Take an Unexpected Drive North to the End of the Big Island


I had no idea what our spur of the moment adventure had in store for us

One afternoon, after a lovely swim in the ocean, Mike and I decided we had worn Dek out enough. We crossed our fingers and hopped in the car. I was hoping Dek would fall asleep so we wouldn’t have to go back to our rental for nap time. We started driving north. Within 20 minutes the nap gods smiled upon us. The boy was out. Time for some mommy and daddy adventure time! We headed towards Kohala, the northwest part of the Big Island and also the oldest surviving volcano on the island.

Taking the Scenic Route

The first stop Dek slept through was Lapakahi State Historical Park. Somewhere along Highway 19 and 270 this park caught our eye. So I pulled over. It was unbelievably windy and quite a hike around all of the historic buildings. Mike and I took turns running from the parking lot to the top of the crest to take a peek. Then we kept on moving. One downside of wandering about with a sleeping kid in the car is that you really only get to do drive bys. We like to call these scouting missions. If we find something really cool then we can always go back.

The 600-year-old village in Lapakahi State Historical Park was just one drive by that day

The rest of ride north was pretty uneventful; loads of farms and breathtaking views along the way. Off to the left we started to see another big mountain. Wait a minute. There is nothing to the left on the Big Island when you are on the Northwest tip. That was Maui! We had heard you could see Maui on a clear day, but that was pretty cool. When we visited Maui with Dek in 2010 we had been able to see a hazy glimpse of the Big Island while on a whale watching tour, but this was so much better. It loomed off in the distance like a mighty mountain.

Get out of the car and stroll the boardwalk sidewalks around downtown Hawi. It's worth the stop.

Hawi (Not to be confused with Hawaii) Awaits

After about 45 minutes we found ourselves in the small town of Hawi. We were actually surprised at how quickly we got there. It looked so much farther on the map. Very soon we learned that landmarks and towns were much closer than they appeared.

And as the fates would have it, as soon as I parked in Hawi, Dek woke up. Well, there was a sign for BBQ pig and a farmers market, so it sure was a good thing he was awake. Mike and I were going to eat with or without him (OK, OK, we are not that bad of parents. Mike would have stayed in the car. Hey, I never said I was a good wife!)

Always curious, Dek had to check out this massive tree and see where he could squeeze his tiny body.

Although a bit disoriented, Dek was happy to stretch his legs and check out this crazy little downtown area. When I say “downtown” please keep in mind that it means only a 3-4 block strip. We headed past the tasty smelling pig stand and up towards the farmers market to scout it out on the very off chance that they were offering something even better than BBQ pork products.

Sadly, they were not. The farmers market appeared to be about 3 tables. A few kids and their parents were playing, but no business seemed to be taking place. Just some happy locals gathering around the farmers market watering hole, minus the market. We headed back to the pig people. They were definitely open for business.

Pulled pork is a crowd pleaser in our house. Corn on the cob is still a work in progress. It's hard to explain when to stop eating the cob.

Load Up On BBQ Pulled Pork

The menu was simple. The food was outstanding. The cook said he only came out a few days a week. He stayed as long as the food lasted each day. Sundays were a toss up on whether he would show or not depending on what football team was playing. Now that’s my kind of work schedule.

One pulled pork sandwich and a roasted corn on the cob had everyone fueled up. We purposefully did not overload though. We still had to head on over to Kohala Coffee Mill for a taste of the famed Tropical Dreams ice cream. My scoop of macadamia nut and chocolate ice cream did not disappoint. What a combination. It blew my shaved ice from the previous day out of the water, so to speak. Creamy, rich and delicious. And Dek was getting none of it.

Ice cream and a bit off peek-a-boo made for a happy family stop in Hawi along our drive

Mike had ordered a coffee and Dek wanted in on the beverage action. Pleas for milk quickly filled the air. The barista happily filled up a cup with milk, threw a coffee lid on and popped a straw in. Instant kid’s cup. Dek was happy, Mike was caffeinated and I was filled with creamy sugary goodness. This spur of the moment adventure sure was looking better and better.

