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Kohala Sights, Tours, & Information

Things to Do & Visitor Tips for Kohala on Big Island Hawaii

On the far northwest tip of the Big Island is Kohala, one of the most diverse areas on the island. This part of the Big Island started forming around 460,000 years ago and today includes the Kohala Mountains and the Kohala Ridge Road which straddles the mountain as it makes its way northwestward.

The distinction between the windward (wet) side of the island and the leeward (dry) side couldn't be more clear here. Northeast Kohala is green and lush, while the southwest side of the peninsula is dry and sometimes even barren. At one time this part of the Kohala Coast, fittingly called 'North Kohala,' was a area of flourishing sugar cane plantations. Today it has become dominated by one of North America's largest privately owned ranches - the Parker Ranch.

John Derrick
Published on: 01-15-2020
Published by: John C. Derrick

Waimea ('Kamuela') Town

It's largely in part because of Parker Ranch that the center of activity in Kohala focuses on Waimea town (called 'Kamuela' by the postal service). Waimea town is a place where you can still see real life cowboys (called paniolo's in Hawai'i), shop in western stores, and even witness rodeos.

Unfortunately Waimea has a modern touch of traffic these days too; enough to make them consider a bypass route. Currently there is a good bit of controversy over this topic. One of the most amazing views of Mauna Kea can also be found when leaving Waimea (heading toward Kona) - just look to the east and there stands Hawai'i's tallest mountain. During the winter months you might even be lucky enough to spot the mountain with its snowy cap.

Hawi Town

Hawai'i's greatest king, Kamehameha I, was also born in north Kohala above the town of Hawi. Hawi is the northernmost city on the island and is the largest city in North Kohala. Art galleries, restaurants, and other various shops attract visitors daily. On Kamehameha Day (June 11th) the statue in town is draped with gorgeous lei's. Hawi was also once a booming sugar cane town, but it too shut down in the 1970's. 

'Gold Coast' of South Kohala

The Kohala Coast region also includes an area called Waikoloa in 'South Kohala.' Some call this area the gold coast because of the many luxury resorts that have been engraved into ancient lava flows in this area. One of the most beautiful beaches on the island, Hapuna Beach, is also located along this stretch.

Kohala Top 5 Things to Do

Best Things to See & Do in the Kohala Region

Puukohola Heiau

#5 Rated in Kohala on the Big Island

As you approach the junction of Highway 19 and 270 heading north, look makai (toward the ocean) and you should see a majestic stone structure atop a hill. This is Pu'ukohola heiau.

This heiau, a sacred place of worship, has a particularly interesting history. Built between 1790-91, Pu'ukohola was the project of the great King Kamehameha.

Today the heiau and neighboring structures are part of a national historic site. The entrance to the park is after the 2 mile marker makai on Highway 270. 

Puukohola Heiau

Kua Bay & Manini'owali Beach

#4 Rated in Kohala on the Big Island

Kua Bay, also called Manini'owali Beach, is a lovely little pocket of sand that used to be very difficult to access, but since a multi-million dollar road has been paved right through the lava- it's a snap to enjoy this Big Island gem.

Kua Bay beach has full facilities including restrooms and showers, water, barbecues, and picnic tables. It is very popular on the weekends, not to mention parking can be a nightmare, so you might want to aim for the weekdays.

When the water is calm, swimming is great here - some of the best in Kona. However, if the waves are going, stay out because it can be extremely dangerous.

Manini'owali Beach in Kua Bay

Hapuna Beach State Park

#3 Rated in Kohala on the Big Island

This is an extremely popular beach for both locals and visitors. Conde Nast Traveler magazine has often ranked it as one of the top beaches in the US. It is hard to argue with this half-mile stretch of pristine golden sand and crystal blue water.

There are several covered pavilions to enjoy an afternoon picnic and restrooms, albeit rather pitiful ones, are available. There is occasionally a lifeguard on duty...despite the "no lifeguard on duty" sign.

Don't expect a lot of shade on this beach. Consequently, the golden sand heats to an nearly unbearable temperature on a sunny day. During the summer months, the sand reaches 200 feet wide, so unless you want steaming toes wear sandals or water shoes.

Hapuna Beach State Park

Makalawena Beach

#2 Rated in Kohala on the Big Island

Like anything worthwhile, Makalawena, or Mak, Beach makes you work a little bit to enjoy it. It's about a 20-minute walk across the lava to the beach, but don't worry, the path is well worn through the a'a flow.

This secluded white sand beach is a crescent broken up by rocky lumps of lava. Palms and other trees rim the dunes near the northern end where you are greeted with picnic tables and some wild chickens.

It's not likely that you will run into many people here and thus you'll likely be able to enjoy the most scenic beach on the island in solitude.

Makalawena Beach

Pololu Valley Overlook

#1 Rated in Kohala on the Big Island

As you pass the 28-mile marker on Highway 270 past Hawi, the coast will open up and you will suddenly be treated to a breathtaking view of the lovely Pololu Valley.

On a sunny day, you will see the vibrant blue and green ocean crashing into the rugged sea cliffs and the deep green carpet of vegetation lining the sides of the valley.

A short walk to the lookout reveals the many folds and creases of the inner part of the valley which drop into a rich, green floor. Lines of ironwood trees divide the lush valley from the grainy black sand beach that meets the ocean.

Pololu Valley Overlook

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