The Big Island isn’t called ‘big’ for nothing, and it takes some planning to cover all the highlights on a vacation stay. Be sure to take along your copy of Hawaii, The Big Island Revealed*, and set out for a day trip to the beautiful Kohala Coast. (*A note about this book; please be aware of property lines and private access which are sometimes disregarded in this guide. Showing respect for the sacred sites, homes and property of the Hawaiian people is of utmost importance for the best experience for all…just sayin’.)
Watch this blog in the next few whiles for subsequent posts to explore further suggestions for day trips. You begin your tour of the fabulous Kohala coast by driving north on Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway (Hwy 19) along the base of Mt. Hualalai. After heading 33 miles north of Kailua-Kona, you’ll come to a split in the road – turn left on to Route 270 towards Kawaihae Harbor.
Your first stop, Pu’ukohola National Historic Site, includes three heiaus, ancient platforms used for worship and sacrifices. With hopes of conquering all of the island, King Kamehameha I heeded the advice of a prophet, built a heiau atop Pu’ukohola (Hill of the Whale), sacrificed his closest rival there, and then waited for the materialization of is dreams of island domination. Two decades later, the prophecy came true. Visitors to the site can also view two other heiaus built around 1550, Pu’ukohola Heiau and Mailekini Heiau, located a short walk from the visitor center.
Also of note at this site is Spencer Beach, one of the northernmost sandy beaches on Hawaii Island. From here, the coast becomes increasingly rocky as one heads up to Upolu Point and the northernmost tip of the Big Island. This is a “locals” beach, and is quite busy on the weekends, with safe entry into the ocean, picnic areas, and public restrooms.
Continuing north on Highway 270, lava rocks litter the coastal plains. In the winter and spring months, you might be lucky to spot a whale as you gaze out at the sweeping coastline.
At Lapakahi State Historical Park, located eight miles north, a one-mile trail meanders through the site of the one-time flourishing fishing village, Koai’e. The ruins of the 15th century fishing village are worth a look. Though swimming is discouraged due to the sacred nature of the site, snorkeling is oddly accepted, and thankfully so. However, do be warned that besides sharp coral, sea urchins, octopus and eel are plentiful in these waters, and unless the waters are glass-like calm, snorkeling is NOT advised.
Back on the highway, head past (or stop, as you choose) Mahukona Beach Park and Kapa’a Beach Park, keeping your eyes peeled for a sign to the now defunct Upolu Airport. A turn down this paved road leads to a 11/2 mile dirt lane, the only route to eerie Mo’okini Heiau, the ancient site of numerous human sacrifices. A short walk from the heiau is King Kamehameha I’s birthplace.
Weary from a morning spent entrenched in the past, you will find the old sugar-plantation villages of Hawi and Kapa’au especially cheery. These neighboring towns once featured hotels, saloons, theaters, and even a railroad. Neither town has retained that wildness, but both villages are blossoming again with the restoration of several historic buildings, as well as the growing popularity of the zip line and Kohala ditch tours. Locals and visitors alike enjoy browsing the shops and eateries of Hawi, especially the enticing gem and mineral stores and the Bamboo Restaurant and Gallery, topping it off with a treat from the Tropical Dreams ice cream shop!
If you want to go the distance of this tour, continue east on Highway 270 to the Pololu Valley Overlook. A rugged, steep hiking trail leads into this green valley and down to Pololu Beach, which edges an imposing coastline ribboned by waterfalls.
Several tour companies run mule, kayak, and hiking tours of the valley, the site of the successful irrigation project which brought water to the area’s sugar plantations.
After heading back to Hawi, turn on to Highway 250, for a scenic drive of sweeping vistas overlooking the Kohala valley, reaching off to the ocean. When you reach the end of the mountain road, bear left, and head east again into Waimea, a town boasting a paniolo cowboy heritage. In Waimea, you will find little nooks and crannies of shops, like the Parker Square shopping center with a tiny little bookstore, general store, and Waimea Coffee Company, as well as other shops and A Gallery of Great Things. Also check out Parker Ranch Visitor Center and Museum in the Foodland shopping center, down the way from Starbuck’s.
Before heading back to the resort area, be sure to cozy into a nice meal at one of several restaurants in Waimea. See a list under the Dining section of our website.