Big Island

Sustainability Profile: Hirabara Farms

Sustainability Profile: Hirabara Farms

Our week-long Big Island trip for the  Hawaii sustainability documentary continues with a stop at Hirabara Farms. This 3-acre parcel sits at 2,900 feet above sea level in Waimea. It is owned by farmers Kurt and Pam Hirabara, and together they produce 13 varieties of baby lettuce and about 2,400 pounds each week exclusively for island chefs.

Sustainability Profile: Wailea Agriculture

Those in search of the Garden of Eden need look no further than Wailea Agricultural Group (Wailea Ag). Located in Honomu on the Big Island's Hamakua Coast, Wailea Ag consists of 110 acres of what used to be sugar cane fields for as far as the eye could see. In 1994, partners Michael Crowell and Lesley Hill began working on the land with the idea of establishing a sustainable food forest of sorts. Today, the land is home to lush green land where tons of tropical flowers, plants, fruits, and spices grow in abundance. The cream of the crop is Hawaiian heart of palm, a nutritious and highly prized vegetable harvested from the inner core of palm trees. Wailea Ag supplies many fine dining restaurants and hotels with their abundant hearts of palm and they are currently the largest growers of fresh Hawaiian heart of palm in America averaging an annual harvest of over 15 tons (harvested by hand!).

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

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Wailea Agricultural Group

Wailea Agriculture began in 1994 as a 110-acre food forest. It is currently America’s largest grower of fresh Hawaiian hearts of palm. Owners Michael Crawford and Leslie Hill spent many years clearing the former sugar cane land in order to make room for their food forest. They practice a variety of sustainable farming techniques. One involves leaving trimmings and fallen leaves and fruits around the original plants to help fertilize them over time. They also use plant cuttings for composting, keep an on-site reservoir of water catchment, and allow local hunting of feral pigs on the property so that hunters can eat or sell the animals.

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Wailea Ag By the Numbers

  • 1994 - Year when Wailea Agriculture began.

  • 110 Acres -  encompassing Wailea Ag.

  • 15 Tons of heart of palm are harvested annually. 

  • 20+ Varieties of edible plants grown.

  • 35+ Years of collective farming experience. 

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Wailea Ag was among our first farm stops during the Big Island culinary tour, and while we were expecting to see tons of palm trees on their property, nothing could prepare us for the extensive tour that Michael took us on. He loaded us up in a motorized golf cart and proceeded to drive us around his 110 acres, stopping every few minutes to get out and show us some of the many other tropical fruits and plants they had growing on the property.

In no particular order (and undoubtedly forgetting many things), here is what we saw growing in full force at Wailea Ag: Fresh peach palm, lychee, rambutans, pulasans, longans, Meyer lemons, keffir limes, durian, dragon fruit, avocado, passion fruit, mangosteen, starfruit, jackfruit, soursop, açai, citron, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, bay leaves, and cinnamon, to name a few.

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Next time you visit Wailea Ag, it's almost guaranteed they'll have another fruit or spice to add to the list. That's pretty darn impressive, especially considering that all 110 acres of land started out as sugar cane fields. By the time we were done with the extensive tour, we also had a box to take home that was full of pretty much every fruit we could get our hands on...and of course a freshly harvest heart of palm!

How does Wailea Ag factor in sustainability? Lucky for them, their cash crop is largely sustainable by nature. Heart of palm is a renewable crop in that new shoots constantly replace the ones that have been harvested, meaning no harm is done to the main crop. There are of course many more sustainability measures in place, but you'll have to wait and see the final video when it's ready! In the meantime, get a mini video tour over at She Grows Food. Also, check out the full photo gallery of the visit here.

