XV: The Final Drive


Aloha everyone! This trip marks my final free full day on the island. The Sunday before my last week of work, I devoted to an island drive. I took my very first day trip along the Hamakua Coast alone, and I thought it would be symbolic to do this final trip by myself as well. I used the hours to reflect on my time in Hawaii, the things I’ve learned and how I’ve changed. Along the way, I made a few stops to pick up gifts and do some final sight-seeing.

FinalDrivemap

One of the reasons for doing this drive was because I had never traversed the southwestern portion of Highway 11 before. Now I can say I’ve driven on every main road on the island.

A few notes on the day’s drive: I would not suggest attempting to drive around the island in one day if you would like to stop and sightsee. I had seen everything I wanted to see along these roads, and only did the drive in order to take in the beautiful landscapes one last time. All in all, the drive took about 13 hours with the few stops I did make.

For my drive, I started in Hilo and drove south because I wanted to visit the Hawaii Volcano National Park’s gift shop before it closed. If I had started in the north, I likely wouldn’t have made it. That being said, the ideal way to do this drive in my opinion is to start north from Hilo. This way you see the northeastern Hamakua Coast (arguably the most beautiful stretch of Big Island highway) during daylight. You’ll reach the National Park after the sun has set, but if you’ve been reading previous blog posts you know there’s still things to see after dark.

Hawaii Volcano National Park

For a comprehensive overview, see the previous blog posts here and here. I arrived at the National Park a few minutes before the gift shop opened and used the time to check out the overlook of my favorite hike one last time. The Kilauea Iki Crater hike is 4 miles roundtrip, and takes you through rainforest and the lava bed floor of the crater. On the way, you’ll pass many types of wildlife in the rainforest and several steam vents on the crater floor. When I arrived in the early morning, the steam vents were reacting with the cool air to create a mini-cloud layer above the crater. Since the sky was still clear, you could see Kilauea Caldera and Halema’uma’u Crater off in the distance.

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Kilauea Iki Crater in the early morning

Right behind the hike overlook is the beginning of a short hike to the Thurston Lava Tube, discovered in 1913. With such easy access, the tube is normally swarmed by what seems like thousands of tourists; at 8am however, I was the only person in there.

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Entering the Thurston Lava Tube

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Inside the Thurston Lava Tube

After walking through Thurston Lava Tube one final time, I went to the Halema’uma’u Crater overlook and the gift shop. This was also an impressive early-morning sight.

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Halema’uma’u Crater, within Kilauea Caldera – notice the Sun hiding behind the steam in the upper left

Once I finished at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, it was time to continue the journey toward Ka Lae (South Point). The land in the south is pretty dry, but the rapid changes in landscape are amazing. The road winds its way through lava fields, which give way to rolling hills and farmland, which give way to the slopes of Mauna Loa.

Rolling hills in the south

Rolling hills in the south, with Mauna Loa in the background

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Landscape near Na’alehu

Ka Lae (South Point)

See the previous journey to South Point here. Once I reached the road to South Point, I turned left toward the ocean and drove about halfway down. Ka Lae is known for getting intense storms with strong winds, so on the way, I kept an eye out for the windblown trees and the small collection of windmills.

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Trees on the way to Ka Lae look like this permanently, even when the wind is not blowing.

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Ka Lae is windy enough that it made sense to start a small windmill farm.

Miloli’i and Honomalino Beach

After driving toward Ka Lae, I began the journey on the part of the island I had never traversed before. There is not much to see or do in this stretch (until you get to Honaunau Bay and Kealakekua Bay), so I picked a small, secluded beach (Honomalino) from the guidebook that also included a drive through the town of Miloli’i.

Miloli’i has the claim to fame of being one of, if not the last fishing village in Hawaii. The drive into town is on a steep and winding hill with dramatic overlooks toward the ocean. There are no services along the way, so make sure you have plenty of gas and snacks before entering. (There was a fruit stand along the highway outside of the neighborhood on the day I visited.)

First and foremost, I was a bit apprehensive about entering Miloli’i after reading some reviews online that claim the community is unfriendly to tourists. The town near the ocean looks very poor, and most of the houses are dilapidated.

So why is it worth a visit? I can’t say that I ever felt unwelcome driving through Miloli’i. More importantly, it was a great glimpse into old Hawaii, as the community has been essentially untouched by tourism. I understand there are a few beach house rentals, but you won’t see any Waikoloa resorts down there. If it’s a trip you’re interested in, my suggestions are to drive slowlyas there are children at play. Be polite, friendly, considerate and respectful, and keep an open mind. I actually had a pleasant conversation with a local while I was hiking toward the beach and no one seemed to mind my being there. If you want more impressions of the area, check out the TripAdvisor for Miloli’i. The beach was beautiful, and as secluded as the reviews said it was.

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Mini-blowhole found in the middle of Honomalino Beach

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A likely dead crab, as he appears to be missing an eye. However that did mean I could get as close as I wanted!

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Honomalino Beach

Directions to the beach: Once at the end of the road into Miloli’i, you’ll park in a lot surrounded by the ocean, a tennis court, restrooms and a yellow church. Continue along the road between the yellow church and tennis courts, and take the right path along the water (the left is someone’s property, it should be clearly marked). After walking along a rocky pathway for a few minutes, you’ll reach a sandy beach. Don’t stop here, turn left toward the woods where yellow arrows on the rocks point you along the pathway. The yellow arrows continue for a dozen yards until the path becomes more apparent. Once you’ve found that path, it’s relatively easy to follow it another 15 minutes to Honomalino Beach.

Kailua-Kona

After leaving Miloli’i, I continued driving north on Highway 11 until I reached Kailua-Kona. When I arrived, the monthly crafts fair Kokua-Kailua was going on. I spent about an hour walking through the festival looking for gifts for friends and family.

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The coconut I decorated before mailing to Kaila. Yes, you can just stick a coconut in the mail and there are stores all over Kona that capitalize on this novelty.

Waimea

My end goal for this drive was to capture a sunset from Waimea. As I was a bit late leaving, I started to panic about whether or not I could reach Waimea in time for sunset or if I should stop off at a beach along the way. Thankfully, I made it to my desired pull-off spot with a few minutes to spare and the sunset did not disappoint.

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A perfect cloud layer for a beautiful sunset on my last drive around the island.

Again everyone, thank you for following my journey in Hawaii. This post marks my last day trip of Hawaii for now, aside from a Best-Of page. Other than that, things will probably calm down a bit until my trip to Paris in July!

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