Devoid of hotels and much tourist stuff, the Hamakua Coast (northeast) of the Big Island is known to most visitors as a 40-mile drive on the way to Hilo and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. But for independent adventure seekers, Hamakua is a destination not to be found elsewhere in Hawaii. One bankable asset to the coast are the local-style beach parks ('pakas'), like Kolekole (pictured above). All the parks are in set green pockets below the highway.
The main road, Highway 19, is scenic enough, but the real find are the side-trip segments of the Old Mamalahoa Highway. The jungle flaps at the windshield and the road is virtually empty.
Along the sections of the old highway are several botanical gardens, including one of the best in the state: Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.
The stream-side flora of Waikaumalo Beach Park is idyllic—time to space out for a while.
History is alive on the Hamakua Coast, which sports several intact sugar-shack villages. Laupahoehoe Beach Park, where a 1947 tidal wave wiped out a school, is a dramatic slap in the face. Today you can watch big surf do battle with lava stacks and imagine "the day the sea went beserk" some 70 years ago.
Tour buses hammer Akaka Falls State Park, just north of Hilo, but you are most likely to be among few visitors to behold Umauma Falls (above) farther north.
Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has the ins-and-outs for taking a day (or more) to discover Hamakua. The place is an island unto itself. Get it on Amazon, give it a thumbs up review. Mahalo!