Little did I know what the full view had in store at Pololu Valley

Pololu Valley Lookout

Next up on our tour was the end of the line. We were headed to the Pololu Valley Lookout at the top of Highway 270. And when I say end of the line, I mean you will fall over a cliff if you kept going. Turning the car around even proved to be a challenge.

Breath taking views and a little toddler wander time with a stick= Happy

Mike had certainly done his homework. He knew where we were headed and what we were about to see. I was in the driver’s seat thinking, OK our kid is going to lose it if he doesn’t get to walk some more soon. Why are we going to look at a cliff? We had seen tons of those.

Oh what little faith I have in my husband sometimes. I would not have missed this for the world. This was no cliff over looking the ocean. This was a view of several cliffs cutting straight down into the ocean with a wind-swept black sand beach nestled in between them.

Not a subtle drop or one you should attempt in flip-flops for sure

There is a semi-maintained path that leads you 400 feet down to the beach, but make sure you have sneakers on NOT flip-flops. I’m sure you can tell that we only had flip-flops. I had stupidly taken our bag of sneakers out of the car the night before. Dek on the other hand had fabulous sandals with a great sole and Velcro . It wasn’t enough though.

We couldn't hike all the way down, but we got enough pictures to tide us over until our next visit

When a small, grandmotherly Indian woman stopped me, looked at my feet and told me “No, you may not go down there like that,” I actually listened. If I hadn’t been pregnant I might not have, but I’m smart enough to see a straight drop hurling me to my death when I see one. The path had been washed away many times by rain and was very slick in some spots. This hike would just have to go on our Reasons to Go Back to the Big Island list.

Disappointed, but with some amazing pictures still in hand, we headed back to our car. Dek’s little legs were getting tired from our short walk down the hill. It was time to move on.

The drive took us so high we saw clouds roll across the road and down into the valley

Kohala Mountain Road

We headed back towards Hawi, filled up on gas (cheapest we had seen on this side of the island by the way) and headed down Highway 250. There were no breathtaking cliff views falling into the ocean as we cut through the island, but there was certainly a lot of lava and almost as many cows. We were in farm country after all. Some very tasty beef was grown in those hills.

When Dek started to get bored in the car, we started to count cows. It lasted for about as long as you would expect. Five minutes at most, but you can’t say we didn’t try. We then started looking for sheep, horses and goats. There were a few of them wandering around the properties we passed. This gave us a few more 5 minute intervals.

Cow spotting was an easy game to play as we drove along the fertile upcountry hills

The road took us up hills, around hills and down hills until we passed through Waimea and headed down Highway 190 back towards Kona. By this point we were all pretty pooped. We had spent the morning swimming at Kua Bay. Dek had taken a 45-minute nap when he normally sleeps at least 2 hours. It was time to head home as fast as possible, grab some dinner and veg out the rest of the night.

I would say this was a successful adventure. We scouted out a few must see sights (Hawi and Pololu) and knew what we needed to save more time to check out on future trips. Not all of our random wanders work out so well, but this one was definitely a worth it.

Along 190 you come to a land Mother Nature is trying to rebuild after being wiped away by lava

Know Before You Go:

  • Pack sneakers so you can do some hiking
  • Bring cash for any farm stands or local food stops along the way
  • Have snacks and beverages ready for hungry kids and pregnant women. There are some long stretches between towns.
  • Fill up on gas in Hawi. It was at least $0.20 cheaper than in Kona, although our guidebook tried to tell us differently. Just goes to show you can’t always trust your guidebook.
  • Take toys and other car games with you to entertain little fingers and minds. Although you may find it fascinating to look at rolling hills, water and cows, a toddler’s attention span is not always that great.
Recommended Posts
Showing 2 comments
  • Lisa

    Sounds like a perfect day – the scenery is beautiful! I love those days spent wandering from place to place with no set agenda! And I don’t think that I’m going to be able to stop thinking about chocolate and macadamia nut ice cream – talk about an irresistible combo!!

  • Mom

    the agony and the ecstasy!….my little guy on the edge of a cliff….a grandmother’s nightmare. But, the ice cream! I’m sitting here, in my work cube munching a carrot and salad for lunch…yum, yum! And as always, thanks for the swivel chair trip

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Seattle Westlake Center