Wailea Agricultural Group, Inc. P.O. Box 69 Honomu, Hawaii 96728

www.waileaag.com (808) 963-6360

Sustainability Profile: Hawaii Island Goat Dairy

When you think of the Big Island of Hawaii, I bet that goat cheese is the last thing you'd expect to buy fresh from the islands. However, thanks to Dick Threlfall and his late wife Heather, a small farmstead of goats churns out over 12 kinds of goat milk cheeses including feta, mozzarella, gouda, Colby and much more. As part of a weeklong tour of Hawaii farms, our next stop was Hawaii Island Goat Dairy to learn about dairy goat farming.

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

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Hawaii Island Goat Dairy by the Numbers

  • 2001 - The year Hawaii Island Goat Dairy was established.
  • 10 - The farm encompasses 10-acres of land.
  • 60 female goats are milked daily.
  • 12 Types of goat cheese produced.
  • 20 male goats on the farm.

The goat farm herd consists of several dairy goat breeds including Saanens, Toggenburgs, and Nubians. Many goats are bred as half Saanen and half Nubian, or "snubian." Pasture lands on the farm include not only grass but also tropical trees such as bamboo, tea leaf, ginger leaf, and macadamia nut trees. The herd of goats graze here frequently.

Hawaii Island Goat Dairy only has four bucks on the premises. But for the sake of increasing production without increasing the adult goats they have to care for, the farm staff uses artificial insemination to produce baby goats. Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the sperm of mating bucks to facilitate goat reproduction. After they're born, baby goats are raised indoors and fed by hand by staff and volunteers.

Dick Threfall (second from the right) and his family.

Dick Threfall (second from the right) and his family.

Goat Cheese Production

The goat dairy has a fully automated pipeline milking system on site. Made to exclusively cater to goats, the system can milk as many as 60 goats twice a day. The pipeline feeds the goat milk to the cheese room where it is pasteurized and made into two kinds of cheese: natural feta cheese and flavored cheeses. Some of the latter variety include goat cheese flavored with dill, garlic, macadamia basil pesto, or chipotle pepper. After the cheeses are produced, they are stored in a refrigerated cheese room where they are aged. Altogether, the farm produces 200-300 pounds of cheese a week. The products are sent to Hawaii’s top chefs and a few selected local supermarkets. Hawaii Island Goat Dairy cheese products are only sold in local Hawaii markets; no sales are available on the farm or online.

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Hawaii Island Goat Dairy and Sustainability

To do its part and involve the community, the goat dairy offers an on-site volunteer internship program that offers room and board in exchange for work on the dairy. Dick Treyfall also shares his thoughts on Hawaii becoming a more agriculturally sustainable state: “It’s a lot of work, but in the long run it’s worth it because there may come a time where we have to be sustainable. We’ll run out of food, but we have the ability to produce all of the food we ever need here. The sustainability move is tremendous now; it’s picking up and getting better all of the time. Happy healthy goats give good milk which makes great cheese.”

Sustainability Profile: Wow Farm

Tricia Hodson first inherited the plot of homestead land from her father back in 1989. She had a background in education and her husband Mike had spent 27 years working with the Hawaii Police Department. Neither of them knew anything about farming, but they had the vision of building a family business by growing and selling organic tomatoes. Initially, the Hodsons were growing tomatoes in greenhouses for personal consumption. Then they entered the local farmer’s market scene where their tomatoes earned their well-deserved “wow” name and fame. Their first greenhouse appeared on the property in 2006; today, their 10-acre property a holds over 40 greenhouses that produce between 5,000-10,000 pounds of organic tomatoes a week.

Why grow tomatoes? Mike says they are among the hardest crops to grow, and he wanted a challenge. A challenge did he receive, and it took lots of trial and error to come up with an effective way to cultivate an agricultural program that could be sustainable.

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

Mike and Tricia Hodson of Wow tomato farms on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Mike and Tricia Hodson of Wow tomato farms on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Wow Hodson Family Farms

Six years ago, Mike and Tricia Hodson were sitting on a 10-acre lot of Hawaii homestead agriculture land in Waimea with nothing more than a house and a dream board of ideas. Today, that land is now home to Wow Hodson Family Farms, one of the most successful organic tomato farms on Hawaii's Big Island. The story of how Mike and Tricia got to where they are today is an inspiring example of entrepreneurial and educational pursuits.

