Cycling Tour: Honoka‘a to Waipi‘o Valley

  • Start Tex Drive-In
  • Finish Tex Drive-In
  • Length 40 miles; half day

Tex Drive-In is a handy starting point. You could leave your car in the ample parking lot, but repay the favor by getting refreshments before or after your ride.

From Tex Drive-In, cross Hwy 19 onto the Old Mamalahoa Hwy. The old cane-haul road will meander through the misty woods and pastures of Ahualoa. Keep going east for about 10 miles until you meet Hwy 19 again. Cycle back to Tex Drive-In on the highway.

Now take a break for coffee and hot malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts). Then take Pakalana St downhill toward Honoka‘a town to the north. In less than a mile, you'll reach Mamane St, Honoka‘a's main street, which becomes Hwy 240, also called the Honoka‘a-Waipi‘o Rd, once it crosses Plumeria Rd (where the post office is located).

Go east on Hwy 240, which has decent shoulders and is less busy than Hwy 19. You'll pass open fields as well as clusters of houses. At the 8-mile marker, there's a turnoff onto Kukuihaele Rd; stay on Hwy 240 since you'll take Kukuihaele Rd on the way back.

At the end of the road, stop at the Waipi‘o Valley Lookout. Gaze at the emerald valley and rugged black-sand beach. If you have the legs (and an extra hour and a half) for it, lock your bike near the ranger's station and hike down. The ranger won't take responsibility for your bike, but it's unlikely to be stolen there.

Once done hiking or admiring Waipi‘o Valley, head back by veering left onto Kukuihaele Rd. Narrow and winding at first, the road crosses a one-lane bridge and then a little neighborhood. Stop at Waipi‘o Valley Artworks for to browse the souvenirs and a drink or ice cream.

Return to Hwy 240 and cycle back to Honoka‘a. Check out Mamane St's half-mile stretch of shops, restaurants and old-fashioned theater. The wooden buildings from the early 1900s are still appropriate for Honoka‘a small-town vibe.

Prepare for an uphill push back to Tex Drive-In, where you can stock up on a few more malasadas for the road.

Driving Tour: Hamakua Highlights

  • Start Waikaumalo Park Turnoff
  • End Pepe‘ekeo 4-Mile Scenic Drive, northern end
  • Length 30 miles; full day

Since most visitors stay in West Hawai‘i, this route goes from north to south and then circles back northward. Start early to take advantage of easterly morning light.

Drive south along Hwy 19 until you see the 20-mile marker. Keep your eyes peeled for the Waikaumalo Park sign. Turn mauka (inland) onto the off-the-tourist-track Old Mamalahoa Hwy, which is loaded with DIY exploration opportunities. Soon after the turnoff, a grassy slope (with picnic area) leads to a pretty stream.

Driving on, the old highway becomes a one-lane road, dipping among a series of stream gulches overhung with thick foliage; various pullouts near the bridges invite you to park and explore. A little less than halfway along, keep an eye peeled for Honohina Cemetery, a historic Japanese graveyard full of flowers pushing through the crumbling, kanji-covered headstones.

The southern end of the road is anchored by the World Botanical Gardens near the 16-mile marker. The fee is a bit steep for the modest gardens, but it is the only viewing access to the beautiful, three-tiered Umauma Falls.

Back on Hwy 19, head south toward Hilo. In Honomu, turn right just before the 13-mile marker and go 4 miles to ‘Akaka Falls State Park. The easy paved path is best navigated counter clockwise, which takes you to the opening act, the 100ft Kahuna Falls, and then to the 442ft highlight, Akaka Falls. Stop at the shave ice truck just outside the parking lot if you're feeling parched. Otherwise, drive to Honomu village, where you can find locally grown coffee at Hilo Sharks Coffee and a hypnotizing selection of homemade preserves at Mr Ed's Bakery.

Next, continue along the highway until Papaikou, where you'll pass a school and then turn right on Papaikou Rd. Hawaii Plantation Museum is marked by a colorful mural on the building. Talk story with the founder, a passionate historian, and his welcoming staff to delve into the rich island history.

