Although the region only comprises six percent of the Big Island's total area, it could still take weeks to explore in its entirety. Most visitors to South Kohala are familiar with the resort enclaves of Waikoloa and Mauna Lani, where golf courses sit in stark contrast to the surrounding black lava fields. Further up the road in the North Kohala plantation towns of Hawi and Kapaau, travelers will find artisan outposts of craft stores and coffee shops.
Rugged valleys with sing-song names such as Pololu, Waipio, and Waimanu form deep clefts in the lush mountainside and are a favorite of island hikers and thrill-seekers. Waterfall trekking and jungle ziplining are popular in these outdoor playgrounds, and Waipio Valley is regarded as one of the most scenic corners of the island. Off-road vehicle tours often include guided hikes, while a helicopter tour is ideal for aerial views of the Kohala Coast.
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Things to know before you go
- A must-see for outdoor enthusiasts and travelers wanting to venture into remote areas.
- Trips last anywhere from 3 to 8 hours, depending on the option you choose.
- Bring sturdy hiking shoes and a bathing suit. A sunhat is recommended for windswept open spaces.
- Don’t forget binoculars; sightings of marine life are not uncommon on the coast.
How to get there
The section of Highway 270 from Kawaihae toward Hawi up to the Pololu Lookout hugs the dramatic coastline. Further inland, Highway 250 toward Waimea takes you along the Kohala ridge. For those who’d prefer not to rent a car, most tours offer pickup and drop-off at Kohala and Waikoloa hotels and include a drive up the Kohala coastline. Helicopter tours typically provide a round-trip transfer to the Kona airport, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) away.
When to get there
During the annual King Kamehameha Day celebrations each June, the namesake statue presiding over Kapaau is draped in flower leis. During humpback whale season (late December through March), migrating humpbacks join spinner dolphins and other marine life offshore.
Hawaiian History Buffs and Ocean Bluffs
The white sands of Hapuna Beach are a favorite of beachgoers, but history buffs will love Pu’ukohola Heiau, which was commissioned by King Kamehameha. While this National Historic Site sees thousands of annual visitors, only a mere handful will make the journey to the smaller Mo’okini Heiau on windswept Upolu Point. Constructed in the 5th century AD by some of the earliest Polynesian voyagers, this is also where King Kamehameha was born.
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