Even though we can’t take a traditional road trip like our friends on the mainland, the Hawaiian Islands are home to several incredible scenic drives just waiting to be explored — and we can almost guarantee that our views are better. And while we love Maui’s Hana Highway as much as the next person, there is one underrated drive on Hawaii Island we’d like to share with you today: the breathtaking drive from Hilo to Hawi. This incredible 107-mile scenic drive includes both the Hamakua Heritage Corridor and the Kohala Mountain Road and is punctuated by lush, tropical rainforests, cascading waterfalls, panoramic seaside views, and rural vistas. The best part? It’s easily doable in a single day!
Start your day with a hearty breakfast at Ken’s House of Pancakes.
This casual breakfast joint featuring 1970s-style decor is open 24/7, making it the perfect place for an early morning stack of macadamia nut pancakes, as well as a variety of egg dishes, burgers, and stews.
Surround yourself with beauty at the National Tropical Botanical Garden.
Featuring more than two thousand species of tropical plants from around the world and flora indigenous to the islands, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is an enchanting museum of living plants you’ll want to add to your Hawaii outdoors bucket list. This breathtaking garden attracts photographers, gardeners, botanists, scientists, and nature lovers from across the world. Don’t miss the chance to witness the serenity that awaits at the small, but gorgeous, Onomea Falls.
Next up is a visit to one of Hawaii’s best waterfalls, Akaka Falls.
Cascading 442 feet into a lush, tropical jungle is perhaps Hawaii’s greatest waterfall. Located on the Big Island’s Hamakua Coast is Akaka Falls, a place of pure paradise flowing from the Kolekole Stream. To view the falls, visitors take a short stroll leading through a jungle of banana plants, towering bamboo groves, and lush orchids. Entry to the state park will cost $5 per car or $1 per pedestrian.
Check out some incredible scenery at Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park.
Black, jagged lava rocks along the coastline contrast with coconut palms, grass, and the strikingly blue Pacific Ocean at this historic beach. Stop to take a few photographs or watch the waves crash into the lava rocks and tide pools dotting the coast, but don’t get in the water: the shorebreak here is far too dangerous for
Re-fuel at Tex Drive In, and check out Honoka’a.
This local pit-stop is famous for their malasadas, burgers and Hawaiian cuisine. It may seem like an odd combination, but you can't discredit the convenience of picking up a dozen malasadas with your lunch.
Honoka’a in itself is worth checking out, too! This tiny community is quintessentially reminiscent of Main Street U.S.A — one main street, lined with a post office, bank, schoolhouse, general store, police station, church — you get the charming picture, don’t you?
If you have the time, consider a detour out to Waipio Valley.
This detour will add twenty miles to your journey, but we think it’s well worth it if you have the time. The sacred Waipio Valley was once the boyhood home of King Kamehameha I and is an important site for Hawaiian history and culture. But history aside, "The Valley of the Kings" certainly appears as though it was made for royalty – the valley is full of tropical vegetation and surrounded by 2,000-foot tall cliffs.
Stop in Waimea to explore the town.
In the center of Hawaii Island, far away from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the resorts surrounding Kailua-Kona and the Kohala Coast is a small town full to the brim with local charm. Home to approximately 9,000 residents, Waimea is one of our favorite small Hawaiian
The town is also home to a gift shop and visitor’s center for the nearby Parker Ranch.
Founded in 1847, Parker Ranch is one of the country’s oldest ranches, predating many mainland ranches in Texas and other southern states by more than 30 years. Home of the Paniolo, or Hawaiian cowboy, Parker Ranch is the birthplace of ranching and the cowboy lifestyle in the Aloha State. Pick up some souvenirs and then hit the road.
You’ll soon find yourself on the Kohala Mountain Road on your way to Hawi.
Meandering across the northern tip of Hawaii Island from Waimea to Hawi, Kohala Mountain Road will transport you to another place — perhaps to a place where cows easily outnumber people. With lush forests, open pastures, brilliant meadows, and towering mountains, Kohala Mountain Road has it all.
And finally, you’ll arrive in the charming town of Hawi.
Often described as one of Hawaii Island’s best-kept secrets, Hawi is perched along the northern coastline of the Kohala coast and is home to some incredible skydiving, zip lining, farm tours, and a pretty charming vibe. Two decades ago, a new generation of entrepreneurs and artists flocked to the former plantation village and, with the help of longtime residents, moved bookstores, galleries, boutiques, and restaurants into the town’s decaying storefronts.
So, what are you waiting for? An unexpected adventure awaits on one of the most underrated sections of Hawaiian highway.