Hawaii’s Most Scenic Drive – Waipio to Hilo along the Hamakua Coast

Categorized as Big Island Vacation Information

Last week I told you about my wonderful visit to Kailua-Kona and my stay in a beautiful Condominium there, and this week I am visiting the north side of the Big Island and staying in a wonderful Hilo Vacation Rental.

The 45-mile drive from Waipio Valley to Hilo is one of the nicest drives in all of the Hawaiian Islands.The scenic route follows along Hawaii Belt Road (Hwy. 19). This road is also known as the Hilo-Hamakua Heritage Coast.

The Heritage Coast route traverses Mauna Kea’s wet windward slopes and includes several cantilevered bridges that span deep ravines. The coastal route includes many places to stop for stunning ocean views, shoreline adventures, major and minor waterfalls, and an array of interesting shops and restaurants.

Much of this corridor is former sugarcane land now planted with macadamia nut trees and a whole array of diversified agricultural products. Towns along the route include Honokaa, Paauilo, and Honomu.

Honokaa is a small town lined with 1920s era wooden buildings that hearken to bygone days. These buildings house various shops selling crafts, antiques, and gifts.

Honokaa is a former sugarcane boomtown that was inextricably linked to the Hamakua Sugar Company, which was established in 1873 and closed in 1994.

Kalopa State Recreation Area

Kalopa State Recreation Area is located about 40 miles north of Hilo and encompasses about 100 acres. The park includes a great rainforest hike with lots of native plants and trees such as koa and ohia lehua.

Laupahoehoe Point

A sign on the highway marks the turnoff down a scenic road to Laupahoehoe Point, which is located about halfway between Honokaa and Hilo. Laupahoehoe Harbor has restrooms and picnic facilities, and a plaque memorializes those who perished in the April 1, 1946 tsunami that swept away the village there.


Honomu is a historic former sugarcane plantation town located about 10 miles north of Hilo. The town’s main street now includes wooden boardwalks and tin-roofed buildings that house a variety of shops featuring food as well as local woodwork and crafts.

Akaka Falls State Park

Spectacular Akaka Falls is located off Hawaii Belt Road inland from Honomu. It is well worth the 20-minute hike to see the Akaka Falls plunging 442 feet straight down the cliff and down Kolekole Stream. The more it has been raining, of course, the more tumultuous the cascading waterfall.

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden / Pepeekeo Scenic Route

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is located on the 4-mile long Pepeekeo Scenic Route off the Hawaii Belt Road in Onomea Valley between Honomu and Hilo.

Streams and waterfalls add to the park’s beauty, with more than 25,000 plants of 2,500 different species, including more than 2,000 orchids (750 different species) in the Orchid Garden. This scenic drive winds through the region formerly known as Pepee-ke-o with great views of Onomea Bay.


Finally you will reach the Island’s capital city which is also the second largest port in the Hawaiian Islands. About one third of the population of the island of Hawaii lives in Hilo.

Hilo is a college town, as home to the campus of the University of Hawaii-Hilo. Hilo is also home to the Hawaiian Islands’ premier hula competition, the Merrie Monarch Festival, which is held each April.

Hilo’s Banyan Drive travels around the Waiakea Peninsula on Hilo Bay, and passes Hilo’s bayfront hotels, the Naniloa Country Club golf course, and Liliuokalani Gardens.

The large, sprawling banyan trees lining Banyan Drive are marked with plaques identifying the various celebrities and royalty who planted the trees, including Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth, Cecil B. DeMille and many others.

When you are in Hilo check out the Pacific Tsunami Museum is located near the Hilo Bayfront. The Museum includes exhibits about the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis that devastated Hilo, including personal stories of survivors.

Information is provided about the Pacific Tsunami Warning System as well as myths and legends about tsunamis. A theater shows videos about tsunamis, and there is also a keiki (children’s) area and an interactive computer area.

The 1946 tsunami destroyed all of the buildings makai (on the ocean side) of Kamehameha Avenue except the Mooheau Bandstand, which still stands across the street and down a bit from the museum.

Rainbow Falls State Park

Rainbow Falls is located on the Wailuku River in west Hilo, up Waianuenue Avenue in Rainbow Falls State Park. I could stare at this waterfall for hours it is so beautiful.

After this exhilarating drive across the top of the Big Island I checked into my Hilo Vacation Rental and it was everything I was hoping for. Surrounded by beautiful ginger and heliconia flowers I feel as if I am in old Hawaii in a tropical jungle, yet the excitement of Hilo is just a short drive away, as are the wonderful cascading waterfalls!

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