There are places I’ve been to that instill a certain type of awe, a sense of one-ness and appreciation for the wonders of life that starts as a physical sensation in the chest and, in my case, often results in giggles or a massive grin I can’t wipe off my face. I get that feeling at sunset in places like Joshua Tree, on a powder day in the backcountry, and whenever I enter Waipi’o Valley on the Big Island. I won’t be able to do that last one for a while now, as Hawaii County has closed access to Waipi’o Valley Road to all but residents, landowners and those who work on the valley’s taro farms. The decision has divided residents of the Big Island, with some feeling that the valley needed a break from years of overuse, while others say the restrictions are unfair to those who have been using the valley for years but simply don’t live there.
Waipi’o Valley is one of the more sacred areas in Hawaiian culture. Also known as “The Valley of Kings,” it served as the main residence and capital for generations of Hawaiian Ali’i (the ruling class of nobility), and was where King Kamehameha, first ruler and founder of the Kingdom of Hawaii, grew up. Towards the back of the valley, behind the taro fields and in amongst the waterfalls, remnants of temples and ancient burial caves are still found today. The waves that crash on the black sand beach are some of the best and most consistent on the Big Island, drawing surfers from across the region. The valley is, without a doubt, a very special place.