For a great day trip in to nature, a family adventure, a luau or a destination wedding, Waimea Valley is a perfect spot. It is best to head out early in the day to tour the whole park (and beat the traffic). The Valley is a historical site, as well as an agricultural and spiritual one. The park, also known as Waimea Falls Park, is now run by a non-profit organization that works to promote and maintain the instruction of traditional Hawaiian culture. Waimea Valley is home to many endangered species of birds, and pets are not allowed in the park, except for trained service dogs.
The valley has been ruled by a variety of entities in the past, including kings, chiefs and high priests. Cultural sites in the valley include the Kauhale, traditional Hawaiian living site. There are replica buildings, with explanations of the cultural significance of each building. The Hale O Lono Heiau, a replica temple dedicated to Lono, the god of peace, rain and agriculture is another historic site. And a Hawaiian games area that displays some of the traditional games, played by early generations of Hawaiians.
The trail from the ticket office to Waimea Falls with their swimming area is about 3/4 mile long and is considered one of the best hikes in Oahu. The main pathway is well paved with low incline. It is surrounded by beautiful garden wilderness and is labeled with lots of interesting detours. There are shuttle cars that can carry those who are not able to walk the whole way. Some of the side trails can be a good work out, at steep angles with stone stairways. These lead to some of the special exhibit gardens. Near the ticket booth/cafe area there are traditional native drummers to put you in the mood for the journey.
As farmers from various places came to Waimea Valley, they imported crops from other tropical regions. There are 41 distinct sections, representing some 5,000 plants from around the world. The gardens are sectioned off into different national and international agricultural influences with historical information along the way, like Hawaiian hibiscus, medicinal and food plants, Guamanian flora, and Central and South American flora, to name a few. These are all very beautiful and educational to enjoy.
There is a Zen-like experience to the trail walk, leading to the waterfall area. Merely wandering through Waimea Valley gardens is somewhat spiritual. A step away from the everyday world, with limited cell phone service and no wi-fi, photography and nature rule the day. And Nature provides many show stopping photo opportunities along the way. The jungle scenery and the lush environment ease some of the intensity one may feel in the city or from an overly planned vacation trip. Be sure to allow plenty of time to really enjoy the experience.
As you pass different areas you will find local artisans at work producing traditional fare. From the native fishing net weavers to stone carvers and Hawaiian weapon makers, there are wares available for sale. Others like the lei makers offer free lessons in their craft; I got to make my own lei.
Swimming in the waterfall pool
Swimming in the natural pool in front of Waimea Falls is a brisk and refreshing encounter, but well worth the journey. Waimea Falls are easily the main attraction in the Valley. The Falls are easy, family-friendly, refreshing and fun! The water is a bit cool, and the rocks at the water entrance a bit slippery. But once you are in it, the pool itself is a pleasant experience. Many like to approach the falls to feel the current coming from it. Life jackets are provided at no extra fee.
Tips from locals
Bring cash as all the concessions after you leave the main ticket booth and cafe are cash only. You can bring your own water and snacks if you like as the hike plus swimming will make you hungry. Come early, bring your swim suit, towel, sunscreen and bug repellant. Wear good walking shoes and comfortable clothes.
The daily admission to Waimea Falls Park is $16 per person (as of the time of this writing) and if you want to ride the shuttle bus to the waterfall area (or back to the entrance) it costs extra. Check the park’s website for current ticket prices, botanical and cultural tours, events and so much more. Waimea Valley is also a great wedding destination, with multiple venues and catering available. Luau information is available on the website or at the ticket area.
More Oahu Hikes
Manoa Falls and Maunawili Falls – Two Great hikes in Honolulu Watershed Forest
Oahu Hikes: Laie Falls Trail and Kaiwa Ridge Trail
Koko Head Trail Hike: a 1048-Step Challenge
Crouching Lion Hike: a Walk Through the Jungle
Lanikai Pillbox Hike
Luakaha Falls Trail