Take a Scenic Drive Along Hamakua Coast
North of Hilo is a natural wonder that will take your breath away. It’s located on the northeastern end of the Big Island and it’s called the Hamakua Coast. This area receives more than 80 inches of rain a year so you can bet it’s lush and green. Punctuated by waterfalls, forest and seaside panoramics, it’s worth your time to just take a drive along the Hamakua Heritage Corridor.
The uplands in this area used to be the best place for harvesting canoe wood and bird feathers, believe it or not, for ancient Hawaiians. Sugar cane dominated this region in the 19th and 20th centuries, and you can actually still find some of these small plantations up and down the coast. Farmers make their livings growing taro, hearts of palm, vegetables and fruit. Stop in at the quaint town of Honokaa also for unique shops selling local goods.
Meandering along the Hamakua Coast, you’ll come across deep gulches and valleys, along with rainforest and gardens chock full of exotic plants and orchids. You should visit the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden and World Botanical Gardens where the famous triple-decker Umauma Falls is located. WBG is also home to 5,000 species of Hawaiian and tropical flora with excellent views of Maunakea. For another beautiful must-see waterfall, check out Akaka Falls, one of the more popular natural attractions on this island. It’s located at the end of Akaka Falls Road, also known as Highway 220, approximately three and a half miles southwest of Honomu. At 442 feet, Akaka Falls dominates the landscape, but you’ll enjoy her smaller cousin, Kahuna Falls, at 100 feet. It costs just $1 to walk through here; $5 if you have a car.
Take a moment to stop at the Waipio Valley Lookout for panoramic views of the coastline. The sacred Waipio Valley is where King Kamehameha I grew up – hence the name “Valley of the Kings.” The valley spans one mile wide and five miles deep flanked by impressive cliffs reaching 2,000 feet into the air above. It’s now home to just 100 native Hawaiians, reveling in its peaceful natural splendor. The Waipio Valley Overlook is located at the end of the Hamakua Heritage Corridor.
Start your drive north of Hilo when you divert from Hawaii Belt Road to take Onomea Scenic Drive, about four miles long graced with moss-covered bridges and glimpses of the majestic Onomea Bay. There are several hairpin turns on this road, but then you’re rewarded with a stop at Laupahoehoe Point, which was hit by a tsunami in 1946. If you have any train lovers in your family, a stop at the Laupahoehoe Train Museum can’t be missed, with a nod to the old Hawaii Consolidated Railway. The Kalopa State Recreation Area is a great place to have a picnic or take a leisurely hike. Hit the farmer’s markets of Honokaa, a small unassuming town home to Tex’s Drive Inn where you can treat yourself to Portuguese doughnuts called malasadas.
For more cultural and natural beauties, let Hoku Hawaii Tours take you around Oahu if you’re planning a visit here.