The Big Island of Hawaii is vast, and for the adventurous traveler, this means there are numerous things to see and do when driving. Here are some beautiful scenic stops to consider as well as some of the best roadside attractions you won’t want to miss on a full day’s cruise from starting from the Kona airport heading northwards and circling the island.
South Kohala Coast: Starting from Kona and heading towards Waimea, there are many places to stop along the way. Here, there are a number of fabulous white sand beaches, such as Hapuna, Spencer and Mauna Kea. Pause amid the rolling green hills at Parker Ranch, which was established in 1809, for a glimpse into the paniolo or Hawaiian cowboy tradition and one of the largest ranches of its kind in the entire US.
North Kohala Coast: Here, you can find Pu’ukohola Heiau, one of the largest restored heiau (temple) in Hawaii. The heiau, now a National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service, was built by Kamehameha the Great to fulfill a condition of a kahuna’s (a Hawaiian priest) prophecy where he would unify his rule over the Hawaiian Islands, which he did in 1810. Nearby, you can visit the town of Kapa’au, where King Kamehameha was born as well as view the original statue of him which was sculpted in Europe but was lost at sea and then later found. If you have time, explore the Pololu Valley trail, where there are fresh fruit trees along the path and leads down to a striking black sand beach.
Hamakua Coast: Stop by the Waipio Lookout to view scenic and historic Waipio Valley, where the final scene of the movie Water World, staring Kevin Costner was filmed. The valley, known as the Valley of the Kings, was once the residence of Hawaiian royalty and the boyhood home of King Kamehameha. The road down to the valley is known to be one of the steepest in the country and should not be tried unless you have a four wheel drive vehicle. Other scenic spots are Akaka Falls State Park where you can view two gorgeous waterfalls and Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens where you can explore the labyrinth of over 2,000 species of plants.
Kapoho-Kalapana Road: This scenic by-way, also referred to as Red Road, is where you can visit the Ahalanui hot ponds and mesmerizing geologic features caused by the ongoing eruptions from nearby Kilauea Volcano. Travelers can soak in the warm waters of Ahalanui pond as well as enjoy the surrounding park area. This was an area that was largely covered by recent lava flows and completely engulfed the town of Kalapana and its beach during the 1990s. While there are only a few remnants of the town, there is a viewing area in Kalapana where you can hike to an active lava flow. The drive will also take you through the famous tree tunnels of Puna, past lava-covered roads and the still being formed Kaimu black sand beach.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: There are two main roads within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The first one is the Crater Rim Drive that goes past the visitor center, Kilauea Crater, Jaggar Museum and the Thurston Lava Tube. The second one is the famous Chain of Craters Road extends about 19 miles in the park. Not only does this road offer a superb opportunity to get closer looks at other volcanoes and lava flows along the volcanically active East Rift Zone, it also offers views of ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs as well as panoramic views of active lava flowing and steaming as it enters the ocean. Plan to leave ample time for pulling over and exploring the landscapes on foot, since this road covers a range of 4,000 feet in elevation right down to sea level where you can hike to the lava flows as well as view an elephant trunk-like lava formation called the Holei Sea Arch.
Kona Coast: Driving through the Kona area will take you through a variety of seacoasts, historic sites and expansive coffee farmlands. Start at historic Kealakekua Bay, the site where the famous British sea captain and explorer was killed. The bay is a great place to relax and snorkel. Nearby there are many coffee plantations in the “Kona Coffee Belt” where many farms offer tours, free samples and plenty of facts about the process of growing and cultivating coffee on the Big Island. Another great attraction in this area is the Pu’uhonua a Honaunau National Historic Park, an ancient Hawaiian heiau, where lawbreakers and defeated warriors could take refuge from their pursuers and is rich with cultural significance.