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Waimanu and the Z trail, Hawaii
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Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Waimanu and the Z trail, Hawaii on 05/30/2011 16:43:17 MDT Print View

Wilderness style backpacking on the big island of Hawaii (only hike or kayak access)
Mileage: 19 miles* round trip, in and out.
Elevation Gain/Loss: 1 x 1200ft gain going in, 2x 1200 ft going out*
Management agency: Hawaiian Dept of Forestry
Fees: $19/night
* assumes leaving a vehicle at Waimanu Arts for an additional 1200 ft elevation gain and $15/night

A long planned trip to see my parents allowed me to plan an overnighter .... and the "Big Island" has a classic trail nicknamed the "Z" trail leading to the unspoiled Waimanu valley. Been here before but with a little too much gear and not enough water, so this was a UL rematch. I checked for a campsite against openings online in hawaiian state forestry services website at $19/night. This is a tough trail due to elevation changes, lava rock, and ever-present heat + humidity, everyone suffered a bit but a small price to pay for seeing a slice of undisturbed Hawaii.

The hike is 19 miles, in and back, if leaving a vehicle with Waimanu art works for (ouch) $15/night. There is a
shuttle bus around the island but it only runs by a couple times per day with an even longer hike from the bus stop.

First stop is the Waipio valley, with a scenic lookout, before the trail starts for the Waimanu. Lookout over Waipio
Waipio lookout

Even before the hike starts, I shared my way down a steep slo-mo single lane 4WD with vehicles. The photo doesn't do justice - bring hiking poles!! It's a hike to start the hike ...
road down to trailhead

... as Hawaii does not recommend vehicles be left in the Waipio valley (lots of break-ins on the islands).

Nice river at the bottom but yes it will need to be crossed ...
Waipio River

Sharing the beach with kitesurfers ..
Approach beach

The speed of the water over rocks picks up a bit at the only crossing; usually OK unless it floods:

waipio crossing


Then across black sand beaches and beachgoers And their dogs. The sand gets into everything and even young women in bikinis only momentarily distract me from the pain as wet sand starts rubbing my feet raw.
Black sand pedicure

Just think of it as a pedicure ....

An hour plus a sock change, It's only now the official "Z-trail" hike starts

Going up the 1200 ft Z-trail is no picnic, with increasing highstepping of lava rocks needed ... Lava rocks

Besides an initial climb of 1200 ft (where the land sequence of the Kevin Costner film "Waterworld" was filmed) with thigh-busting lava steps, followed by about 12 major gulches with some minor ups and downs makes this a killer hike. The shape gives it it's namesake "Z".

gulch 1

Still there's some nice views of the Pacific..

Pacific view

Going into a gulch, sometimes there's a spring or even waterfall with a deep bathing pool.

Waterfall on the Waimanu trail
Forgot my swim trunks so I will need to redo this hike in the near future.

Still a chance to cool down my feet
Cooling down

The only way for the public to enter is hike or kayak, though Hawaiian trail crews and emergency workers can use the off-trail helipads.
Helipad marker

Coming down to Waimanu valley itself, a cooling rain started to fall intermittedly, but no rain gear needed as I needed to cool off.
Rainy approach to Waimanu

After this the trail gets slick with soil and downed leaves. Forgot my leather gloves and paid for it with a nasty gash to my hand. Bring hiking gloves. With rain threatening and the clouds darkening the sky, I set up camp quickly... camp

the rain was start and stop until the sun fell, then started continuously until I fell asleep, taking note of any leaks on my
seam-sealing job. The campsites were full of mostly young couples but also a group of young people. Not like last time when I camped with some hawaiian kayakers at the end of their weeklong sea circumnavigation of the big island. This time I almost felt like I was intruding.

Stoveless trip... facing dawn with cold coffee #2 (#1 was a Starbucks doubleshot espresso)

cold coffee

Valley floor with waterfall..

waimanu valley floor

Going up 1200 ft again and this time the view was sunny ...
Waimanu valley in the sun

Along the trail, a sunny view of the Pacific facing eastward ...

eastward Pacific view from Waimanu

Shortly after a young couple zoomed past me with fully loaded Ospreys...

Did I mention at my mid-40s, I was the oldest person on the trail?

Going down 1200 ft and wishing for hiking poles (see Z trail pic above).

Going back up Waipio in the heat of the day for 1000ft, a very steep "afterhike ... hike" After hike hike Ran out of liquids just prior to this so it was a sufferfest

Sign is at the end of the afterhike hike ... Tsunami sign

... but there's another 1/2 mile over a hot road if leaving a vehicle but a few more miles to the bus stop however - pick your poison. Staying at Waipio overnight is not allowed but under the circumstances I could see bending the rules to tackle this in the cool morning. To "Tex's" and portugese fried donuts...

Gear-wise: No sleeping bag needed but will need some insulation as temps go down to the 60's with wetness. Less gear but the weight is more than made up by the amount of water needed, plus I brought some Gatorade "G2". I went "no cook" this time but there is a place in Kona that sells MSR isobutane canisters at the time of this writing. While "no cook" was easier, kind of missed having a warm dinner when the rain came in.

Food-wise: Plenty of major grocery stores plus a Starbucks and local Kona coffee houses as close as Waimea. Bring liquids.

Season-wise: This trip saw a lot of rain and compared to my last drier trip in June 2007, I prefer the lush green even with the accompanying drizzle and rain.

General-planning: When going over, it pays to stay awhile. So backpacking is just one of the activities after watching the trained manta rays or snorkeling or kayaking. If you hit the websites early enough, there are relatively cheap airfares. July is when the prices rise due to the rush of tourists trying to make it for their summer break.

