A horse overlooks Waipio Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The Hawaiian Islands have their fair share of sacred valleys, and Waipio Valley on the Big Island is a great example. Historic in its past and beautiful in its present, Waipio contains within it not only stories, but present examples of “Old Hawaii as well.” Visitors can explore Waipio on their own—under certain stipulations (see below)—or on the one-and-only tour in the valley, the Waipio Valley Shuttle Tour. Here’s what you need to know about the tour.

It’s less stressful than driving yourself.

Seriously. The road into Waipio Valley descends more than a thousand feet down to the bottom via an extremely narrow road, which is one lane at times and requires four-wheel drive. It’s easy to get stuck, or hit the guardrails, due to its steep, one-lane nature, and traveling it often requires backing uphill to let others pass. Riding along in the shuttle allows you to focus on the actual experience and reduce the stress of driving down and then back up the big hill.

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It does not go to the beach.

One of the main destinations for people visiting Waipio Valley on their own is the beach. Tour participants should be aware that the shuttle tour does not go to the beach – rather, it takes the back road through the valley, through the residential and farm area.

You will encounter wild animals.

You’re just about guaranteed to come across wild horses along the road in the back of Waipio Valley. Most guides are good about interacting with the horses and encourage guests to do the same. Ask your guide to explain about these wild horses, who can be “adopted” at any time.

The guided tour explores the valley’s history.

The shuttle tour has the tagline of “A four-wheel experience into old Hawaii.” Indeed, an experience in the valley is not just about appreciating its beauty; it’s about understanding its history.

A house in Waipio Valley, Hawaii

Nowadays, there are only a couple dozen houses, but at one time, there were closer to 1,500 people living there, with taro patches, banana trees, fish ponds, heiaus and even a place of refuge, Pakaalana. There was a post office, school, store, jail, billiard hall, church and hotel at one time. Much of it was destroyed in the 1946 tsunami, one of the most devasting in Hawaii’s history.

The local residents often steal the show.

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Not only will your driver have a vast knowledge of the valley’s history, but he/she will also have stories regarding the current and previous residents (in most cases, they will be friends). Yes, the lush flora and the 1,200-foot waterfall will capture your attention, but so too will the stories of Waipio’s caretakers. Don’t be afraid to point at a house and ask, “Who lives there?” In a place like Waipio, the answer is always interesting.