A scenic drive along the Kohala Coast and on the volcano’s ridge provides an amazing contrasts of climate and vegetation – from thick green jungle to dry barren hills. What’s almost mindboggling is that you can see these strikingly different climates within minutes and miles of each other. The Kohala displays one of the most compact examples of leeward and windward climes in Hawaii.
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I do hope you’ll plan some time to drive the Kohala as part of your Big Island vacation. Here’s how I recommend you take in this scenic drive:
1. Start on Highway 270 from Kawaihae driving north towards Hawi. Here you will see dry grasslands with kaiwe trees. During humpback whale season (late December through March), try to pull over where possible to whale watch. Our favorite place to whale watch is between mile markers 5 and 6, at an elevated parking lot on the makai (ocean side) of the road.
2. Continue driving on Highway 270 cutting through the thick rainforest until you reach the end of the road at Pololu Lookout. Here you can simply take in the view, but if you’re up for a bit of a short, but steep hike, follow the Pololu Trail down into the valley to the black sand beach.
3. Double back on Highway 270, back towards Hawi. I suggest a stop in the small town of Kapaau to see the King Kamehameha Statue on the mauka (mountain side) of the road. You might want to opt to stop in Hawi and pop into some of the small shops or perhaps grab a snack.
4. In Hawi, turn onto Highway 250 towards Waimea. From here, you will travel near the very summit (over 3,000 feet above sea level) of the sleeping Kohala Volcano. The cooler air combined with the fertile grass lands makes this area ideal for the ranches along the ridges. You may want to pull over where safe to take in the views of the island. You might even see Maui. From Waimea, you can either head back to your resort towards the Hilo side or down to the Kona side.
I’m not sure how many different climates you might pass, but I’d guess maybe a half a dozen. It’s a beautiful contrast that you almost can’t believe unless you see it with your own eyes.
See more ideas of what to see and do on your Big Island vacation.