Scenic Kohala Driving on Hawaii’s Big Island

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 safe and possible to whale watch.

The dry leeward side of the Kohala Coast

2. Continue on Highway 270 driving 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. Visit the King Kamehameha Statue in Kapaau. Double back on Highway 270. Stop in the small town of Kapaau to see the King Kamehameha Statue on the mauka (mountain side) of the road.

King Kamehameha Statue in Kapaau
King Kamehameha Statue in Kapa’au

4. Visit Hawi. Walk around the shops of this former sugarcane plantation town. If you’re looking for lunch or dinner, we’ve enjoyed dining at Bamboo Restaurant in Hawi.

5. Drive across the Kohala summit ridge. From Hawi, turn onto Highway 250 towards the mountain and 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 picturesque ranches along the ridges. You may want to pull over,  where safe to do so, to take in the views of the island. You might even see Maui.

Kohala Mountain
A volcanic cindercone now covered with grass and shrubs in a pasture on the Kohala ridge.

6. Go to the Hamakua Mac Nut Factory. Turn right on Highway 19 heading back towards Kawaihae. Turn right onto Highway 270 back toward Kawaihae. Turn right on Maluokalani Street to visit the Hamakua Macadamia Nut factory and visitor center. Here you can sample just about every macadamia nut flavor that’s imaginable. You can also take a self-guided tour to see the factory.

7. Go to the Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site. – Turn back on Highway 270 heading back towards Highway 19. Turn right at the signs for Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site. Here you can learn about ancient Hawaiian culture and history.

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.

  1. I’m not sure if you already know as I did send you the blog about the sash. But the sash that Kamehameha is wearing is the one that was passed down to him from the 15th century by his ancester High Chief Liloa. It was the one with the teeth in it.

    Beautiful photos!


    1. Hi Karen,

      Yes, I remembered that! What an incredible piece of history it is for all to see at the Bishop Museum!

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