What to see on Hawaii’s Big Island in One Day – Part One from the Kona Side

Today, we continue the series of what to see on each Hawaiian island in one day. The Big Island is big indeed and there is so much to see. This island even has two major cities with airports and harbors for large cruise ships – one in Kona and one in Hilo. Since there are two major airports and since cruise ships usually have a day assigned to each side, we’re going to approach our one day itineraries in the same way. So, we’ll start with a visit to the Kona side of the Big Island.

As I’ve written these one day guides, I’ve tried to focus on the natural beauty of each island and what makes them unique. This one day sight-seeing plan from the Kona side for the Big Island will be no exception. The Kohala Coast and Hamakua Coast along the northern end of the Big Island is stunning with cliffs, lush green hills and valleys, and black sand beaches.

Waipio Valley

I’m going to suggest a big loop of sight-seeing with the first stop being at Waipio Valley (photo on the right). The earlier in the day that you visit this valley, the more likely you’ll avoid rain. So, that’s why I suggest you head straight there. Assuming you are starting from Kailua-Kona, I’d begin the day by driving towards Waimea and onwards toward Honokaa. I estimate it will take between 1 to 1.5 hour to get there from Kona. There are two ways to head towards Waimea – either via Highway 190 or Highway 19. To maximize what you see, I might suggest that you go on Highway 190 and return via Highway 19.

To get to Waipio Valley, you’ll turn on Highway 240 towards the historic sugarcane plantation town of Honokaa. Just follow Highway 240 until it ends at the Waipio Valley lookout. Admire the width and depth of this fertile valley. Notice the black sand beach, fishponds, and taro fields. The view of Waipio valley never fails to impress.

Hopping back in the car, you’ll have to backtrack to Honokaa. (If you need a snack, try a malasada (doughnut) from Tex Drive In off Highway 19 at Honokaa.) You’ll get back onto Mamalahoa Highway (19) and head back towards Waimea. If it’s a clear day, occasionally take a glance over to the left to Kohala Mountainsee if you can get a view of the top of Mauna Kea.

Once you get into Waimea, stay on Highway 19 until you get to the intersection of Highway 250. Take the Kohala Mountain Road (Highway 250) for a amazingly scenic drive near the top of the Kohala Mountain, an extinct volcano. The landscape here is very unique. You won’t see anything else like it in Hawaii. I would liken it to something you’d see in Ireland. (See the photo on the right.)


After you reach the end of Highway 250, you’ll be in another historic sugarcane plantation town, Hawi, at the intersection of Highway 270. Turn right onto 270 and follow it out of Hawi and over a few miles into the smaller town of Kapaau. On the right, between mile markers 23 and 24, you’ll see a really nice statue of King Kamehameha in front of the police department. IMGP1470

After seeing the statue, continue heading East on Highway 270 until the road ends at the beautiful Pololu Valley Lookout. (Photo on the right.) If you have the time available, water, and the proper shoes for a steep hike, you can hike down to Pololu black sand beach. (Don’t plan to swim here as the current is too dangerous.) You’ll need somewhere between 1 to 1.5 hours for the hike depending on how fit you are and much time you want to spend viewing the beach.

After viewing Pololu Valley, follow Highway 270 back and stay on it past Hawi for a pleasant and somewhat dramatic drive from the lush windward side to the dry leeward side of the Kohala Coast. From here, you can drive back to Kona following Highway 270 to 19.

So, I’ve now covered the main sights I’d highly recommend that you see. Since I don’t know how much time you specifically have available, I’ll suggest these other places to see on your way back to Kona if you have the time.

You could more than fill a day with all these suggestions. So, make sure you allow plenty of time to return your rental car and either catch your plane or cruise ship.

Some tips for your day:

  • Bring a light jacket and/or rain poncho. The weather in the upcountry can be about 10 to 15 degrees cooler.
  • Be sure and pick up the free maps they give you at the rental car desk. If possible, buy a proper map of the island before you go on vacation. The rental car maps can sometimes be difficult to follow as the maps are scattered over several pages.
  • Always lock your car doors when you leave the car.
  • Plan restroom stops wisely. 🙂 You’ll find restroom facilities at the Waipio Valley lookout, but not at the Pololu Valley lookout.
  • There are some nice little restaurants in Waimea, Honokaa, Hawi, Kawaihae (near intersection of highways 19 and 270) for lunch. (See this link for more on Big Island restaurants.)

So, these are my suggestions for what to see from the Kona side in one day. Have you seen these sights? Do you think they’re worthy seeing on the one day visit?

  1. Great suggestions! We’ll be following many of these suggestions as our Big Island babymoon begins!

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