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Ka'u / Volcanoes
Big Island - Hamakua Scenic Tour
Imagine an area of dramatic sea cliffs, cascading waterfalls and deeply carved gorges, blanketed in lush tropical foliage. This is Hamakua. A 50 mile strip of coastline along the eastern side of the Big Island, this area is sure to enchant anyone looking for timeless tropical scenery.
To begin your tour, simply take Mamalahoa Highway north out of Hilo. You'll soon be traveling through one of the many plantation towns that dot the coastline. Aside from these small towns it will be just you and the scenery.
Just north of Hilo, is Onomea Bay. Take the right onto the scenic loop along the coast. You'll be surrounded by enough tropical foliage to accurately call it a jungle.
A short drive down the road will be rewarded by the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens.
This is a 25 acre valley that's been transformed into an exotic tropical preserve with more than 2000 species of flowers, trees and plants. Stroll along a mile of scenic pathways past a lake full of lilies and graceful koi. The Ocean Trail leads to Onomea Bay where waves crash into deep lava caves; the inland trails wind past streams, waterfalls, and groves of bamboo, and of course a profusion of tropical flowers.
Back on the highway, there's more to see. The next popular stop is Akaka Falls. Take the left turn in Honomu (there are plenty of signs). The road will wind up the hill and end at a park. The trail loops around a small gorge to not only two beautiful waterfalls but also an incredible array of tropical foliage. Among the highlights are a large bamboo grove, giant gingers, beautiful fern trees and of course the waterfalls. Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls plunge over 400 feet down into the valley below. When the rivers are full, Akaka Falls is thunderous. If it looks like rain, stop off in Honomu and get a rain slicker, they're inexpensive and will most likely come in handy somewhere along the way.
Further up the coast, past countless waterfalls and ocean vistas, is Laupahoehoe Point County Park. As the turn off winds back toward Hilo, you'll be greeted with an incredible view of the cliffs. Laupahoehoe is one of the few peninsulas that project away from the cliffs and allows for a view back towards the cliffs and down the coastline. If you look closely you'll see a waterfall that seems to be shooting right out of the cliffside. Down at the bottom is a large grassy park, a memorial to the tidal wave victims of 1946, and a boat launch.
From here up to the town of Honokaa, you'll see more plantation towns, waterfalls and a number of small parks.
At the town of Honokaa, the highway veers left towards Waimea, but if it's a Hamakua tour you want, you're not finished. Take the left onto 240. As you go through town look for the turn off to Haina. Here you'll find the Hawaiian Host macadamia nut plantation and visitor center.
Back on 240, travel to the end of the road and you'll be greeted with the incomparable Waipio Valley, known as the Valley of the Kings. Once the home of thousands of Hawaiians, it was highly cultivated and also a place of great mana, or spiritual power. Here Kamehameha fought for unification of the islands and rested between battles. Other royalty also found retreat in the valley and many were buried here.
Waterfalls drop 1200 feet into the lush, pastoral valley which spreads out to a mile at the beach. Now, just a few hardy residents continue to grow taro and other crops here, but the valley remains a magical place. If you want to go exploring in the valley, don't make the trip in your rental car! At the overlook you can arrange for tours by 4-wheel drive vehicle, horseback or wagon. You can also walk down.
Now you're truly at the end of the road. Hamakua is unique in the fact that there is no central town, but many of the small towns that dot the coast offer an interesting blend of old Hawaii and modern revival.