Saturday, 23 April 2016

Secret Hike, White Road

Living in a popular tourist destination like Hawaii can sometimes cause beautiful locations or activities to be overrun with tourists, pushing and shoving to get a the best view or experience.

Luckily after a while of living in an area you begin to hear about the lesser known locations, the areas that you only find out about from word of mouth or the odd Youtube video, the secret spots.
One of these is a place that I personally believe to be the most gorgeous hike on the island. 
The White Road Hike.

Early one morning my brother and I, plus a group of friends, got together to hike the White Road. We started out in Hilo, drove along the coast until we reached Waimea and turned right when we saw the street sign reading "White Road". 

This hike does involve crossing over private property, but sometimes the owner sits by the gate and accepts a $5 entrance fee from hikers in exchange for permission to hike over his land. It's a good idea to have permission because if not, you risk facing legal issues related to trespass. This is probably one of the reasons why White Road hasn't been turned into the biggest, nastiest tourist trap on the island. Because you risk trespass...And cliffs.
The owner of the land is super cool though. 
Once that little formality is over you can cross the owner's land and enter a trail in a forest.

You hike through the trees, past thickets of bamboo with strange side trails leading off into who-knows-where (we didn't follow them), a massive fallen over tree with it's thick roots reaching up to the sky...

Eventually you reach a point where the mist starts rolling in. This is why it's advisable to go early in the morning- any later and the glorious valley view will be obscured by white clouds. Hence the name "White Road"

As you can see the hike is rather muddy sometimes, so don't wear your favorite pair of shoes

Finally the trail opens up to reveal the valley that gave this hike it's name; we were standing on a narrow little path with a high wall of thick bracken and rock on one side, while the other was a sheer drop several hundred or thousand feet. A valley stretched out below us, narrow and inaccessible. Here we began to tread carefully, the hike is incredible but it's does not have railings
Helpful Tip #1: Don't take little kids

Gazing over the cliff edge
The opposite side of the valley is visible, with waterfalls that fall for thousands of feet. If it's a sunny day you might be lucky enough to spot their rainbows. Truly the photos we took that day did not do it justice. The view was perhaps one of the most spectacular landscapes I have ever seen. 

We were still hiking along this section of the trail when we came across a large water pipe stretched across a ravine. The drop was about 20-25 feet, which is nothing compared to the cliffside hike but its a bit more finicky because you have to cross a wet, slippery pipe. Plus if you fall, you land on rocks. Many people in the group I hiked with work as zipline guides, so they had a brilliant head for heights and strolled right over the small metal railings without a care.
Helpful Tip #2: don't do this hike if you are scared of heights

Not long after, we came across the first of the tunnels. These are long, narrow, pitch black tunnels through the mountains that fill with water during heavy rainfall. When we planned the hike we chose a week which hadn't seen much rain, so the water was up to about mid-thigh for me most of the time, and knee deep for everyone over 5'2.
The water was icy cold, and the roof of the tunnel was jagged and uneven. We formed a 'train' (hands on each others shoulders in a long line) and shuffled through them, feeling our way in the dark, shouting directions and hoping not to trip over rocks or bump our heads on the low ceiling. If I had done that hike alone I think it could have been rather nightmarish; walking in a narrow black tunnel half filled with water. The stuff of bad dreams.
Helpful Tip #3: Don't do this hike if you are claustrophobic 

Here my brother and I are preparing to enter the first tunnel. I chose to go barefoot for this part of the hike because I didn't want my flip flops to go floating off in the darkness to goodness-knows-where. There are a lot of rocks, pointy objects and ledges in the tunnel though so I would only recommend this to people with tough feet. Old tennis shoes are probably best. As you can see the water here in the light is pretty shallow, but not too far in the tunnel slopes down and the water became much deeper.
After hiking through two of these long winding tunnels we finally reached the water flume!
The water flume is a tall concrete 'slide' that has attracted locals for years. When we arrived we had a quick snack and joined a few other groups that had arrived before us, taking turns to grab hold of a long rope and climb up the steep, muddy slope.
The water slide itself is quite a thrill. It's a fast plunge into a small square 'pool' which is about nine feet deep. The first time I went, the breath was stolen from my lungs as I shot down the slide and plunged deep into the icy water. "Breathtaking" is exactly how I would describe it.

After hanging out at the flume for about an hour, talking, sliding down the flume, and doing flips into the water, the cold began to become unbearable. This is a mountain hike at a relatively high elevation, the clouds were rolling in and the water was freezing. By the time we decided to leave I was huddled in a little ball trying to preserve the small traces of body heat that I had left. The fact that we had to wade through a dark tunnel full of cold water to return to the cars didn't help either.
As soon as we exited the tunnels I took off running, and didn't rejoin my group until I had warmed up.
Helpful Tip #4: If you do this hike, TAKE WARM CLOTHES!

On the way back we took a side trail to see a little hidden waterfall. It looked like it was straight out of The Garden of Eden. I'm sure there's a way to get right up to the waterfall, but by this point we were all too cold to swim so we just took a few photos, admired the view and continued on.

We also hung out on one of the cliff edges to rest and have a snack. I could have sat there all day, looking down at the valley below. I could have lived there.
Blueberries with a view

 There was also this cute, mossy little bridge that we crossed. It probably had a troll living under it.

The lovely thing about this hike is largely due to the intricate and beautiful plants that catch your eye in every direction; bamboo, lace-like ferns, soft moss, sweet ginger flowers, berries and eucalyptus trees.
I highly recommend this hike, in my opinion it is the most beautiful place on the entire island, and it's isolation just adds to charm. Just remember: bring snacks and water, a swimsuit, something to keep you warm, and a flashlight if you don't like walking through dark creepy tunnels in deep water. Maybe a first aid kit too.

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