Address: 64-793 Ainahua Alanui Kamuela, Hawai'i, Hawaii 96743 (808) 887-0969 http://www.wowfarms.com/

By the Numbers

  • 10 Acres - Wow Hudson Family Farm consists of 10 acres of land. 

  • 40 - The number of greenhouses on the farmlands.

  • 2006 - The year the first greenhouse appeared on the farm. 

  • Thousands of pounds of tomatoes produced by the farm weekly. 

  • 14 Other families benefiting from the Hodson's farming education. [/tw-column]

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Today, Mike's method of growing tomatoes requires a minimal amount of output, and it reaps a ton of benefits. Among his inventive growing techniques includes the use of plastic flooring in his greenhouses that eliminates the need to weed his plants, an act which he says can take up 75% of a farmer's labor. The plastic flooring also makes it easy to swiftly sweep up the dead tomato leaves when they fall.

Mike's neat row of tomato plants in his greenhouse are also part of his efficiency plan. When it comes time to pollinate his plants, all he has to do is go to one end of the row and give his plants a few hard shakes. The tomatoes take care of the rest of the work, as they are self-pollinating plants.

What is the importance of sustainability in his farming practices? Well Mike is quick to point out that sustainability can have multiple meanings. It can mean financial freedom from the burden of debts, which he has practiced by paying for all of his farming equipment, supplies, and land without the need to borrow credit.

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Malama 'aina means to care for and nurture the land so it can give back all we need to sustain life for ourselves and our future generations.

An ahupua'a is an ancient concept of resource use and management based on families living in a division of land that connects the mountains to the reefs and the sea." - Puanani Rogers, Team Leader for the Ho`okipa Network

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Sustainability can also mean malama 'aina (take care of the land) by using organic farming techniques that will keep the land healthy, which is what Wow Farms does in their practices. Although they aren't certified organic (they don't see the need to pay for a stamp of certification), Wow Farms is a fully organic farm that chooses to sell itself as an "all natural" farm.

Most importantly, however, is the definition of sustainability that applies to keeping a community of people happy and fed with healthy, wholesome food. Wow Farm fulfills this mission by helping 14 other nearby homestead families learn to grow their own food using the Hudson's greenhouses and growing techniques. Mike points out that the entire state of Hawaii only produces about 7% of the food that we consume; if the ships and suppliers were to stop bringing in food from outside sources, the islands will starve after a week. An isolated island can't eternally rely on outside providers, especially with the population booming the way it is.

Wow Farm tomatoes varieties include heirlooms, red and orange beefsteaks, and Romas. The tomatoes are of such pristine quality that they are in high demand by the chefs at many high end Hawaii resorts including the Hilton Waikoloa, Four Seasons Hualālai, and Mauna Lani Bay Resort. Consumers can also find Wow Farm tomatoes in select grocery stores. Yes, they're priced higher than the average tomato, but they are organic, locally grown, and supremely tasty--not to mention, they have a very long shelf life.

Sustainability Profile: Hamakua Springs Country Farms

Richard Ha and his family own a 600 acre farm on the Big Island in Hamakua Springs. Here, they along with 70 full-time employees practice biodiversity by producing a variety of bananas, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, watercress, avocado, and citrus. All of the fruits and vegetables are produced using sustainably viable practices. For example, instead of spraying banana plants with pesticides, predatory wasps are allowed to nest inside of the banana groves to cut down on the amount of caterpillars that try to eat the fruit. Grass is allowed to grow around the roots of the banana trees to create a sponge-like effect that helps the plant absorb more water and fertilizer. When banana fruits begin to ripen, they are wrapped in pesticide-free plastic to protect them against pests.

