‘You just cringe’: Influx of visitors tests safety, patience in Waipio Valley

Published: Apr. 23, 2019 at 11:26 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Waipio Valley ― once home to Hawaii’s high chiefs and considered by native Hawaiians as a sacred place ― is magnificent from every angle.

With its black sand beach, fertile fields of kalo or taro and majestic Hiilawe Falls, one of the tallest in Hawaii, Waipio Valley transforms the soul and takes you back in time.

(Image: Darde Gamayo)
(Image: Darde Gamayo)

Resident Dwayne Li’a Vicente has the towering falls in his backyard.

“For me, it’s like living in a different world. It’s like a dream,” he said.

But there’s growing concerns about an influx of visitors who drive or hike along the steep and narrow county road to the valley floor.

Residents say Waipio Valley has shot up as a tourist destination on Hawaii island since last year’s volcanic eruption shut down most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Cars going up have the right of way, but the backlog of vehicles and inexperienced drivers creates confrontations. Residents have been documenting the road rage on their cellphones.

“We’ve been told, ‘Where’s your aloha?’ We have aloha, but we just need people to understand the danger,” said Darde Gamayo, resident and taro farmer.

Waipio Valley residents say one of their biggest concerns are cars and people possibly plummeting several hundred feet down onto the valley floor.

A rusted car sits on the valley floor after plunging off the precarious road, apparently decades ago.

"You just cringe and you pray that nothing happens to your family or to anybody else," said Gamayo.

Residents, landowners and lawmakers have been searching for a solution, but for now this dangerous traffic jam is just as much a part of life in Waipio Valley as its beauty.

“Because it’s a public road, you can’t stop them. It’s become the major concern right now,” said Doug Genovia of the Waipio Farmers Association.

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