Day 3: The Day We Emulate Kevin Costner

We awake in the morning on Day 3 and have a nice leisurely breakfast at Don the Beachcomber restaurant downstairs. Our appointment for the tour of Waipio Valley isn't until that afternoon, so we decide to go a bit further up the road from Waipio and find the Hawaiian Vanilla Company situated in Pa'auilo.

Yeah... we didn't have any idea where the heck that was either.

However, with only one misstep we find the vanilla plantation... and several dozen tourists who are arriving for a luncheon, which is just about to start as we showed up. Our timing is incredible as always, but while we aren't able to tour the place like we'd planned (it's a very small family-run place and everyone was busy taking care of the lunch reservations), we are able to raid the gift shop there and buy some very nice vanilla-themed presents for ourselves. And maybe one or two things for other people, as well.

On a side note -- it kind of freaked me out how well my clothes for the day matched the vanilla company building.

After that, we have enough time to make a stop in the town of Honoka'a where we stop by a roadside restaurant and I am able to experience my first plate lunch. The loco moco I have is actually quite tasty and -- other than the unfortunate name -- has nothing whatsoever to do with crazy boogers. I hope.

After our plate lunch experience, we head down to the ridiculously small town of Waipio where we hit the art gallery / gift shop / cafeteria while waiting for our tour. One-stop shopping for both tourists as well as locals is a sure sign of a town with only a double-digit population.

We meet our tour guides, a married couple named Les and Renee. Renee's family owns a bunch of the land around the valley, and she and Les have a house down in the valley where they have a taro farm. In addition to being a taro farmer, Les is also a private chef at the Mauna Lani resort, which makes him pretty darn cool in my book.

We get a quick glimpse of the valley from an observation point before heading up several ridiculously steep hills to get to the ATV tour start point -- their 4x4 van seemed to have trouble in some spots.

Once we get comfortable on the ATVs and get our Introduction to ATV Safety lecture ("This makes you go, this makes you slow down, that tree will make you stop real quick") we head off along steep, rocky, and what sure as heck seem like impassable trails on our rides. The views of the valley from right near the cliff edge are amazing.

Along the way, we run into a variety of wild flora and fauna, including Hawaiian ginger flowers; wild macadamia nut trees and coffee trees (!!!); a lone Hawaiian hawk; and some wild pigs, one of which wanders right up the the fence separating it from us and seems either very friendly or very curious, and at any rate very willing to have its picture taken.

Also along the way, we make a stop at a secluded lagoon fed by a small waterfall, and we take a break for a bit so we could play in the water. Back in the old days, this place was reserved for royalty only and off-limits to the regular folk like Lucie and myself, but with Hawaiian royalty being in short supply nowadays, it's open to the visitors who are on the tours (it's still amazingly remote and on private land, so access by the general public is prohibited.)

The Waipio Valley is one of the most undeveloped areas of the big island... only a handful of people live in the valley, and only two of the houses actually have electricity. Access to the valley floor is limited to a one-lane road that's almost a 30% grade, making the drive treacherous even with a 4x4 vehicle, and impossible without one. Several waterfalls cascade from the cliff walls, though one of the larger ones was unfortunately blocked up by the earthquake that happened in October 2006. A federal grant is currently pending to get the waterway unblocked so as to once again allow the water to flow freely -- as it is, the blocked waterway has caused closure of a few businesses in the area, and is causing a hardship on some of the farms that needed the flowing water for irrigation. As if being a taro farmer weren't hard enough.

(Waipio Valley is also where they filmed the ending to Waterworld, in case you didn't get the reference in the title.)

I highly recommend the ATV tour for everyone who goes to the big island... and I also highly recommend Les and Renee as tour guides. These guys were outstandingly friendly, entertaining, and made our trip not only loads of fun but also educational, with Les "talking story" and giving tips on local history and culture as he led us along the paths. These guys made us feel like family, and we can't thank them enough for the experience. Mahalo, you guys.

After the tour ends, we head on back to our hotel, stopping at a deli in Waimea for dinner (another plate dinner for me, this time with chicken katsu and char siu pork; and saimin soup for Lucie).

No drinks by the ocean tonight, as all of the chairs are full. We'll make up for it tomorrow, but for tonight we head off to bed, still awestruck by the beauty of the valley and feeling more and more relaxed by the island's spirit.

I love this place.


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