The Hamakua Coast

Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
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Flag of United States  , Hawaii
Monday, December 24, 2007

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The Hamakua Coast

Our destination today is Waipio Valley Lookout located 15 miles from the northern tip of Hawaii (Big Island) and 50 miles from Hilo.

It is road's end at this point as rugged mountains makes the continuation of the coastal drive impossible.

Before leaving Hilo to start this day's excursion, we made a detour to Rainbow Falls located just a short drive up Waianuehue Avenue from downtown. The Wailuku River, swollen and muddy from recent rainfall, cascades in a spectacular manner over a lava tube to create Rainbow Falls. It was a scenic start to our day, even in the late morning drizzle.

Heading north-west along Highway 19, it became evident that the weather may have been a lot worse in this area. We encountered stretches along a coastal road where trees had been knocked down. At one point we came upon a parked car that had been badly damaged by a fallen tree. It was a wild scene which left us no choice but to turn around and proceed north-west along the main highway. Fortunately at this point the winds that must have raged here had abated.

Fifteen miles later, in the town of Honomu, we turn south-west on no. 220 for a short drive to the most photographed waterfall on Big Island - Akaka Falls.

Located in an area of rain forest, it plunges 420 feet from a tropical gorge into a deep pool surrounded by lush vegetation.

It is an awe inspiring sight not only because of the majestic waterfall but also because of the close access to the tropical plants found here.

I was most impressed with the beautiful stands of bamboo trees found in abundance here. I took special note because in art galleries here on the Hawaiian Islands, up close photos of bamboo trees seems to be the in-thing.

It is a steep descent to the waterfall lookout but every inch is enjoyable as we soak in this tropical paradise.

On our way north we walked around the town of Honomu which was typical of the towns found along the coast.

While not particularly scenic, it was just fun to walk around and take photos.

The towns do seem to give the impression that they are just barely hanging on economically thanks to the flow of tourists that come to this area. I base this on their general appearance which could best be described as "new-paint challenged".

Perhaps a more realistic take would be to say that for the most part, they were prospering towns whose economic heydays had come and gone with the demise of the sugar plantations in this area. Tourism is now the main industry with some agriculture.

Life is slow now but perhaps typical of rural Hawaii.

There are a lot of Japanese names in this area as evidence of early immigration necessitated by the labor needs of the sugar industry.

Further north along the Hawaiian Belt Road, we stopped at Laupahoehoe Harbour for some awesome ocean scenery along the stunning Hamakua Coast.

I say "the stunning Hamakua Coast" based more on what we saw during our flight from Honolulu to Hilo than today's drive. It was during this flight that we followed this coast south-east and it was with awe that we observed the steep sea cliffs, riven with frequent stream-cut gulches projecting from the interior to break the coast line.

Colours played a big part in our appreciation of the impressive scene below us as the cliffs were a dark red and the plateaus above were an emerald green reminiscent of Ireland. Come to think of it, the two places have one thing in common - lots of rain.

On the ground level this grandeur was not evident. Having said that, I am sure locals could have taken us to various spots where this beauty might have been accessible, but we did not find it in the limited time which we had.

By the time we arrived at Laupahoehoe Harbour the weather had become quite threatening. The dark clouds and general grayness only served to add an ominous aura to the might of the Pacific Ocean as it relentlessly pounded the retaining walls of the sheltered harbour.

Our next stop on the way north was the town of Honokaa which again mirrored the village of Honomu except its buildings were much better maintained.

In this town, the economic backbone was the Hamakua Sugar Company which operated here from 1873 to 1994. Times have been tough since then.

Again we enjoyed our walkabout in search of something new and interesting.

For our afternoon coffee, we popped into Naiya's Coffee Shop, located on main street. It featured Long Ears Coffee.

This is a 100% Hamakua Coast coffee grown at a plantation near Honomu.