Pass the 5-mile marker, and slightly after the Honoli‘i Bridge, turn right into Alae Cemetery. The Big Island has numerous historic cemeteries, full of history and quiet reflection. The cemetery centers around a magnificent 160ft monkeypod tree, standing watch over the gravestones of plantation immigrants and their descendants. Observe the ethnic and religious grouping (Mormons on one section, Japanese over here, Chinese over there etc).

Back on Hwy 19, head back northward and veer left between the 7- and 8-mile markers after the Pepe‘ekeo 4-Mile Scenic Drive sign. Immediately you'll travel back in time, instinctively slowing down on the narrow road, enveloped in lush foliage. Multiple one-lane stone bridges, covered with mossy patina, require careful driving; when in doubt, let the other driver pass first.

In places the sun is almost blocked out by liliko‘i (passion fruit), guava, mango and soaring African tulip trees, which drop their vivid orange flowers on the road. Little waterfalls and streams appear here and there. When you reach a clearing, the ocean and the former Onomea Arch will be visible. Find a spot to pull out and park. The fallen arch now resembled a U-shaped outcropping.

For a quick, pretty hike down to Onomea Bay, take the Na Ala Hele trailhead on the makai (seaward) side of the road, just north of the botanical garden. After a 10-minute hike down a slippery jungle path, you’ll come to a finger of lava jutting into the sea. A spur to the right leads to a couple of small waterfalls and a cove. Continuing straight brings you to the diminutive bluffs overlooking Onomea Bay. Look for a rope tied to an almond tree for low-tide beach access. Hawaiian monk seals have been sighted here.

Soon you'll reach Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, a pleasantly landscaped collection of 2000 species of tropical plants. Walk at your leisure amid streams and waterfalls. Buy your ticket at the yellow building on the mauka (inland) side of the road.

Back on the road, continue north and you'll reach grassy fields. Keep your eyes peeled toward the left until you spot a yellow house. What's Shakin' is your ticket for the best smoothie on the island (and, some claim, in the world). For heartier fare, head slightly further north to Low Store. Once you've refueled, follow the road until it connects back to Hwy 19.

Walking Tour: Waipi‘o Valley

  • Start Waipi‘o Valley Lookout
  • End Waipi‘o Valley Lookout
  • Length 3 miles; two hours

Start at the trailhead to the left of the Waipi‘o Valley Lookout. The road looks innocent, but the steep grade averages 25%. Wear snug-fitting shoes (such as running shoes that you don't mind getting muddy) to avoid jamming your toes, and watch out for 4WDs sharing the road.

Going down, you can observe the valley floor (and grid lines of taro fields) growing closer. The beach is not yet visible due to thick foliage. After three-quarters of a mile, you'll reach a dirt-road turnoff toward the right, leading to Waipi‘o Beach. The paved road goes toward the residences and taro farms.

Follow the dirt road, which can be muddy and riddled with huge puddles, for about half a mile. Under a jungly canopy, it's shady and much cooler here. Liliko‘i (passion fruit) fall everywhere and you might see the twisted remains of some vehicles that took the quick way down. Finally you'll reach Waipi‘o Beach. Look for spinner dolphins and whales offshore. There are bathrooms near the beginning of the black-sand beach, which has rip currents and a treacherous undertow. Experienced local surfers catch waves here, but visitors should just enjoy being spectators.

If it's been rainy, you might catch a glimpse of Kaluahine Falls, which cascade down the cliffs below the lookout. Go east along the coastal boulders for just under half a mile. Don't go if the tide is high and covering the boulders.

If you walk westward across the beach, cross the stream, but only if shallow; if in doubt, observe the locals and ask them for advice. The trail forks shortly thereafter, with the Muliwai Trail zig-zagging up the cliffs on the other side of the valley, on its way to distant Waimanu, and, at the base of the far cliffs, the King's Trail heading inland, along a fence.

When ready, turn around and brace yourself for a heart-pumping climb uphill!