Edited by hknewman on 06/01/2011 13:03:06 MDT.

d k
(dkramalc) - MLife
re:Waimanu on 05/30/2011 17:57:31 MDT Print View

Nice to see your trip report! We did that trip maybe 15 years ago (?), can't remember exactly, but I think it was in October; only one other couple was camped there (they were from Alaska, and used their state "rebate" every year to come to Hawaii). As I recall there was a papaya tree on the beach with ripe fruit we picked, as well as lots of guavas and a few passionfruit along the trail. Tried to hike into the Waimanu valley but there didn't seem to be much of a trail, and what there was got very muddy and petered out to nothing. But an amazing tropical paradise to be sure, especially with it being relatively deserted. We brought in food from the farmer's market (no stove) - weighed a ton, but it was nice to eat locally baked bread, macademia nuts, and lots of exotic fruits.

Any other good hikes while you were over there? IIRC, we camped at the beach parks mostly and day hiked in the volcano, some upcountry hikes, but no other backpack trips.

Diana Vann
(DianaV) - MLife

Locale: Wandering
Re: Waimanu and the Z trail, Hawaii on 05/30/2011 22:06:26 MDT Print View

Nice trip report!

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re:re: Waimanu and other long Hawaiian hikes. on 05/31/2011 09:50:17 MDT Print View

>>Any other good hikes while you were over there?<<

Backpacking-wise, I'm looking at a multiday summit of Mauna Loa one of these days; supposedly the National Park service was going to start a western "mini" thru-hike of 170 miles on the big islands western coast (think "Ironman" lava rock scenery - not rainforest) since all Hawaiian beaches are public by law but their site went dead - imagine the resorts had a fit about that. Hawaii is really set up for dayhiking and usually requires a bit of water. Legal hiking anyways.

Saw lots of traditional backpackers hitching rides with huge Gregory packs but not sure if they were going to the volcano summits or going to a hostel.

Edited by hknewman on 05/31/2011 09:56:21 MDT.

d k
(dkramalc) - MLife
re: Waimanu on 05/31/2011 10:04:59 MDT Print View

Thanks. Too bad about the thru-hike, that would have been a wonderful thing for us non-resort types.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Hawaii and other tropical UL backpacking on 06/03/2011 10:57:14 MDT Print View

Just getting back to mainland time so my reading comprehension is a little off plus to update some info:

"...Tried to hike into the Waimanu valley but there didn't seem to be much of a trail..."

Whoops forgot to address this Hawaii-specific question - trying to return to work - ugh. After a couple backpacking trips, it seems to me that the state forestry service is working to improve trail conditions and campgrounds on official trails, especially on the Z-trail. Seems like the younger tourist crowd demands having trails to hit, but gotta remember public lands competes with resort development, local agriculture, and other sports. So Debbie, if I've seen improvement from 2007, there's been a lot of improvement since you visited about 15 years ago.

" .. picking fruit ..."

With many trees in the tropics with edible fruit, just shake the trunk. Local kayakers on my last trip taught me if the fruit is ripe to eat, it will just fall down super-juicy. Just have enough water to rinse off any soil when it hits the ground.This trip, I used this to supplement a stove-less system but evenings can be breezy and cool, so may bring my stove on any return trip.

"... (no stove) ..."

A stove-less system works well in Hawaii (done it with a stove and without) but evenings can be breezy and cool, so I may bring my stove on any return trip. A lot of groups gather in the backcountry (kayakers and backpackers), and we all cooked for impromptu party one time, so it's up in the air whether to return with a stove and other consumables to share.

Also on the subject of gear, I did not need a sleeping bag or quilt, relying on my fleece but found myself using a silk travel sheet just to sleep under something. Plenty of insects and similar bugs, so some sort of screen is preferable (though Hawaii has no poisonous snakes, unlike most other tropical areas), though lucky guy I met when leaving just slept under a tarp with 4 fairly nice-looking young bikini clad women. Lava-rock, so some sort of sleeping pad is advisable.

ADD: This should work in most other tropical climates.

Edited by hknewman on 06/03/2011 11:16:20 MDT.

d k
(dkramalc) - MLife
re:waimanu on 06/03/2011 11:50:53 MDT Print View

Oops, HK, I don't think I was clear - we got to the beach at Waimanu, the trail to there was just fine. It was going back up from the beach towards the head of the valley that didn't seem possible. We had visions of hiking to a waterfall up there, but it ended up being too much bushwhacking through deep jungle.

We did bring sleeping bags of some sort, maybe just one big one to put over us - can't remember exactly. This was because of my only previous Hawaii backpacking experience. I'd gone on the Kalalau trail on Kauai in my very young and stupid days, and we brought only Thermarest pads with a cotton/polyester sweatsuit to sleep in (yikes). It rained. Lots. Everything we had was soaked, the tent ended up in 2 inches of water, so we turned around the next morning after a cold soggy night and went back. Due to the rain, the "stream" at the beach when we crossed back over was whitewater up over my head, and much wider. The rope across the stream we had used as a handhold on the way out was now under water, and there were a number of hikers like us wanting to cross back. Some more intrepid hikers somehow moved that rope up higher, and fetched the rope from the life preserver down at the beach (not really a beach at this point, just a raging ocean) to tie around people's waists when they crossed over, floating their bodies on the current and hanging on to the rope "bridge", moving across by going hand over hand on the rope bridge. One guy lost his grip on the rope and had to be hauled back by those on the bank. It was very exciting, but scary. I learned a lot on that trip about what NOT to do!