Photo: Richard Pezzulo
Richard Pezzulo, executive director of Hiʻipaka LLC, the nonprofit OHA subsidiary that owns and manages Waimea Valley.

Richard Pezzulo’s favorite place in Waimea Valley is 45-foot Waimea Falls. He strolls or drives a golf cart in the valley at least once a day, always pausing to admire it. “In my opinion, it’s the most tranquil and spiritual spot in the valley,” said Pezzulo, executive director of Hiʻipaka LLC, the OHA subsidiary that owns and manages the 1,875-acre ahupuaʻa (see sidebar). “It’s a great place to relax, reflect and offer a prayer when no one else is there.”

As early as 1092 AD, Waimea Valley was the home of kahuna nui, high priests who were experts in a variety of fields, including healing, farming, fishing and spiritual guidance. Pezzulo oversees efforts that fulfill Waimea Valley’s mission: “Preserve and perpetuate the human, cultural and natural resources of Waimea for generations through education and stewardship.” Protected there are 78 archaeological sites, including fishponds, shrines, agricultural terraces and religious and house sites. Also of note are 150 acres of gardens where more than 5,000 kinds of plants, trees and shrubs from around the world flourish.

Photo: Waimea Falls
Forty-five-foot Waimea Falls flows into a pool that’s open to visitors for swimming when conditions are right. -Photos: Waimea Valley

At its pre-pandemic peak, Waimea Valley was welcoming as many as 1,800 visitors daily. When it closed on March 20 in compliance with Governor David Ige’s “stay-at-home, work-from-home” mandate, the valley was given, according to Pezzulo, “an opportunity to breathe and rest.” It reopened quietly on June 5, the benefits of an 11-week break clearly evident. “Waimea Valley has tremendous healing powers and, during the closure, it focused on healing itself,” Pezzulo said. “The gardens are blooming, the pool beneath the waterfall is clear and with only about 300 visitors here per day now, it’s easy to feel the mana (spirit) of the valley.”

Even though all of its programs, activities and special events are not currently available, there’s still plenty to see and do, such as the guided hour-long History Walk on Thursdays through Sundays at 1 p.m. Among the highlights is a stone shrine dedicated to Kuʻula, the fishing god. Long ago, fishermen prayed for success and safety there before departing, and, when they returned, they presented their first, best or largest catch to Kuʻula to express their gratitude.

Another interesting stop is the Kauhale Kahiko, an example of an ancient living site. Traditional techniques and materials (wood, coconut fiber cordage and loulu palm thatch) were used to build seven structures: Hale Ola (House of Healing), Hālau Waʻa (Canoe House), Hale Kuku (Kapa-Making House), Hale Noa (Family Sleeping House), Hale Kāhumu (Cooking House), Hale Mua (Men’s Eating House) and Hale ʻĀina (Women’s Eating House).

The Botanical Walk is led by Botanical Collections Specialist David Orr, who has worked at Waimea Valley for 31 years. At 12:30 p.m. on Thursdays and on the third Sunday of each month, he introduces participants to a variety of greenery, including native Hawaiian plants that were used for food, shelter, clothing, tools, weapons, recreation, medicine and more. “David’s tour is supposed to be 45 minutes, but it’s usually longer because people linger, wanting to learn more,” Pezzulo said. “He picks plants all along the way, letting them touch, smell and taste them if they’re edible. He’s a walking encyclopedia about botany, and he loves to share his knowledge.”

In addition, you can swim in the pool beneath Waimea Falls; enjoy a picnic in the shade of towering monkeypod trees; play Hawaiian games such as kōnane, ulu maika and moa paheʻe; and try to spot the valley’s 20 species of feathered residents, using the full-color bird guide distributed at the ticket booth for reference. Demonstrations of kapa making, lei making, hula implements and ʻohe hano ihu will resume this month.

“Waimea Valley is a beautiful living museum, a rare glimpse of authentic Hawaiʻi,” Pezzulo said. “You can hear birds chirping, smell the fragrance of flowers and walk in the footsteps of the Hawaiians of old. Whether you’ve been here before or are our guest for the first time, your visit will be full of new insights and wonderful discoveries.”

Before you go…

OHA acquired Waimea Valley (59-864 Kamehameha Highway on O‘ahu’s north shore) in August 2006, through a partnership with the City and County of Honolulu, the Hawai‘i State Department of Land and Natural Resources, the United States Army and the Trust for Public Land. It contracted the Audubon Society to manage the valley in 2006 and 2007; in 2008, it transferred ownership and stewardship of the property to Hi‘ipaka LLC, its newly formed 501(c)(3) nonprofit, limited liability subsidiary.

Hours:

  • 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday
  • 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday

Waimea Valley is open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Rates:

Valid through August 31, discounted admission rates for kama‘āina and active-duty military personnel and their immediate family are as follows:

  • $6 for children aged 4 through 12. Kids enter free on Keiki Day, every Wednesday.
  • $8 for everyone else.

The kama‘āina and military group rate:
$5 per person (minimum of 10 people)
Individual and family annual passes: $30 and $60, respectively.
Corporate annual passes: Start at $500.

Call 638-7766 or email info@waimeavalley.net for more information.