Accommodation in North Coast
Heading back up north from Hilo on the east side you enter the region known as the Hamakua Coast, a land of sugar cane, lush, deep valleys and countless waterfalls. The first village you will encounter is Honamu, ten miles north of Hilo. Once a busy little town, when sugar cane was king, it is now a relic, and worth a look for its historical significance. Check out the local stores. The furniture place actually sells ice cream on the side. Try the lychee, it’s fabulous.
If you keep going from here, in 3.5 miles you will come to ‘Akaka Falls, one of the most spectacular sights on all the islands. It is an amazing trip traveling the short distance to the park because it seems that you’re going the wrong way. All that can be seen is acres of cane, hardly the local for a waterfall park. But just when you’re thinking about turning around you come to the parking lot and there, opening up before you, is a deep, green valley. Paved paths lead you through the park, past one beautiful spot to the next. There are small streams with towering bamboo forests, ferns, ginger, orchids and dozens of varieties of Hawaiian plants at every turn. Finally you come to the falls itself, cascading over 400 feet to the pool below. This park is beautifully maintained and a stop not to be missed. Your entire walk should take about 45 minutes. ‘Akaka Falls State Park
Along the road you will notice the ever-present ocean below you. There are several nice spots to stop, among them Kolekole Beach Park and Laupahoehoe Point. Twelve miles north of Laupahoehoe you come to Kalopa State Park. Great hiking on well-marked nature trails is to be found here and camping is allowed with a permit. For more info on camping in State parks write: Dept. of Land and Natural Resources, Div. of State Parks, Box 936, Hilo, HI. 96720 or phone 808-961-7200.
Just two miles north of Kalopa lies the old sugar town of Honoka’a, the “Gateway to Waipio Valley”. The town is very quaint, old-style Hawaiian with some interesting shops to browse, featuring many handcrafts and locally made products. Try Tex Drive in for serious malasadas.
What this little drive is leading up to is a sight not to be missed: Waipio Valley. From the overlook (as far as you can go without 4-wheel drive) 1,000 feet below you, lies the valley. The valley itself is a mile across, Waipio Stream winding through it and cutting across the black sand beach into the ocean. The far side is contained by a precipitous pali (cliff). At the rear of the valley waterfalls feed the stream and fade into purple mist.
If you are lucky enough to have 4-wheel, continue (carefully) down. Small roads and trails wind throughout the valley. But most likely you will not have this available to you and there are some excellent and entertaining alternatives. The Waipio Shuttle is one and the whole excursion takes 90 minutes via air-conditioned Landrover or van. Another choice is the Waipio Na’alapa Trail Rides for an extensive and informative tour. There are half day and full day tours. For those who want to see everything but aren’t the horse-riding types, check out The Waipio Valley Wagon Tour. This mule team drawn surrey-style wagon holds about a dozen people and is pretty comfy (it has nice big springs). The tour lasts about 2 hours. These three tours all originate up top in Kukuihaele, so there’s no need to worry about getting into or out of the valley.
A word of caution. Some hardy folks might think this sounds like a good hike. Remember that down is a whole lot easier than up. I have tried it myself and do not recommend it at all. Unless you are in peak training and used to walking up very steep grades for long distances in hot sun, don’t try it. The hitchhiking is not reliable and you may be stuck for hours. Try a more pleasant way, please.
As you head back west from the Hamakua Coast you will pass through another area of the Big Island that not only defies most peoples’ idea of what Hawaii should look like, but is also a step back in time to the paniolo days. This is where the wild west really started, Hawaiian cowboys actually predating their brothers of the Mainland West.
Waimea is a land of rolling green hills, misty and foggy at times, and cattle. The Parker Ranch was at one time the largest privately owned ranch in the US and is still immense. The town itself is very western flavored but its most unusual aspect is its dry and wet sides. This has nothing to do with liquor, but everything to do with rain. Virtually split down the middle, the wet side of Waimea is inexpensive home rental or purchase, while the dry side is unaffordable for most.
There are several places to see in Waimea as well as some very excellent restaurants. One place to visit is the 100 year old mansion Pu’uopelu off route 190 just south of town. Besides the elegant furnishings, the artwork of over 100 world-renowned artists is displayed, including pieces by Degas, Renoir and Chagall. There are also old ranch homes on the property for visitors to tour. For the same admission price you will also be able to tour the Mana Home, the original Parker homestead built in 1847. The ranch also provides a few different tours.
Definitely stop in at the Parker Ranch Visitors Center and Museum while in town. Here you will learn about the history of the Parker Ranch and the family itself. The museum also features a separate wing dedicated to that great Hawaiian Olympian and legend, The Duke, Duke Kahanamoku, the “Father of Modern Surfing”, and one of the noblest men these islands have ever produced.
Two more places of interest are the Imiola Church, built in 1857 and the Kamuela Museum. After this you might be a bit hungry and there are several great places to eat. Waimea is a great place to stop for lunch or dinner, with prices from cheap to ouch. Browse our Restaurant Guide.