421 Lama Street Hilo, Hawaii (808) 981-0805 www.hamakuasprings.com

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By the Numbers

  • 600 Acres of Hamakua Springs Farmland.
  • 70 Full-time workers on the farm.
  • 150 Acres of land leased to other farmers.
  • 2004 - Year when Hamakua Springs expanded its crop offerings.
  • 2 Types of bananas are grown in Hamakua Springs Farms.

Even the way the farm stays powered is sustainable by way of a flume system that supplies water to a newly built on-site generator for electricity. Rain water is captured on a rooftop and is stored in a reservoir for cooling and washing produce as well as powering a hydroponic system. Hydroponic farming is preferred since it ensures protection against pests and fungal growth while also reducing reliance on labor, land, and heavy machinery. Using hydroelectricity and solar power, the farm strives to soon be completely off the grid.

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Hamakua Springs further encourages sustainability in leading by example and helping the rest of their community have access to farming. Currently they lease 150 acres to local farmers so that they too are able to grow their own crops for consumption and commerce. The farm is also open to new technology for farming including the possible use of drones to detect agricultural problems.

But at the end of the day, Richard Ha knows that the best form of sustainable farming comes in the awareness and activity from his customers. He encourages all Hawaii residents to buy local not only to support local farmers, but to ensure everyone the freshest, most natural products.

Produce from Hamakua Springs is available at most Hawaii-based supermarkets including Safeway, Costco, KTA Superstores, and Star Market; select produce is also exported internationally and to the mainland USA.

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

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Sustainability Profile: Aikane Plantation Coffee Company

Kona coffee reigns supreme as Hawaii's most popular coffee. But (arguably) superior to Kona coffee is that which comes from the neighboring area of Ka'u. Valued for its smooth and delicate flavor and low acidity, Ka'u coffee is considered on the top coffees of the world and is even available as a Starbucks Reserve brew. One talented Hawaii coffee farm known for its Ka'u coffee is Aikane Coffee Plantation. You'll know their brand once you see their iconic purple packaging.

Located in the Ka'u region of Hawaii (bordering Kona), Aikane Coffee Plantation's first coffee trees were planted by owner Meryl Becker's great-grandfather in 1894 when he settled in the area to work in the sugar industry. In fact, many of the plantation’s current coffee trees are descendants of those first trees. Located far away from other coffee farms, there is little chance of cross-pollination. As a result, Aikane coffee remains a truly authentic old Hawaiian coffee.

Aikane Coffee Plantation Hawaii
Aikane Coffee Plantation Hawaii

By the Numbers

  • 1894 - Year when Aikane's first coffee tree was planted. 

  • 2 How many seeds are in one coffee berry. 

  • 8% Amount of coffee berries that have only 1 seed (peaberries). 

  • 70+ How many countries produce coffee. 

  • 15th Century - when coffee was first introduced. 

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The coffee cherries are handpicked, washed, and dried on site. They are roasted and packaged in eye-catching royal purple bags as whole beans or as ground coffee. A brewed cup of Aikane coffee is smooth and rich, lacking a strong acidic aftertaste. The coffee production process is truly green. No pesticides or chemicals are ever used, macadamia nut shells and coffee pulp are used as mulch, grazing sheep are used to keep the grass growth down, a catchment system catches rainwater, and electric solar panels supply all of the energy. The farm is also home to horses and donkeys and it is a visitation destination for tour groups. Aikane Plantation coffee is a premium product in the Japanese market, but it can be found in high-end restaurants in Hawaii as well as Shirokiya, Bishop Museum, Blue Hawaii Lifestyles, military commissaries, and select farmer’s markets.

