Hawi and Kapa’au
A drive up the Kohala coast to the end of highway 270 is a popular day trip. As you leave the lava flows of South Kohala and round the northwest tip of the Big Island, you will notice a dramatic change in vegetation. As you pass out of the rain shadow of Kohala Mountain, you reach the lush and rugged North Kohala Coast.
Hawi and Kapaau are two small communities just 2 miles apart on the wet green north coast of Kohala. Once home to workers of the Kohala Sugar Company, Hawi and Kapaau have survived the demise of the sugar industry in Hawaii and flourished as communities where organic farmers, holistic healers, eco-tour operators and artists mingle with retired plantation workers and tourists. Located a few miles from the end of the road, Kapaau is home to the original statue of Kamehameha I, who united the Hawaiian Islands. Its close neighbor, Hawi is known as the turnaround point for the cycling leg of the World Ironman Triathlon Championships.
For 110 years this area survived on the fortunes of what was known as the Missionary Plantation, a unique experiment that gave jobs to local people and supported the church. Working conditions here differed significantly from the slave-like conditions of other plantations. Today this quaint area hosts a collection of cafes, boutiques and galleries. It’s also the base for several adventure activity companies. Many visitors like to spend a day traveling to the Pololu Valley lookout, and stopping along the way to enjoy some of the many activities this area has to offer.
Hawi and Kapaau Restaurants
If you are planning a day trip or spending a little longer in North Kohala there is a surprising array of tasty alternatives. Here is just a sampling of what’s available along the way.
Offering a decidedly island twist to the familiar sushi menu, Sushi Rock is located on Highway 270 just east of the junction with highway 250, the Kohala Mountain Road. Offering a selection of hand rolls with names like Luau and Banzai, Sushi Rock makes the most of many local ingredients, including macadamia nuts, papaya and avocado. Locally caught fish are also featured on the menu in items like the Rock Cobb Salad and the Ahi Melt. They share the building with their sister restaurant, Trio and the Living Arts Gallery.
Bamboo Restaurant, Bar and Gallery
Cooking up a mix of Pacific Rim and local favorites, the Bamboo restaurant has been attracting visitors and locals for over 20 years. Started in 1993, when this area was in the depths of the post sugar industry recession, the Bamboo has been a big part of the area’s transformation into a visitor destination, producer of organic fruits and vegetables and artist community. Be sure to try some of their delectable pupus(appetizers) like the Chicken Sate Potstickers or Thai Coconut Prawns. Bamboo is located on highway 270 just west of the highway 250 intersection.
King’s View Cafe
Located directly across the street from the original statue of King Kamehameha I in Kapaau, the King’s View Cafe opens for breakfast at 7:00 a.m. They keep busy all day serving up pizza, hot subs and homemade desserts. The cafe shares the building with the Ackerman Gallery.
King Kamehameha I Statue
The statue was commissioned in 1878 to honor the 100th anniversary of King Kamehameha uniting the Hawaiian Islands. It was intended to stand in front of Iolani Palace in Honolulu but was lost at sea when the ship carrying it to Hawaii ran aground near the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina. The resourceful Falklanders managed to salvage the statue but not before a replacement had been cast and shipped to Honolulu. The statue was brought here to acknowledge this area as King Kamehameha’s birthplace.
The wild and rugged North Kohala coastline is often battered by surf that makes it dangerous for swimming. There are a couple of spots where you can enjoy a picnic by the ocean and if the water is calm, make your way carefully over the broken lava boulders for a quick dip.
Keokea Beach Park
Near Kapaau, this rocky bay has a small spit that affords a relatively protected entry and exit from the water. It’s not much of a beach but as the most easily accessible water near Hawi and Kapaau, it’s a great place to cool off if you are out on an all day excursion.
Kapaa Beach Park
Kapaa is another rocky shoreline rather than a sandy beach that can offer access to the water when conditions are calm. Located in a shallow bay that affords some protection, it’s a spot that local fishermen and scuba divers know well. The water, when it is calm, is exceptionally clear, although winter storms can send massive waves that toss lava boulders onto the shore. There are restrooms, showers, picnic tables, a picnic shelter and barbecue grills.
North Kohala Galleries
North Kohala is home to a wealth of artists and craftspeople working in a wide array of mediums. Along a 3 mile stretch of highway 270 from Hawi to Kapaau, you’ll find no less than 18 galleries.
Artist John Flynn, who works creating silver and gold jewelry, also represents numerous other local artists at his Elements Jewelry and Fine Crafts boutique in Hawi. The Living Arts Gallery beside Sushi Rock and Trio restaurants is home to work by several Big Island artists as well as a venue for literary events with local authors and live concerts.
Gary Ackerman opened the first gallery here in 1978, long before this area became known as a center for local art. Using oil paints, giclée and lithography, his internationally renowned style has been described as modern impressionism. Many of his works draw on Big Island landscapes but he also creates still life and abstract pieces.
Hawaii Forest and Trail
Hawaii Forest and Trail has been operating a range of eco-tours for more than 20 years in the Kohala area. Apart from offering a unique assortment of outdoor experiences, Hawaii Forest and Trail is an active member of the Kohala community and supporter of local environmental and cultural groups. All tours include transportation along with trained and dedicated guides.
The Kohala Canopy Zipline Tour is a complete experience with rappelling, aerial trekking and zipping from tree to tree. The tour starts in an all-terrain 6-wheel drive Pinzauer which takes you deep into the rainforest. You can either drive to the zipline station, located in Kapaau, near the King Kamehameha I statue or arrange a pickup for a small additional charge. Pickups are available at all major Kohala Coast resorts.
The Kohala waterfall tour is a family friendly excursion that combines an off-road adventure and a hike to a waterfall where you can swim. The day is capped off by a delicious picnic lunch overlooking beautiful Pololu Valley.
Kohala Ditch Adventures
Kohala Ditch Adventures is a completely unique experience. The tour takes you high in the jungles of the Kohala mountains for a 2-1/2 hour kayak tour through 10 tunnels and down water flumes that form part of the 22 mile Kohala ditch. You will hear the history of the ditch, built to carry water from the wet side of the mountains to the sugarcane fields on the sunny dry side, and experience the beauty of Hawaii’s native flora and fauna. Watch for their sign just past Kapaau.
Kohala Ditch Adventures also outfits rainforest ATV tours. Their exclusive access to an amazing off-road playground is a must do activity for mudding enthusiasts.
Pololu Valley Overlook
Your journey to the end of the road finishes at the beautiful Pololu Valley overlook. From the lookout you can see a series of deeply cut valleys interspersed with towering sea cliffs and a scattering of small offshore islands. The Awini trail takes you from the lookout, down to the black sands of Pololu beach.
Shaped like a thumb protruding from the northwest corner of the Big Island, the southwest or leeward side of the Kohala peninsula shares the same arid climate and barren landscape as South Kohala. As you travel around the thumb past the giant turbines of the Hawi wind farm, you quickly find yourself in a lush tropical forest.
In Hawi the average annual rainfall is 40-60 inches while further up in elevation on slopes of Kohala Mountain the rainfall can be 200 inches per year or more. Daily high temperatures range between 79 and 85 and while the very northwestern tip of the island is blustery much of North Kohala has light winds thanks to the blocking effect of the mountain.