Curvy, cozy and impossibly green, the Hamakua Coast is a verdant time portal on the Big Island’s northeastern side. Often referred to as the “Hamakua Heritage Corridor,” this 50-mile stretch of two-lane road passes through small, historic towns and offers a sumptuous buffet of scenery around every hairpin turn. Sugar was once king along this coast, and though the last field was planted in 1994, vestiges of the plantation past lay scattered along the trail.
Leave the city of Hilo behind and venture north toward Akaka Falls, continuing past the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden to the town of Laupahoehoe. Here you’ll find the Laupahoehoe Train Museum, a small building that showcases the history of the Hawaii Consolidated Railway. The train was vital for transporting sugar from the fields to the port of Hilo, although a devastating tsunami in 1946 obliterated the tracks.
Continue along a serpentine road oft likened to the Road to Hana, and make a stop in sleepy Honoka‘a for a dose of small town charm. Ranching and farming are big in these parts, and the rural economy and coastal location make for a haven for free-spirited artists. Continue further to Waipio Valley, the official end of the road, and if your legs are feeling up for the journey, take a hike down the state’s steepest road to the taro-lined valley floor. Waipio is the valley where King Kamehameha was hidden away as a child, and the way of life and secluded surroundings have changed little since the days of the king.
If driven without stopping, the Hamakau Coast from Hilo to Waipio takes a little over an hour. This stretch of coastline is windy and wet, although the 80-some annual inches of rain keep the waterfalls and valleys alive. To avoid the rain and beat the wind, mornings are often the best time of day to see it before the afternoon tradewinds arrive.