Circling the Big Island

  • Start: Kamuela, HI
  • End: Kailua-Kona, HI
  • Last Modified: 2011-11-09 15:50:07
  • Total Mileage: 239 Miles
  • Number of stops: 9


Here on the Big Island of Hawai'i, history has always been carved out of nature. A loop drive around the island beginning at the Kona airport encircles natural and historical sites. Watch for wild donkeys crossing the road on the drive north of the airport. The donkeys once were used to carry heavy coffee beans down mountain slopes, but when tractors became prevalent, the donkeys were set free to roam. At the end of the lava fields, turn inland on HI 19 to Waimea. Once a cowboy town and center of the huge Parker Ranch, Waimea is becoming gentrified, with expensive and expansive homes. Visitors can still ride horses, tour by ATV, or take a wagon ride at Parker Ranch, which was founded in 1847 and still is one of the largest cattle ranches in the U.S. From Waimea, HI 250 heads 27 miles along a volcanic ridge that climbs to 6,000 feet. It passes a few horse ranches, then descends to Hawi, known as the birthplace of King Kamehameha. Kamehameha united the islands into one kingdom. It's been a quiet village since the sugar mill that dominated business closed in 1970. A few artists' shops and stores sell koa wood creations, pottery, and clothing. Head east toward Kapaau. The original King Kamehameha statue, recovered from the ocean, fully restored, and painted in the local tradition, stands proudly on the lawn of the Civic Center. Folks like to hang leis on the statue and pose for pictures with the king. On the drive back, follow the scenic coastal route, HI 270, then head east through Waimea on HI 19, on toward Hilo. This side of the island gets more rain, and thus is lush with vegetation. The ocean beckons just beyond former sugar cane fields. A sign directs motorists to turn toward the ocean at Laupa-hoehoe. The winding narrow road leads to a spectacular beach state park, where waves crash on rocks surrounded by pines. In 1946, a tsunami overcame a small school here and the first busload of children arriving for the day's studies. A memorial marks the passing of 16 students, five teachers, and three other victims of the disaster. Back on HI 19, head into Hilo. Downtown, stop at the Pacific Tsunami Museum, housed in a former bank building. Donna Saiki, museum director, says the museum is really a homegrown affair, sprouting in 1994. "It started with survivors telling their stories. We're not scientists. We're importing the history of Hilo and its transformation," she says. Displays memorialize the testimony of tsunami survivors, who share their stories through video kiosks. If you visit Hilo on Saturday, harvest lunch from the bounty at the farmer's market at the edge of downtown. You'll mix with the locals and get a taste of Hawaiian treats. Vendors hawk the exotic and mundane--papayas and mangoes, bananas and lettuce. Orchids sell for $5, sarongs just $10. A 30-minute massage can be had for $20.From Hilo, most visitors head straight for Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. It's certainly worth a day's exploration to see the still-erupting volcano and learn about how nature molds the landscape. It's possible to drive through the park, down to the tip of the island, 'round the bend, and north toward the Kona district; an easier route is back through Hilo to the western side. Learn about original Hawaiian history at Pu'uhonua o Ho-naunau, the place of refuge. In earlier days, the people were ruled by a myriad of laws, and the punishment often was death. But there was an alternative--if the transgressor could make it to the place of refuge, no one could pursue him or her inside. This place of refuge, perhaps created as early as the late 1300s, has been reconstructed from records and old sketches. It's an easy drive from Pu'uhonua o Ho-naunau to Kailua Kona, where coffee farms crop up by the dozens and you can stop to sample coffee and macadamia nuts.

Stop #1:

Parker Ranch
Kamuela, HI

Stop #2:

King Kamehameha Statue
Kapa'au, HI

Stop #3:

Pacific Tsunami Museum
Hilo, HI

Stop #4:

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii, United States of America

Stop #6:

Ueshima Coffee Company
Holualoa, HI

Stop #7:

Holualoa Kona Coffee Company
Holualoa, HI

Stop #8:

Kona Blue Sky Coffee Company
Holualoa-Kona, HI

Stop #9:

Hawaii Forest and Trail
Kailua-Kona, HI

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