Hawaii’s Aloha Loop: A Breathtaking Road Trip

Hawaii Volcanoes National ParkBig Island Visitors Bureau/Thomas Peter WidmanFire-tinged steam rises from the sea as molten lava flows into the Pacific. The lava was ejected from the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Route Details


About 225 miles.

When to go:

Thanks to its idyllic tropical
setting, Hawaii is a popular destination

Words to the wise:

Set aside at least
three days for the trip.

Not to be missed:

Snorkeling off the
coast provides close-up views of coral and
brightly colored fish.

Nearby attractions:

Mauna Loa
Macadamia Nut Corporation, Hilo.
The Laurance S. Rockefeller Collection of
Asian and Pacific Art, Kohala Coast.
The Lyman House Memorial Museum, Hilo.

Further information:

Big Island Visitors
Bureau, 250 Keawe St., Hilo, HI 96720;
tel. 800-648-2441, www.bigisland.org.

Print a map of this route.

At 1 million years of age, Hawaii’s
Big Island is the youngest of the
islands that constitute our 50th state.
But its size more than makes up for its
youth. The Big Island, as locals call
it, is nearly twice as large as all the
others combined — and it’s growing
bigger every year. Since 1986, volcanic
activity has added several hundred
acres to this truly living landscape.

1. Hilo

Despite the fact that it’s the second-largest city in Hawaii, Hilo
paces itself to a slow beat. Its
once-raffish waterfront has been
transformed into a genteel park,
and the old neighborhoods are
now dotted with cappuccino shops.
But vintage clapboard buildings
and weathered Chinese storefronts
still adorn this tropical town.
With over 120 inches of rainfall
per year, Hilo is not only the
wettest city in America, but a virtual
greenhouse. Many of the
town’s gardens and nurseries are
open to the public, including the
Nani Mau Gardens, which boasts
the island’s largest collection of
orchids, and the Hawaii Tropical
Botanical Garden.

Banyan Drive — named for the
multi-trunked trees that line the
road, each one of them planted
by a different American celebrity
during the 1930s — skirts the edge
of Waiakea Peninsula before
reaching Liliuokalani Gardens. A
footbridge leads from this serene
Japanese-style haven to Coconut
Island, a palm-fringed hideaway
that is perfect for picnicking. You
can take a dip here too, but the
best place for swimming and surfing
is at the black sand beach in
Richardson’s Ocean Park, just to
the east of town.

Traveling north on Rte. 19 (the
Bayfront Highway), turn inland —
mauka, as the locals say — on Waianuenue
Avenue for a detour to
Wailuku River State Park. The
park’s main draw is Rainbow Falls,
a sight that becomes downright
dazzling after heavy rains, when
the spray shimmers with vivid
hues. Farther upstream, the water
pours into a series of pools with
such turbulence that they have
been dubbed the Boiling Pots.

2. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Back on Rte. 19 (now known as the
Mamalahoa Highway), continue
north along the Hamakua Coast.
At the town of Papaikou, turn
east toward the sea — makai, in
common parlance — and follow
Onomea Scenic Drive to the
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.
This 17-acre preserve feaures more than 2,000 species of
plants — a collection that is believed
to be the world’s largest
assortment of tropical plants
growing in a natural environment.
Numerous trails throughout
the garden invite visitors to
meander past preening parrots,
squawking cockatoos, hidden
waterfalls, and hushed lily ponds.

3. Akaka Falls State Park

At Honomu follow Rte. 220 inland
past dense fields of sugarcane
to Akaka Falls State Park, 66
acres of ferns, orchids, and bamboo
groves. A short nature trail
overhung with verdant, sweetly
scented vegetation circles past
cascading Kahuna Falls and the
astonishing Akaka Falls.

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