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Visit our Hilo-Hamakua Coast Pictorial

A bit of history ...
Hawaii's cultural rainbow started here when the Kingdom of Hawaii signed a Reciprocity Treaty with the United States in 1876, and sugar piloted Hawaii into the international marketplace, altered vast tracts of former subsistence and natural forest lands, and brought thousands of new immigrant field workers, their families and their cultures, to Hawaii's shores. Their descendants make up the majority of Hawaii's peoples today.

How to use this Drive Guide
As you drive along the Hilo-Hamakua segment of Highway 19, you'll notice many brown-and-white Hilo-Hamakua Heritage Coast highway signs featuring a sugar cane tassel logo. These signs mark points of interest where more of the region's local history can be found.

This guide contains helpful information on these points of scenic interest, refreshments, rest rooms, local history sites and museums. Whether you start from Honokaa (north) or Hilo (south), or any place in between ... your passport is your friendly smile!


Discover the sights and plantation history of the Hilo-Hamakua Heritage Coastline, a 45-mile drive on State Highway 19 through scenic byways, former mill towns and plantation villages. Until a few years ago, this region was the home of large-scale sugar plantations and a history which molded Hawaii's economy, history and cultural mix for more than a hundred years.

The town of Hilo wraps around Hilo Bay, and is characterized by early 1900's architecture reflecting its historic role as the county seat and the main commercial center for the sugar industry on Hawaii's Big Island. It was the terminus for the Hawaiian Consolidated Railroad, linking Hilo with Mountain View on the old Volcano Highway down through former logging centers at Pahoa in the Puna district, and north up the Hilo-Hamakua Coast to Laupahoehoe and Paauilo. In pre-contact times, the bayfront, known as Piopio or Waiolama, was the gathering point for hundreds of war canoes under the command of King Kamehameha the Great during the unification of the islands.

Hilo's Visitor Information Center is in the bayfront area at Mooheau Bus Station and is staffed by trained volunteers who provide free maps and information. The town's center features a number of restored buildings, theaters, restaurants, a bustling Farmer's Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the Lyman House Museum just up the street near two historic church sites, the Haili Congregational Church and St. Joseph's Catholic Church.

(Mile Post 3 to Mile Post 16)
Along this section of Highway 19, visitors are fascinated by dozens of waterfalls, gulches and old railway bridges at Hakalau, Nanue and Kolekole Beach Park. This beautiful region has limited pull-over areas, but is worth the walk from safe parking places along the road. The area includes Akaka Falls, one of Hawaii's scenic wonders located above the picturesque plantation town of Honomu (Mile Post 13). Honomu is now a quaint storefront village of shops, art galleries and a temple, but was known in the 1940's as "Little Chicago". Along the 4-mile scenic drive (from just before Mile Post 7 to Mile Post 11) is a section of the ancient Alaloa Coastal Trail which leads to the site of the former Hawaiian fishing village of Kahalii in Onomea. Road parking is necessary to access this 15 minute walk which starts at the paved driveway down to the shoreline. Other points of interest along the 4-mile scenic route include the Onomea Stream, waterfalls, a water tunnel, several lookouts and the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens (visitor amenities - admission fee.)

A walking tour of the "old town" includes a school, bakery, Post Office, the Police Station, the former Jail House, and the M. Sakado Store, a classic "mom and pop" general store. The train museum is the restored station agent's house and train landing, and offers visitors a look back at a unique railroad heritage. The only gas station between Hilo and Honokaa is just across the highway at Sunny C's. Nearby, the village of Papaaloa serves as a reminder of yesteryear, when the plantation town, its surrounding camps, the mill garage, ball field, and store fronts were bustling centers of activity. Visit the Papaaloa Store, right next to the post office, for locally prepared delicacies and a refreshing cool drink.

Paauilo Town illustrates the plantation community in microcosm, from the former plantation manager's residence set back on the hill next to Earl's Snack Shop above the highway, to the field manager's homes below the highway, and the worker camp housing areas below that, down to the abandoned mill site and landing at sea level. Enjoy a snack and cool drink on picnic benches in front of Earl's in the quiet country air.

Kalopa State Park is a nature-lover's paradise: spartan log cabins set at a cool elevation of 2000 feet, endemic and native flora and fauna, well-marked nature trails, picnic and Bar-B-Q areas.

A designated "Main Street, USA town", quiet Honokaa serves as a gateway to the natural wonder and history of Waipio Valley, 10 miles away. The town has the best collection of historic buildings serving as a "cowboy" town for the still thriving cattle industry's heyday. It was a focal point of labor organizing in the 1930's, a watering hole for thousands of WWII Marines and soldiers stationed at nearby Waimea's Camp Tarawa, and a bustling commercial center for the sugar mill camps of Haina, Kukuihaele, Paauhau, Kapulena, and New Stable. The town feature 30+ shops and galleries and half a dozen eateries to choose from. It's quaint churches and temples are favorite subjects for artists and photographers, and labor history buffs will find the Katsu Goto Memorial a compelling point of interest.

Two visitor centers serve Honokaa: the Honokaa Visitor Center and the newly opened Hamakua Heritage Visitor Center.

Stop by the Honokaa Visitor Center at the Tex Drive-In on Hwy 19, in Honokaa, where there are public restrooms, restaurant, sundries store, and coffee shop offering hot malasadas, a local Portuguese pastry. Information is available on Honokaa town area attractions and other features in this area.

Visit the newly opened Hamakua Heritage Visitor Center at the Waipio end of downtown Honokaa for more local history and information. The Heritage Center features a large scale mural of ancient Hawaiian culture as it once was in Waipio Valley, a mini-museum with historic photos and artifacts, and a landscaped courtyard featuring Ohia, Kukui, Milo, Maile and other native Hawaiian trees and plants.

Acknowledgements: This Drive Guide was made possible by the substantial help and support of the State of Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, The County of Hawaii Department of Research and Development, The Big Island Resource Conservation and Development Council, Hawaii's Big Island Chapter of the Hawaii Visitor and Convention Bureau, Hamakua Heritage Inc, and all the communities of the Hilo-Hamakua Heritage Coast.

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