If you find yourself on the Big Island of Hawaii, and you only have time for one hike, I would would highly recommend the short hike into Pololu Valley! Some of the best views of the rugged North Coast cliffs can be seen from the trail leading from the end of the road down into the valley. Once you reach the bottom, there are rope swings and tree forts to explore, hammocks to lounge in, and plenty of shade from the tall trees lining the beach.
After the long drive north from Kona, Andy and I applied our sunscreen armor and hit the trail. On the short, steep descent into the valley, the air was scented with overripe mangoes that had tumbled down the cliff from the trees near the trailhead. The trail was hot and dusty, and as we descended, I found myself dreading the climb back up to the car, but soon we'd reached the valley floor. After a short walk along the faded black sand beach, Andy and I found a shady spot to eat our lunch and do a little reading while listening to the crashing surf.
After relaxing for an hour or so, we decided to explore the hills behind the beach. Since Pololu Valley itself is private property, we hoped to find some good views into the valley from the higher ground, but a dense wall of green obstructed most of the view. There were several rope swings hanging from the trees above the beach, but they looked suspiciously brittle and frayed, and neither Andy or I were brave enough to test our luck. Perhaps with more exploring, we'd have been able to find a newer rope to swing from! As we climbed up the cliffside to our car, I found myself already dreaming of a return trip to the vibrant valley and shady strip of sand.