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Pololū Valley | Birthplace of an Island

Pololū Valley is sacred. It was a puʻuhonua, a refuge, for ancient Hawaiians. It still is for those whose families have been living in the area for generations. Basically a tropical landscape satirizing itself with exaggerated beauty, massive sea cliffs reveal the layers of eruptions that created these volcanoes. Checking them out is a sought-after experience. But spending time in these culturally sensitive sites comes with a responsibility to preserve them.

The valley is carved into Kohala, the first and oldest volcano on the island

Pololū is the first of seven valleys on the northeast side of the island. According to the Hawaiian creation chant, the god and goddess who formed the island lived in Pololū Valley. This is where they planted their first-born son, which created the first taro or kalo plant, one of the most important foods for the subsistence farmers of ancient Hawaiʻi. Archeological evidence of early settlements was likely wiped out by a massive tsunami before the year 1500, but Hawaiians had probably been living here since around 300 A.D.

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Walking Trees | The Pandanus or Hala Tree

Pele, the volcano goddess, is responsible for bringing hala trees to Hawaiʻi. These can grow up to 20 feet tall, with their distinctive aerial roots visibly growing above the ground. Madame Peleʻs canoe got stuck on an island tangled with roots as she made her way here from Tahiti. In her eruptive rage — remember, she is the volcano goddess — she ripped the tree to pieces and flung them throughout the Pacific. Chunks landing in Hawaiʻi eventually became the hala tree.

Hawaiians used hala leaves, or lauhala, for weaving anything from mats and pillows to roof thatching and canoe sails. The tradition remains strong today. Maybe youʻve already picked up a crownless Pikoʻole Pāpale hat woven from lauhala. Hala leis were made from the ends of unripe fruit, which look a bit like pineapples and grow only on female hala trees. The word hala means to error or pass away, so donʻt give a hala lei to celebrate the beginning of anything. Elders would wear them on New Year’s to honor the passing year.

Malama Ka ʻAina

Care For the Land

Hawaiian rituals are known as Hana Kupono, or protocols — right behavior conducted at the appropriate time. Before entering a sacred site in Hawaiʻi, check in with yourself. Basic protocols are simple: ask permission and give thanks. A silent moment goes a long way toward embodying the Aloha Spirit, which is literally written into Hawaiian state law as “the coordination of mind and heart within each person.” Be a true adventurer and learn about the culture. The best Hawaiian souvenir isn’t that plumeria hair clip you buy at the ABC Stores. Take some of the kindness, harmony, humility, and patience of the “Aloha Spirit'' back home with you.

If You’re Called to the Valley

The trailhead is about an hour and fifteen minutes north of Kona. Drive up Highway 19, then turn left toward Kawaihae and take Highway 270 to the 12-car parking lot at the end of the road. There are no bathroom facilities on the trail. First, stop at the artsy towns of Hāwī and Kapaʻau for breakfast or coffee and to use the restroom.

The hike is moderate to advanced with steep, narrow steps built out of rocks, roots, and eroding soil. If you’re looking for a leisurely stroll, then just take in the view and head elsewhere. The climb back out is enough of a workout that you can skip leg day at the gym tomorrow. With switchbacks down the valley making over a 400 foot elevation change in just over half a mile, it’ll take the average hiker about 20 minutes or so to get down. How long you take to get back out is up to you.

Rainy days are common on this side of the island and they make the steep hike pretty treacherous, so it’s best to plan for a sunny day. And remember to stay on the path. While the small parking lot and trail falls under the jurisdiction of the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the valley itself is private land and the site of ancient sacred burial grounds. The bottom of the trail leads you to a black sand beach with pounding waves. Resist the urge to stack rocks on the beach. Respect for the ʻaina means leaving places the way you found them. Even on days with low surf, conditions can change in an instant and riptides are strong. Stay out of the water. This isn’t the place for that dip in the ocean.

Loop through Waimea after the hike. Head back to Hāwī and turn onto Route 250. This is the Kohala Mountain Road, a narrow, winding track with stops to pull off the road and fulfill your Julie Andrews fantasies, because these hills are definitely alive. Check out Arvo Cafe in Waimea for that afternoon caffeine hit with a dash of Aussie style — they’ve even got vegemite toast. Roll into Kona in time for your reservation at Sushi Sam to try some of the best sushi on the islands.

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