The website: www.longearscoffee.com describes the only coffee processing plant on the Hamakua Coast as follows:

On an 8 acre estate nestled in the foothills of majestic Mauna Kea Mountain on the "Big Island" of Hawaii is a picturesque Ahualoa, "the long hill". Here in the cool 2,000' elevation, kissed by the mist of our Hawaiian rains, is the Long Ears Hawaiian Coffee LLC, home to the unique "aged single estate" Hamakua Coffee. Here you can enjoy the experience of visiting the only coffee processing company on the Hamakua Coast that does the entire process on site. Come and learn about the little known history of coffee on the Hamakua Coast.

Mauna Kea, the majestic mountain of Big Island is located less than 20 miles south of here.

While we had coffee, I did something which I frequently did during my trips to Alaska, the Yukon and the North West Territories - talk to people.

I guess the fact that I was traveling with Barbara this time had something to do with my lack of keenness to search out interesting people and to tell their stories. While traveling alone it is a fun thing to do. When traveling with someone else, there is a less of a desire to do investigative reporting so to speak.

For an interesting story about the coffee company and the area, read the "About Us" link on the website. It is a history steeped in "mules" and little red beans that grow on local trees with great potential.

You have got to love Hawaiian coffee. It just hits the spot with a rich and mellow flavour that fills the expectations of what coffee should be - it just tastes perfect.

Since leaving the islands, we savored the same great Hawaiian coffee taste last weekend in Victoria (March 30, 2008) at the Khona Coffee Shop at 1090 Fort Street. It is an unmistakably satisfying flavor.

At Naiya's coffee shop we met a couple, Naiya and Kuaika Branco who are associated with Long Ears Coffee Co.

Kuaika's fathers, Wendell along with his wife Netta, are the founders of the Long Ears Coffee Company and Naiya and Kuaika are a part of the local coffee scene as well.

They are living their dream of being part of a coffee plantation and processing plant in the shadow of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii.

To me, it was akin to running into someone who owned a vineyard and winery during a bike trip in France in the village of St. Emillion in the Bordeaux region.

The only difference is that Naiya and Kuaika are not French which means that they are completely down to earth, warm and friendly, without any pretentious airs. Remember, this is coming from someone who loves France and the French.

I only wish we would have had the time to visit the plantation and processing plant. We did visit two other coffee plantations later on in our trip, but this would have been special, especially given the "mule" history.

Other than the good conversation and coffee we also got a chance to taste a Hawaiian specialty called a "malasada" or Hawaiian donut.

Rightly or wrongly, I compare it to what the Germans call "a Berliner Kuchen" or the Poles call "a paczki" pronounced "pounchki".

No matter what you compare it to, with Hawaiian coffee, in this case "Long Ears Coffee", it tasted terrific.

By the way, after writing "Long Ears Coffee" three times, I finally get the association between the name and the history of plantation as a mule farm - daawgh!!

Unfortunately, Natta only had one of the malasadas left. So we enjoyed the "last one".

Things like this are what we consider "fun".

Remember, contrary to most Travelpod bloggers, we are not young or even middle aged - well, maybe Barbara is. (The editor says speak for yourself!)

After bidding good-bye to the Long Ears Café we headed north-west on no. 240 to reach our destination of Waipio Valley and Lookout.

The Waipio Valley surrounding the Hiilawe Stream and the majestic Hamakua Coast extending northward before our eyes, were vintage Hawaii.

This is what we had traveled a long way to see.

The valley is apparently only inhabited by a few Hawaiians and access is by horseback, bicycle or on foot.

Any thoughts of walking down into the valley were quickly discarded due to the diminishing daylight.

It was now time to retrace the 50 miles we had driven from Hilo.

We were already anticipating the dawn of a new day. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day and for us it would mean that we would change from the windward side of the island to the leeward side. We still had a lot to look forward to on amazing Big Island a.k.a. Hawaii.

Coming Soon:

From Hilo to Kailua-Kona: An Unforgettable Christmas Drive
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