Valley of the Kings Hawaii

Big Island Guide Travel Guide

Exploring the Valley of the Kings Hawaii 

February 2022 UPDATE – Due to unsafe conditions and unstable sections, the Waipio Valley Road is currently closed to both hikers and vehicles. The overlook remains open for those who wish to view the valley from above. We will update this article when new information becomes available.

Located on the Big Island’s northern shore, the Valley of the Kings (also known as Waipio Valley) is a sacred place with great importance to Hawaiian culture and tradition. By visiting the Valley of the Kings, you’ll not only be rewarded with incredible views of the natural wonders of Hawaii, but you’ll catch a glimpse of the history and culture that makes Hawaii so special.

View from the Waipio Valley Lookout

Surrounded by 2,500-foot cliffs, a journey into the Valley of the Kings requires a steep hike or four wheel drive. Along with beautiful waterfalls, a black sand beach, and tropical splendor, the valley contains ancient burial sites, fishing areas, and heiaus in varying conditions. While you can spot some of the historic areas from the road, most of these sites are not accessible to visitors and we ask that you respect all private property and historic areas while visiting.

Waipio Valley of the Kings Historical Plaques at the Lookout

While a trip into the valley is special, the view from the lookout is lovely and gives you a good idea of the size and scale of the ancient fishing and farming community as well as some insight into their unique way of life from the educational plaques. A fertile and productive region, the valley is ripe with agricultural fields and orchards.

The Valley of the Kings History

Many Hawaiian royal families have roots that originate in this valley, and many Hawaiian Kings ruled from this sacred place, therefore the Waipio Valley is often called the Valley of the Kings. Much of what is known about the Waipio Valley prior to the 1800’s is from oral histories and ancient Hawaiian stories. The bones of many Hawaiian rulers were buried in the caves along the cliff sides, and their mana is said to provide the valley and residents with protection.

Today, the area is sparsely populated, however, as many as 10,000 people once lived in the beautiful Valley of the Kings. The area was historically home to a productive farming and fishing village, growing around 1200 acres of taro and tending to fruit orchards, fish ponds and pasture animals. It’s estimated that just before the arrival of European explorers, around 2600 native Hawaiians still lived in the valley.

Historic Photo of a Thatched building in the the Waipio Valley of the Kings Hawaii

Thatched house at foot of Waimanu Bluff, in the Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Kings was where Kamehameha the Great was declared the future ruler of all the Hawaiian Islands by the war god Kukailimoku. This made Waipio Valley a tempting target for the warring Kings from Kauai and Maui and led to a desecration of the temples here that would set into motion the great battles between the islands that would eventually result in the victory of Kamehameha and a united Hawaii.

Historic Drawing by William Ellis of the Waipio Valley

Historic Drawing by William Ellis of the Waipio Valley – Pub 1824 Engraved by J. Archer

There were significant Hawaiian religious and cultural traditions set in the Waipio Valley. They built many heiau (places of worship), and had a rich oral tradition surrounding the Hawaiian gods who frequented the valley. Some of the prominent archaeological sites are Honua`ula and Moa`ula which are both luakini (sacrificial) heiau, Paka`alana is another luakini heiau and pu`uhonua (refuge) with a sacred burial area, Hokuwelowelo Heiau was where the famous Kihapu (a war conch used to summon the gods) was kept before it was stollen. In some cases, parts of these heiau are still visible today, though many are on private property and all should be treated with great care and respect.

Historic Drawing of the Waipio Valley

Wood-engraving by Benson John Lossing and William Barritt – pub 1854

The Valley of the Kings – Agricultural History

Moving forward from ancient times, the Waipio Valley continued to be an agricultural center into the mid 1800s, however the population of the area continued to decline and shifted toward Chinese immigrant farmers who were leaving the sugarcane industry. Small poi production operations became more prominent in Waipio to process the taro grown locally. Rice farming also became more common and because rice was cheaper than poi, many switched from the traditional local crop.

Historic Photo of Canoes in the Waipio Valley

Outrigger canoes on Wailoa stream in Waipio Valley pre 1923

By the late 1800’s, the population in the valley was estimated to have decreased to around 1000 individuals with only 200 being native Hawaiians. At this time, there was a small community in the valley with schools, stores and a post office but it slowly declined as the population shrank.

In 1848, following the land redistribution of the great Māhele by King Kamehameha III, one resident of the valley assumed ownership of approximately 5,800 acres of the Waipio Valley. This land was later purchased several times and eventually transferred to the care of the Bishop Museum in 1896. They retain ownership and continue leasing out some of this land for agricultural uses to this day.

Historic Photo of the Waipio Valley

Aerial view of the Waipio Valley in 1935

By the early 1900s only around a quarter of the farm land in Waipio was still dedicated to taro production. However, rice growing would only enjoy a short period of prominence, as cheaper California grown rice made it less economically viable as a crop in Hawaii by the late 1920s.

In 1946 the Valley of the Kings suffered a terrible natural disaster in the form of a destructive tidal wave that destroyed homes and devastated the farming patches. Most of the remaining residents left the valley and much of the farmland was abandoned. Some farmers moved out of the valley but continued to farm their taro patches.

the Waimanu River in the Waipio Valley

The Land Bureau reported in 1960 that only around 100 acres of taro was still being farmed in the valley, along with some macadamia trees and lotus root. There were only 30-40 people left residing in the Waipio Valley after this disaster and the population has not increased much to this day with most reports being 50-60 residents.

The Valley of the Kings’ agricultural legacy continues today with the cultivation of taro and Hawaiian crops still prominent in the area and most residents earning a living in the agricultural or fishing industries. Several educational groups interested in preserving Hawaiian cultural traditions use the valley to teach students ancient practices.

Read more about visiting the Waipio Valley.

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