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

Sustainability Profile: Abalone and Natural Energy

The state of Hawaii operates NELHA, an innovative science and technology park located in Kona. It consists of 87-acres of land and 3,200-acres of water. Parcels of the land are leased to national and international businesses that cultivate abalone, ocean fish, lobsters, shrimp, sea horses, algae, alternative energy sources, and bottled water. NELHA was the site of the first successful Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) plant in the world. This remarkable technique uses the difference between deep ocean water and warm surface water to create electrical power. One of the many uses of OTEC is to stimulate growing conditions for ocean plants and animals so that they may be cultivated on land.

NELHA By the Numbers

  • 87 Acres of land encompassing NELHA. 
  • 40 Enterprises located on NELHA property. 
  • 3,000 Feet deep: how far deep ocean water is extracted from. 
  • 1974 The year when NELHA's HOST Park was created. 
  • 3,200 Acres of water on NELHA property. 
Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii
Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii

 

Big Island Abalone Corporation

One of the businesses leasing 10-acres of land from NELHA is the Big Island Abalone Company. They produce over 100,000 pounds of abalone each year for consumption in Hawaii, on the mainland, and in Asia. The objective of the farm is to stimulate the positive elements of the natural ocean environment in which abalone can flourish by harnessing a constant flow of cool, pure, nutrient rich seawater pumped from 3,000 feet deep in the ocean. The farm also cultivates a blend of seaweed on site to serve as food for the abalone; the seaweed heavily influences the taste, color, texture, and appearance of the abalone.

The abalone business is thriving in Kona because science and technology are able to utilize a natural, clean and renewable resource: the Pacific Ocean. 

Kona Hawaii Abalone

Kona Hawaii Abalone

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

Sustainability Profile: Hamakua Heritage Mushrooms

Located on 33-acres in Laupahoehoe on the northwest side of the Big Island of Hawaii, Hamakua Heritage Farm consists of an indoor warehouse stretching 16,000 square feet. Owned by Bob and Janice Stanga, this farm grows gourmet mushrooms that are sold to Hawaii restaurants and supermarkets. Each week, the farm grows 4,000 pounds of grey oyster, pioppini, abalone, and alii mushrooms in thousands of jars in a sterile, climate-controlled environment.

Address: 36-221 Manowaiopae Homestead Road Laupahoehoe, Hawaii www.hamakuamushrooms.com

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

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By the Numbers

  • 16,000 - Square footage of the Hamakua Heritage warehouse.

  • 4,000 Pounds of mushrooms grown.

  • 33 Acres of land Hamakua Heritage sits on.

  • 4 Types of mushrooms grown. 

  • 85% - How much of mushrooms are water. 

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Hamakua Heritage is one of only two farms in the USA that grows mushrooms in jars. The growing medium or substrate for the mushrooms consists of locally sourced eucalyptus wood, corn cobs, wheat grain, and water. No manure, gluten, pesticides, fertilizers or growth hormones are used. After the mushrooms are harvested, the natural growing medium is then recycled to local farmers and the jars are cleaned and reused; nothing is wasted.

In addition to fresh mushrooms, Hamakua Heritage also makes and sells mushroom-infused foods including mushroom cookies, crackers and tea, to name a few. They also have a section of the warehouse dedicated to hosting tours to teach visitors about the mushroom growing process as well as demonstrate some quick and easy ways to prepare mushroom dishes. There are also plans to further increase sustainability by adding solar panels and introducing shiitake mushroom growing logs, bokashi (fermented organic matter for composting) kits and mushroom growing kits for purchase by those looking to start their own home gardens.

Hamakua mushrooms are available in many local supermarkets including Foodland, Safeway, Times, Don Quijote, Costco, and Whole Foods.

Hamakua Heritage Farms mushrooms Hawaii
Hamakua Heritage Farms mushrooms Hawaii

Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii

There is certainly no shortage of things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii. During a recent 7 day trip, we started in Hilo, went down to Volcanoes National Park, up to Kailua-Kona, inland to Waimea stopping by Hawi, back to the coast in Waipio Valley and Honokaa, and then back to Hilo. It was a nicely paced trip full of some of the best Airbnb stays we've had. Below are some highlights from the trip. To read about our food adventures, click here. Visit the full photo gallery here.

