Driving loop to visit Hilo, the waterfalls, Honoka'a, & Waipio Valley
Part #1. Drive across Saddle Road. Until a few years ago, this was barely a jeep trail and rental cars were prohibited. But in 2013, the all-new Saddle Road was opened, formally known as the Daniel K. Inoye Memorial Highway (Highway 200). It's mostly a 3-lane highway and as modern as any in America. While it allows for highway speeds of 60mph, we strongly suggest you slow down a bit--notice the very cool pu'us on the west end of the highway, the magnificence of the scenery when you stop at the Mauna Kea recreation area rest stop (you're situated smack between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, respectively the world's tallest and largest (by volume) mountains. GORGEOUS and breathtaking. As you start down the east side toward Hilo, notice the astonishing lava formations, created by a Mauna Loa eruptions as recently as 1984.
Stop #2. Hilo and Farmer's Market. Hilo is Hawaii's second-largest city, but feels very small. It's a lovely old plantation-era town and has a magical downtown core. Be sure to wander around--there are lots of cute shops and the interesting Pacific Tsunami Museum. Very different to Kona. It also has one of the best farmers markets in Hawaii. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, some 200 vendors are there, selling everything from freshly picked tropical fruits to tie-died sarongs to oil paintings. It's lots of fun. Among the food sellers you'll see some with a few trays of baked goods. You should try locally made mochi--ask them; it's delicious. We are also huge fans of the Peruvian-style tamales; get them with green sauce only and say hi to Toni for us!
If you don't fill up on snacks at the Farmer's Market, Hilo has an abundance of good places to eat. We are big fans of Lucy's Taqueria (Mexican) and Sweet Cane Cafe (vegetarian).
(Thanks to Frank Hamm/Flickr Creative Commons for the Hilo Farmer's Market photo)
Stop #3. Rainbow Falls. Iconic and charming. Rainbow isn't the biggest waterfall in Hawaii, but it's among the prettiest. Very easy to reach and just moments from downtown Hilo. It's very similar to Wailua Falls on Kauai Island, made famous by the TV show Fantasy Island.
Stop #4. Akaka Falls. This stunning waterfall and rainforest stroll MUST be part of your day. It is easily the most beautiful waterfall on the island, and well worth the effort. I've chosen a pic that only shows you part of it as seeing all 400 feet of it in-person will take your breath away.
Photo of the falls courtesy Flickr Creative Commons/Thomas.
Stop #5. Honoka'a Town. Leaving Akaka and pointing north, you'll drive up the lovely Hamakua Coast. Notice the many valleys you pass through, and stop as you wish. Much of this region was part of the sugar cane industry, and the tiny towns reflect that era--none better than little Honoka'a, a favorite of ours. Plan for about an hour there to wander the cute downtown. We enjoy checking out the exquisite, handmade koa wood pieces at KoaWood Ranch shop. And up the hill (a short drive) is Tex's Drive-In, legendary for their malasada's, a Portuguese donut. (We think the malasadas at KTA in Kona are better, but Tex's are dang good!).
Stop #6. Waipio Valley Overlook. This valley is at the top of most guest's lists--and it is spectacular--but we don't recommend attempting to visit the valley floor and beach unless you do so with an authorized tour. Almost the entire valley is private property, and the owners/residents are beyond sick of the endless string of jeeps (and yes, a true 4x4 is required and the drive is horrible) coming into their home turf each day. It has, essentially, been ruined by Instagram. While we strongly recommend stopping at the overlook, we suggest you choose to visit the Pololu Valley hike as a similar, slightly smaller alternate for descending to the valley floor, on another day.
Photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons/Paul Bica
Drive home safely to Kona Guest House!!