on the Big Island: from Hilo to Kona

on the trail to 'Akaka Falls

One last soak in our beloved tub and we headed out of Volcano down to Hilo. The sun was shining brilliantly as we came into town, and we decided to try to find the Mehana Brewery, since my driving guide said they had a gift shop (we try to buy a pint glass for any brewery we visit) and after a certain amount of wandering through the Hilo industrial area we found it. No brewpub, just a big warehouse full of brewing equipment, and a tiny gift shop hidden away in the corner. It was only 10 am, but the extremely nice older Asian lady running the place insisted we taste a few of their beers. Twist our arms…

flowers at the Hilo Farmer's Market
papayas at the Hilo Farmer's Market

Afterwards we headed into downtown Hilo, parked and walked around a bit. It’s not very glamorous, but there were some nice galleries and cool-looking snack shops, plus we found the famed Hilo Farmer’s Market – it was an off day, but there were still a dozen vendors selling papaya, flowers, jewelry, bananas, all kinds of things. I wish we could have seen it on a regular market day.

Before we left town I decided I needed an ice cream. Our guidebook directed us to an unlikely-looking counter inside a decrepit empty building, where we got a scoop of fantastically good Tropical Dreams white chocolate-ginger ice cream. While we were doing that, it started to rain. Really hard. Then it stopped. Then it rained again…welcome to Hilo, I guess!

scenic drive near Hilo

We drove out of town in another blinding downpour, and turned onto a short “scenic drive” stretch of the Old Mamalahoa Highway. My god, it was scenic, even in the rain. Masses of tropical plants surrounding the road, mossy one-lane bridges, glimpses of the ocean – wonderful. We pulled over several times, especially after the rain stopped again and the sun came out. Onomea Bay, near the Botanical Garden, was a real jaw-dropper. I had hoped to visit the garden as well, but we didn’t think we had time, so we continued on.

what's shakin

Just up the road was another guidebook recommendation: the What’s Shakin’ smoothie shack. We pushed our way in amongst all the other tourists (not a local hangout, I’m guessing) and ordered the fish wrap special and a papaya smoothie.
ono wrap

Much to our surprise, both were delicious. Especially the wrap, which I truly think was one of the best I’ve ever had – it was stuffed with ono, avocado, cucumber, tomato and some sort of special sauce that dripped everywhere. Tasty.

Waipi'o Valley

Moving right along, we continued up the coast. We visited ‘Akaka Falls (beautiful, plus the extra thrill of wondering if your car is getting broken into while you’re on the trail), the Laupahoehoe Point overlook, and the Waipi’o Valley overlook. We drove through many gulches and saw lots of sugarcane and sweeping ocean views. But as we came back through Honoka’a and turned back onto the highway, we saw our next destination: Tex Drive In, home of the (theoretically) best malasadas on the island.

Tex drive in
vanilla malasada

In case you don’t know (I didn’t) a malasada is a Portuguese doughnut, sometimes filled, served hot and dusted with sugar. I had heard that Tex sometimes has chocolate or papaya-filled ones, but the day we went they had plain and vanilla, so we got one of each. It took approximately forever to place our order, but once we had our doughnuts we went and parked at the edge of the lot overlooking the ocean and a small specimen garden attached to a neighboring nursery, and proceeded to get powdered sugar and vanilla creme all over ourselves and the rental car. Tasty, but a definite gutbomb.

observatories on Mauna Kea
cinder cones near Waimea

After that we just kept driving to Kona. We went through Waimea, goggled at all the cinder cones at the base of Mauna Kea and the very visible observatories at the top, then watched as the endless yellow grass and lava gave way to flowering gardens and palms as we reached the flanks of Mount Hualalai. We found our B&B, checked in, and headed down to Kailua Town to act touristy.

Canoe Club margarita

Kailua’s not all that attractive a town (especially with the vog so thick up the mountain) except for Ali’i Drive, which is unabashedly adorable and kitschy. We wandered the boardwalk and poked around in shops, then stopped at the first oceanside bar we saw (the Kona Canoe Club) to watch the surf and drink cheap, weak margaritas.

Kona Brewing
pizza at Kona Brewery
Kona beer

For dinner we fulfilled another of our main obligations: the Kona Brewing Company. We’ve been able to buy a few of their beers in our supermarket at home, but I was looking forward to trying something new. We ended up sitting inside, where all the rowdy locals seemed to be, instead of the resorty, romantic patio. We got a couple of beers that we hadn’t seen before, their Castaway IPA and the Lavaman Red, and a “Pepperoni Ali’i” pizza smothered in peperoncini. Kona Brewing’s pizzas get dissed a lot on review sites, but I thought this one was great, very spicy with a decent crust.

It was a long day, but we survived it all somehow!



2 thoughts on “on the Big Island: from Hilo to Kona

  1. Aloha, thank you for the wonderful pictures and your story. I want to move to Hilo from northern Minnesota and I very much enjoyed your site. Mahalo, rich

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