Driving the East Side of the Big Island

akakalizard-2This wonderful little lizard is an Hawaiian gecko; we found him scurrying about the sidewalk picnic tables of a small cafe where we stopped for lunch on our way to Akaka Falls north of Hilo Hawaii.

We were in Hilo so I could give a speech and then we spent 8 additional nights on the island.  Our hotel in Hilo was on Banyan Drive near a park called Coconut Island.  The banyan trees and monkeypod trees in this area were stunning.  The banyans were named after various entertainment celebrities from decades ago.

We stayed at the Hilo Hawaiian hotel with a wonderful view from our room balcony across to Coconut Island with Mauna Loa in the distance.

northhilohotelview2northhilohotelviewHilo is a small town with a fairly low tourist presence.  A colleague recommended a local restaurant called Hawaiian Style Cafe and we went there on a Friday night after my speech.  It was jam packed so we had a half hours wait for a table, which was totally worth it.  We were the only obvious tourists in the place which was full of local families enjoying a Friday night out.  It felt a little bit like stepping back to the 50s all over the Island; lots of cafes with the old chrome dinette tables or old fashioned padded booths and homey menus.

Here Ed has a special that night that combined Hawaiian favorites like poke (raw marinated ahi tuna chunks, a fabulous smoked pulled pork, another pork dish steamed in taro leaves, a raw salmon ceviche like dish, a stew (they were out of a chicken dish that was called for on the platter) and the  very Hawaiian poi which is an entirely acquired taste.  Wallpaper paste pretty much sums it up; the waitress suggested putting sugar in it.

I had grilled lamb ribs; I love lamb and these were really very good.  Note the ubiquitous servings of white rice and macaroni salad.  This was standard everywhere we ate in Hawaii.  The macaroni salads vary quite a bit but were always full of fat/mayonnaise and often had tuna or rice or egg in them.  They were very tasty.


Hawaiians take environmental concerns seriously; we found these little signs in the cement near storm drains throughout Hilo.

The morning after our last day in Hilo we drove around the island to the north to arrive in Kailua Kona where we were renting a condo for 4 nights.  Before leaving town we stopped in Hilo at Rainbow Falls.  Because it had been raining for several days before we arrived, the falls were pretty impressive.
akakarainbowNorth of Hilo on the route along the Ocean is the entrance to another great spot to view waterfalls:  Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls.  We actually did this as a sidetrip from  Hilo on Thursday and so bypassed it as we headed  up the coast on Saturday for our trip to Kona, but we will take a little detour here to visit it.

At the car park for the falls which costs $5 for a carload of visitors ($1 a visitor to use the trail if you park outside and walk in) there is a display describing the life cycle of an interesting fish the O’opui which climbs these steep falls improbably but effectively to spawn.

The half mile trail loop took us through a lovely tropical forest, first to Kahuna Falls and then around to Akaka Falls.akakaredplant2

This lovely flower is a torch ginger; various gingers are found all over the island.

Much of the trail is through lush columns of greenery.

Kahuna Falls is enormous but the viewpoint is at a great distance so it is the less impressive of the two falls in this park.

From Kahuna viewpoint, we walked back though the forrest;  here we are beside one of the many banyans along the trail.

A very pleasant stroll through tropical greenery.

Akaka Falls.  The falls drop 442 feet.  The second snapshot is a closeup of the head of the falls.  Imagine those little Oopui fish making the climb up these falls or as larvae, the trip down the falls and out to the sea.


More lush vegetation including this banana plant and small stream and falls as we climbed back up to the parking lot.  There are lots of bananas growing on the island and they include several varieties smaller and much more flavorful than the monoculture bananas available in mainland grocery stores.  We stopped by roadside stands and picked up bunches of the bananas several times during our stay.
akakabananaakakasmallfallsOn the day we drove around the island we passed by Akaka Falls and headed north to the Hawaaian Tropical Botanical Gardens.  This was a dazzling site filled with tropical plants from around the world.  Here Ed stands by a  heliconium.  I will do a separate entry on the plants in the garden.  In making this stop plan at least a couple of hours to make the visit and come with water and insect repellant.  Both can be purchased at the visitor’s center if forgotten.


After the visit to the gardens we headed up the coast further catching occasional glimpses of the sea.botanreef

For lunch we took a slight detour off the main road to the little town of Honokaa which has an old timey western town sort of look.

We ate at Grandma’s Kitchen which turned out to be a great choice.  A nice local place with a jovial owner who likes to introduce the tourists by the town they are from.  We had fish and chips and loco moco and the one order of fish and chips made with local ono would have been quite enough for the two of us.  One thing we have found in Hawaii is lots of little mom and pop restaurants with very tasty local food at a very reasonable price.  We had heard that food was crazy expensive in Hawaii because of the transport costs involved, but we did not find it so particularly in small local cafes like this.botanhonakaa

We had seen loco moco several times, usually on enormous platters big enough to serve a family but being devoured by one young man.  Loco moco is a layer of rice, topped with a couple of hamburger patties and then by fried eggs with the whole thing smothered in gravy.  It is sort of Hawaiian poutine. I wanted to try it and so ordered a small bowl for $6.50.  As you can see it was still enormous.  The beef on the island is very good; the entire north half is pretty much all cattle ranch.  A very tasty comfort food dish but way more than I could begin to eat for lunch.northlocomocco

The land at the north of the island is beautiful.  Rolling hills dotted with cattle predominate.northfieldsbotanhillsidetree

Once you round the head of the island and head down the Kohala coast to the west, the landscape is fairly hideous.  It looks like miles and miles of bulldozed dark earth although it is in fact lava of the type called A’a.  This snapshot is eerily beautiful as O’hia and other trees try to make a comeback in the barren waste; most of this stretch is simply ugly.  The beaches, many of them artificially constructed are supposed to be among the only sandy classic beaches on the big island but we did not drive to any of the Kohala resorts since we had rented a condo on the Kona Coast.  To get to the Kohala beach towns you drive through miles of this plowed earth looking desolation (most of it without trees, unlike this strip from a bit further south.)

We were really glad we decided to drive around the island to Kona; it was a relaxing day with many interesting stops along the way.  We had thought to try a zip line adventure, but didn’t feel we had the time on this day.  Since we just read in the paper of another woman plunging 150 feet to rocks on one of these apparently not well regulated attractions, it is probably just as well.  Hawaii is a beautiful island with a variety of landscapes and we loved taking the time to enjoy it.akakajaneted


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3 Responses to Driving the East Side of the Big Island

  1. Margaret says:

    Another note from the librarian, also Hawaiian: The Hawaiian gecko is actually a Madagascan Gold Dust Day Gecko. A University of Hawaii student released 8 individuals in 1974 and they sure prospered! I’m glad you enjoyed the island of Hawaii. It really is like stepping back in time, especially Hilo. FYI, my family home is about 1/2 mile uphill from Rainbow Falls. I should have given you directions–you could have had a cup of coffee with my brother!

    • Janet says:

      Thanks for the history of geckoes on the Island — apparently all of the lizards on the island have been introduced but I had no idea this little green guy was such a recent immigrant.

  2. Pingback: Kona Coast to Volcano National Park – Driving the West Coast | JANET TRAVELS

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