Mission: Explore and circle the entire Big Island of Hawaii.

  • 7 Days to explore the Big Island
  • 7 Towns we visited
  • 240 Miles driven
  • 3 Airbnb accommodations
  • 2 Hotel accommodations

Where to Stay on the Big Island

Accommodations are plentiful throughout the whole island, but options will vary depending on what area you're in. During our trip, we were able to find 3 Airbnb rentals in Waipio Valley, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and Kailua-Kona. However, we didn't have any choice but hotels in Waimea and Hilo. Generally speaking, accommodations are pricey due to the mandatory hotel-tax. However, there are many affordable hostels in populated areas such as Hilo.

Big Island Hawaii map

Hilo

The largest city on the Big Island, Hilo is home to the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation and the annual Merrie Monarch hula festival. It is also one of the least expensive cities in Hawaii to live in. I first visited Hilo almost exactly ten years ago at the age of sixteen to compete in a state canoe racing competition, and remember Hilo being extremely lush, but as a result very wet. Indeed, it was a little on the cloudy and rainy side during our stay in Hilo, but the 80-degree weather made it tolerable. Hilo is rather touristy with lots of small shops and restaurants along the Hilo Bay strip. Being more attracted to outdoor exploration, we didn't find Hilo too appealing beyond the food (ahhh, Cafe Pesto) and a quick sweep through the local Hilo Farmer's Market.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Big Island itself is made up of five volcanoes: Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea. The last three are still active, and the last two are located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This might be one of the United States' coolest national parks as it has two volcanoes within it: Kilauea, the most active volcano in the world, and Mauna Loa, the most massive volcano in the world. The park is very easy to drive through and makes for a very scenic trip since the whole park has an extremely diverse landscape. From the lush, wet jungles near Thurston lava tube to the dry forest and rocky beaches, there are tons of calderas, crevices, craters, and geothermal vents to be explored. Lava flows can be seen in person, but this is not encouraged by the park and often requires long hikes across hot, dry volcanic rocks.

Most people visiting the Big Island have one thing on their agenda: to see lava from an active volcano. There are two popular yet pricey ways to do this: via a lava boat tour, or from above via a helicopter ride. We initially tried to book a lava boat tour, but the trip was canceled due to rough water. That left us with one final day on the Big Island, which was also my birthday, meaning lava had to be seen somehow. I ended up having my biggest dream fulfilled: I got to ride in a helicopter! And see lava. I admit the helicopter part might have been a little more exciting to me.

Hawaii Big Island lava volcano helicopter

Kailua-Kona

Considered to be the center of commerce and the tourism industry in West Hawaii, Kailua-Kona (aka Kona) is a relatively new town on the Big Island. It is also dry and hot compared to the likes of say Hilo. Besides the world-famous Kona coffee, the town is also known for being the start and finish location of the Ironman World Championship triathlon, which felt all too evident with the masses of cyclists and roadrunners we saw. Cruise through the waterfront to enjoy the tourist shops and restaurants or hele on to the larger chain stores--even Costco, Target, and Ross have arrived in Kona.

Kua Bay

A short drive away from Kona is scenic Kua Bay, also known as Maniniowali beach. With its pristine white sand and clear, glassy blue-green water, you could swear this is the beach said to exist only in dreams. The only con is the lack of shade, so it is recommended to bring your own umbrellas or tents if you plan to stay long.

Kailua Kona Kua Bay Hawaii

Puuhonua o Honaunau

Located just south of Kona is Puuhonua o Honaunau, this national historic park spans 180-acres. Histoically, it was once known as the place of refuge for ancient Hawaiian lawbreakers. Very quiet and peaceful, Honaunau has an almost meditative natural quality to it. Also in the park are the Royal Grounds where the ali'i (kings) once lived.

