Not many people realize that the Old Mamalahoa Highwy along the northeast coast of the Big Island snakes through the tropical jungle, across green gorges and by waterfalls—the kind of oh-wow driving you expect on Maui and Kauai—only without a conga line of rental cars.
Umauma Falls (above) could be the covergirl for the state waterfall calendar. It runs through a private garden not too far north of Hilo.
Dodging in and out of the high-speed, two lane highway going north from Hilo are miles-long detours and side-trips on the Old Mamalahoa Highway. It's a tunnel of vines, leaves and trees, connecting some of the old sugar towns that still portray Hamakua's history.
Other roads climb 2,000 feet into forest reserves of huge leafy trees—but you'd have to climb another 9,000 feet or so to run out of climbing, at the summit of Mauna Kea.
While the lava fields on the Kona side have no streams, Hamakua is sluiced by many.
Halakalau Paka (park) has been exquisitly restored by locals. They'll love to talk story, if you show an interest.
Kolekole Beach Park picnic area and campground are set alongside a swift stream. A cascade almost crashes into the oncoming surf. The highway trestle is skycraper-high above the scene.
And we haven't even mentioned: Akaka Falls, Hawaii Tropical Botonical Garden, Lahahoehoe (lapa-hoy-hoy) Beach Park, where a killer tsunami struck, and Kalopa State Park—a hiker's dream with rustic cabins and tent camping.
Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has the details.