hike Itself
Our group climbed into one of Hawaii Forest and Trail's Pinzgauer (Swiss Army Vehicle) and headed down Mud Road (what a name) through groves of Sydney Blue Gum and other types of eucalyptus trees.
Leaving Mud Road we proceeded onto private property across lands once owned by the former Hamakua Sugar Company but since purchased by Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate. It was amazing to see how, in just a few short years, such towering trees have taken hold of the area.
After about a half hour it was time to park the Pinzgauer, grab our hiking gear and head off into the unknown. I'm not going to give a detailed travelogue of the hike itself. My Waipio Rim Hike Adventure Photo Gallery will give you a pretty good idea of some of what you'll see along the way.
The hike itself is rated "moderate," but that, I suspect, is for somewhat experienced hikers which I am not. For me the hike was "difficult," but not unmanageable. Only about half of the hike is on what I would call level ground. There is a lot of uphill and downhill portions often on rocky (and on the day of our hike slippery and very muddy paths.) There are a number of water crossings on planks or across rocks. Several areas of the path were pretty close to significant drops. I did take two small tumbles which injured only my pride. I can't tell you how much I hate slippery rocks!
Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?
Did you ever take part in an activity and say to yourself the whole time, "why am I doing this?" and then when it's all done and you look back on it you discover that you're really glad that you did? I'm sure that after you finished the last paragraph you're wondering how I could have possibly enjoyed this hike, right?
First off, I'm sure that 99.99% of visitors to Hawaii have never seen the area covered on this hike. It explores a native ecosystem and complete watershed that ultimately feeds the world famous Hi'ilawe Falls and Waipio Stream. You'll see plants and trees that you may have seen in a botanical garden, but never before in their native habitat. You'll also get much better views into Waipio Valley than you can get from the valley lookout near Honokaa.
Rob Pacheco, like all of his guides at Hawaii Forest and Trail, is expert in describing everything along the way and just as importantly fully concerned for the safety and enjoyment of hike participants.
Before we began the hike, Rob told us that he had three goals for us: 1) have fun 2) be safe and 3) have a memorable experience. As I look back on the adventure I did indeed have fun. While I slipped a few times and even landed on my rear end twice I stayed safe. Best of all, it was an experience I won't soon forget.
If You Go
Hawaii Forest and Trail provides the following information for participants on their Waipio Rim Hike Adventure.
Schedule: Tours daily. 8 hours round trip, departs from Hawaii Forest & Trail Headquarters, and Waikoloa Queen’s Marketplace.
Rated: Moderate; ages 8 and over.
Included in the Tour: Deli style lunch with assorted soft drinks, juices and bottled water.
Gear Provided: Walking sticks, warm wear, day packs and rain ponchos.
Prices (January 2010): Adult: $149.00, plus tax. Child (12 and under): $119.00, plus tax.
Group Size: Tour limited to a maximum of 12 guests.
Restrictions: Guests should be able to hike on uneven or rocky terrain and not have knee or hip problems. They usually encounter cool, wet or muddy conditions. Other tour restrictions may apply.
What to Bring & Wear: Closed-toe walking shoes, shorts or long pants, hat, sunscreen and a light jacket or sweatshirt.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary tour for the purpose of reviewing the Hawaii Forest and Trail Waipio Rim Hike Adventure. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.