Ka Lae (South Point)

The southernmost point of the 50 United States happens to be on the Big Island of Hawaii. Registered as a National Historic Landmark District under the name South Point Complex, this area is a large rocky cliff with blue ocean below. Wind currents are extremely strong in this area, causing many of the trees to bend and practically grow horizontal. Many fishermen will hang out here to catch the plentiful red snapper and ulua. Occasionally, a brave cliff diver will take the plunge over the edge, although strong winds make it a dangerous sport in this area.

Hawaii Kaena Southern Most Point

Green Sand Beach

Also known as Papakolea or Mahana Beach, Green Sand Beach is in the Ka'u district of the Big Island. It is one of two green sand beaches in the entire world, the other located in the Galapagos Islands. Green sand is so unique that it is illegal to take any away with you. This is a beach that must be hiked to via a nice stretch through dusty sand dunes. Alternatively, you can opt to grab a ride with locals for a fee or take your own four-wheel drive, but it is (supposedly) illegal to do so. On the bright side, the hike is rather short and makes for great photos.

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach

One of many black sand beaches on the Big Island is the famous Punalu'u Black Sand Beach. The distinctly darker sand is created by lava bursting as it flowed into the ocean. Although these beaches are popular among tourists, it is dangerous to swim since the surrounding rocks are sharp. On the bright side, turtles love to beach themselves here, so it is common to see Hawksbill or green sea turtle on the shore. Just keep your distance as these turtles are endangered species that are protected by state law.

Hawaii green sea turtle

Waimea

After a couple days of frying ourselves in the intense heat of the Volcanoes National Park and Kona, we sought cooler climates. We retreated to the rainier north end of the Big Island. Located inland, Waimea is known for its ranches and paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) culture. Characterized by lush rolling hills, the center of town is Parker Ranch.  the largest privately owned cattle ranch in the United States. Beyond visiting the ranch and driving around to view the hills and cattle, there isn't much to be done in Waimea. However, it is a very relaxing town thanks to the lack of touristy activities in the area.

Hawi

The charming town of Hawi is the biggest little town in North Kohala. Full of boutiques, restaurants, art galleries and coffee shops, Hawi is actually quite a small town but we were delighted to find a kava bar here to make for a chill afternoon after running out of things to do in Waimea. Not far from Hawi is the small town of Kapaau where you can find the original statue of King Kamehameha I.

Polulu Valley Lookout

While Ka Lae is the southernmost point of Hawaii, its opposite is North Kohala, the northernmost point of the island. Polulu (meaning 'long spear') Valley is the first of five majestic valleys stretching across the coast. The lookout spot offers a comprehensive view of the cliffs and coastline, but a hike to the bottom of the valley and the black sand beach below is possible. We didn't attempt it this time around, settling for the gorgeous view instead.

Big Island Hawaii vista mountain range

Waipio Valley and Honokaa

From Waimea, we made the short drive over to the Waipio Valley, which was once the capital and permanent residence of the early Hawaiian ali'i (kings). Given the rich beauty of the valley, it isn't hard to see why kings chose to live here. On the downside, getting to the valley is a feat in itself. The road leading to the valley floor gains 800 vertical feet in 0.6 miles with a 25% average grade. Only 4-wheel drive vehicles are allowed, but it's a risk to attempt going down the extremely narrow.

Interestingly, Waipio Valley is one of the only places in the United States where wild horses still roam. But a handful of domesticated horses are kept in stables for horseback rides. Much of the inland part of the valley is still occupied by locals who keep taro farms. The beach side is open to the public where visitors can enjoy the majestic black sand beach.

In Conclusion

Of all the islands in Hawaii, the Big Island is one of the best to visit if you're seeking a glimpse into its rustic history. Its large expanse offers a variety of climates and environments to discover without the throngs of tourists and developments that you'll find on other neighboring islands.

Big Island Photo Gallery