Story by Shannon Wianecki | Photography by Rob Decamp & Shannon Wianecki
Viewed from the roadside lookout, Hālawa Valley’s colors are vivid enough to jumpstart a heart. Jeweled green forest spills down the cliff faces. Curtains of mist part to reveal bright silver threads stitched into the valley’s back walls: twin waterfalls plunging 1,000-plus feet into hidden pools. A silt-dark river wends across a grey sand beach, emptying into the sunlit turquoise lagoon. My eyes drink it in. Landscapes like this heal parts of me I didn’t know needed healing.
Long before I visited Hālawa, I heard it whispering: “Come here, come here. . . .” This verdant notch carved into the northeastern tip of Moloka‘i has magnetic pull. Like so many special places, it’s best to come here by invitation. So I booked a guided hike with the Solotarios, who claim that fifty generations of family members have called Hālawa home.
I woke early to follow the Kamehameha V Highway past the ancient fishponds strung like necklaces along Moloka‘i’s leeward shore, past the scenic pastures of Pu‘u O Hoku Ranch and down the serpentine single-lane road that terminates at the mouth of Hālawa Stream. Pilipo Solotario and his son Greg are there to meet me. They cut a striking image, dressed in kīhei (capes), tī leaf lei, and kukui nut necklaces with boar tusk pendants.
Seventy-seven-year-old Pilipo is a charismatic storyteller who is well known and loved by the Moloka‘i community. He was chosen by his grandfather at age five to carry on the family’s cultural traditions and serve as caretaker for the land. “He says he’s retired, but still shows up every day,” says Greg, who recently returned to Hālawa to help shoulder his father’s responsibilities. Together they live off-grid in this isolated paradise, farming taro, hunting and fishing, and leading cultural hikes six days a week.