The Historic Kohala Coast & Pololu Valley



Photos by Danielle Smith @danielleexoxo


The drive from Kona to the Kohala Coast on the northern tip of the Big Island is gorgeous. As you get north of the airport, the landscape opens up to reveal sweeping views of Mauna Kea, the Kohala Mountains, and a view of Maui’s Haleakala on a clear day. This route passes numerous world class beaches and several historical sites for those interested in Hawaiian culture and history. During the winter whale season, it’s possible to spot whales breaching along the way. The ultimate destination of this trip is spectacular Pololu Valley. For a Google map of this itinerary click here.

Stop 1: Kona Coffee and Tea

Grab your morning pick me up from Kona Coffee and Tea. As mentioned in our blog on Kona’s best coffee shops, this spot is an excellent place to try a cup of Kona coffee before hitting the road. Grab a slice of their house-made mango bread - yum!

Detour - Epic Picnic Lunch

If you want to score a picnic lunch to take on the hike down to the valley, stop off at The Shops at Mauna Lani’s Foodland grocery store. They have an amazing array of options from fresh poke, sushi, deli hot/cold bar and a vast selection of drinks. This is a favorite spot for Kona locals to stop off at to chow down when they head up north. Hungry right now? Grind at the beach park down the road next to the Puako Petroglyph Park - home to thousands of kii pohaku, or lava rock carvings, dating back to 1200 AD.

Stop 2: Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Next to Spencer Beach, this Heiau (ancient Hawaiian temple) was constructed with stones that came all the way from Pololu Valley, transported hand over hand for miles by a human chain. Pu’ukohola is the largest and most recent heiau built in Hawaii. You cannot enter it, but you are able to walk around and view it from the outside.

Tip: As you head further north, keep your eyes peeled for whales along the stretch from Kawaihae to Hawi. You can often spot whales breaching from the road during winter whale season. There are a couple of places to pull off and get a closer look if you see some.

Stop 3: Pololu Valley

On the way to Pololu , you will pass through Hawi town. This itinerary has you go to the valley first and do the hike, then stop in Hawi on your way back. In general, the weather tends to be better earlier in the day.

After going through a series of twists and hairpin turns, Hwy 270 dead ends at the Pololu Valley Lookout. Drive slow as the road becomes increasingly narrow. Parking can get a bit crowded, so park on the road if needed. The hike takes about 15 - 20 minutes down, depending on how fast you are moving, and about 30 - 45 mins up, as it’s pretty steep! We recommend a pair of sneakers, but many do it in slippers (flip flops).  If it has already started to rain or if you just don't feel like a hike, you can still get some great photos of the valley from the overlook without hiking down.

The trail continues along the valley floor and up the other side to a lookout with a bench that has views of neighboring Honokāne Nui Valley to the east. It’s fun to explore Pololu’s grove of ironwood trees and black sand beach littered with red and purple hued lava rocks. Depending on the swell and weather, the beach can have plenty of sand, or be all rocks. The water conditions are also very changeable. The waves can be good for surfing and the current can get strong. Be careful swimming here as there is no lifeguard.  

Stop 4: Hawi & Kapa’au

Hawi and Kapa’au are small towns with big offerings. Don’t miss out! On the way back from Pololu, stop and check out the King Kamehameha statue in Kapa’au. It’s on the mauka (mountain or inland) side of the road in front of the Kohala Civic Center. This statue was forged in Florence Italy in 1880 and was destined for Honolulu, however, the ship carrying it sank in the Falkland Islands. It was recovered in 1912 and installed here near King Kamehameha’s birthplace. Right down the road is Gill’s Lanai, a low key joint that serves up yummy fish tacos and gourmet hot dogs. Try the LA Danger Dog.

Hawi is home to some artsy shops and a couple good spots to stop and grab a bite or a coffee. Kohala Coffee Mill has great coffee, ice cream, and sandwiches. Next door, As Hawi Turns has unique gifts, surf apparel, and jewelry. Vegans and vegetarians will love the Sweet Potato Kitchen and Bakery. Feeling fishy? Sushi Rocks is rumored to have some of the best sushi on the island. On Saturdays, the Hawi Famer’s Market goes down from 8 am to around noon at the park.

If you are interested in extreme adventure activities, there are several stellar tour companies in the area. Go ziplining with Kohala Zipline or kayak fluming through old sugar plantation irrigation ditches with Flumin’ Kohala. Cheehoo! Now that’s what we call a rush! In addition, Hawi is home to the only skydiving on the Big Island. Check out Big Island Gravity to get an epic view of the Big Island from the air.  It’s best to book these activities in advance.

Dinner Detour - To Waimea

Stuff your face at some excellent eateries in this little mountain town. The drive from Hawi to Waimea over scenic Kohala Mountain road is breathtaking if you can do it while it’s still light out. For a high end, but delicious meal head to the Red Water Cafe (best to make a reservation and bring a change of nice clothes) they have delicious steaks, sautéed Hamakua mushrooms and live piano on certain nights, plus a cozy bar. Other more low key but equally delicious options are the Noodle Club, with a tasty menu of Pho and Ramen soups, Pau Pizza and the Big Island Brewhaus. For some affordable and delicious German comfort food or vegan falafel check out Dan-o’s Doner just across from the Brewhaus. You can take the ‘upper road’ or Hwy 190 back to Kona - it will lead you right to Palani junction in the center of town.

Stop 5: Sunset at Hapuna Beach

Cruise back the way you came and catch the sunset along the coast. On the way back to the hostel you’ll pass dozens of world class beaches, including Spencer Beach, Hapuna Beach, and Kua Bay. These beaches offer stunning sunset photo opportunities and all have bathroom facilities for showering and changing. If you’re hungry or want to stop for some shopping on the way back into town you’ll pass the Queen’s Shops in Waikoloa, and Pine Trees Cafe just south of the Kona Airport for some basic but filling local style take out.

Stop 6: My Hawaii Hostel

Ahhh! You made it! You may have Pololu’s black sand in every crevice, but it was totally worth it. Now it’s time to kick back, relax and share your tales, and photos of glory with the rest of us. Don’t forget to tag us @myhawaiihostel on Instagram and on Facebook.

Stay tuned for our next road trip itinerary, coming soon.


About the Author

M the Writer is a blogger specializing in Hawaii travel and entrepreneurship. She landed on the beautiful Big Island in 2013 as a backpacker and has been adventuring ever since.

Read more of her writing and get in touch at: Follow her on Instagram @emilysouthpaw.