The Muliwai Trail is a 9-mile trail traversing the Kohala Forest Reserve following the north coast of the island. The trail starts off at the Waipi’o Valley Overlook, where you’ll get your first spectacular view, but don't be put off by the crowds of tourists. Waipi’o Valley is geologically one of the oldest valleys on the island, and it is used today for growing kalo. Kalo is a traditional Hawaiian crop used to make poi.
The trail immediately starts its descent using the Waipi’o Valley Road, a four-wheel-drive paved road that is the steepest road of its length in the United States. It’s steep. Really steep. Once at the base of the valley you’ll see firsthand the kalo fields as you work your way toward a huge beautiful black sand beach. If you take a short detour into the valley, you’ll catch a glimpse of Hi’ilawe Falls, but the falls are also visible once you start your ascent on the opposite side of the valley. The steep nature of the access road means that Waipi’o Beach is not very crowded, though it is a popular surf spot for locals. You’ll need to cross a river to get to the bulk of the beach, and for some this is the hardest part of the day! On the other side of the river, you’ll probably see only a few other people scattered along the beach.
Once you cross the entire beach (over a half-mile long!), you’ll immediately start climbing what locals call the Z Trail. This is the portion of the trail seen from the opposite side of the valley that climbs back out of Waipi’o Valley. This is a brutal portion of the hike, with full exposure to the sun and seemingly endless switchbacks, climbing 1,200 feet in 0.8 miles. You will get phenomenal views of the valley, however, including Hi’ilawe Falls towering at 1,450 feet. Once at the top of the valley wall, you’ll follow the ridge for the remainder of the trail until your descent into Waimanu Valley. While there are no real views on this section of the trail, the shade of the lofty eucalyptus trees among other native and non-native trees is definitely appreciated. You will cross 12 gulches during this stretch, and one offers an awesome swimming hole, the Queen’s Bath. This is a deep but very small swimming hole with spots for cliff jumping, too.
At mile 6.5 you’ll catch your first glimpse of the ocean again and Waimanu Valley. With only nine permitted campsites, this is a very secluded valley with no road access. After numerous switchbacks take you back to sea level, you’ll be rewarded with a black sand beach virtually to yourself. Waimanu is a great place to camp, as there are multiple waterfalls in the valley worth exploring, and the beach provides the perfect place to recoup. Often endangered monk seals can be seen lounging on the beach, enjoying the peaceful nature of the beach. Be careful when swimming in the ocean; there is definitely a strong undertow.
Wai’ilikahi Falls is located 1 mile away along the far side of the valley. There is a faint trail you can follow through the forest. The falls are 1,080 feet high, tumbling into a large and deep swimming hole beneath. Continue past Wai’ilikahi Falls to reach Kaka’auki Falls. This has a smaller swimming hole, and the falls are tiered, so only about 30 feet are visible. The rest of the 1,000-foot waterfall is hidden. During the rainy season more falls sprout in the back of the valley. No trail is available, and you’d be adventuring where few have gone!
There are nine campsites ranging in size in Waimanu, and permits are available through the state parks. Campsite 9 is closest to firewood and a freshwater spring. It is also closest to the sandiest portion of the beach. Campsite 2 is generally the most popular campsite because it provides unobstructed views of the valley and is adjacent to a mellow portion of the river, another fun and deep swimming spot. Campsite 2 is also the largest campsite and allows for 10 individuals. Most hikers recommend staying in the valley at least two nights so you can spend one full day exploring the valley and its falls and enjoying the beach. Parking your car overnight at the lookout is problematic (theft), but Waipi’o Valley Artworks, a nearby gallery, allows you to leave your car in their lot for a small fee, which may be a safer option. Although problematic for different reasons, hikers can prevent break-ins by renting an island car.
This adventure can also be completed by kayak, leaving from Waipi'o and returning the same way or following the dramatic coastline 11 more miles to Keokea Beach Park.