Northern Big Island: Plenty of Things to See & Do

Lush, green, magical and remote are accurate words to describe the northern side of the Big Island. Ranging from the start of the Hamakua Coast to the end of Hawi by Pololu Valley, the north side of the island traverses valleys, sea cliffs, open pastures and secluded property. It would take at least one full day, or ideally two, to fully explore this area, so here's our list of the ten best things to see and do on the north side.

At the end of the road in Hawi is gorgeous Waipio Valley. Once home to Hawaiian royalty, and today a respected valley with a beautiful black sand beach and river, the valley is one of those places that shouldn't be missed on a visit. Gaze down from the top or hike down the extremely steep road, but only if truly prepared.

Along the Hamakua Coast is the Hawaiian Vanilla Company. Here you'll tour a vanilla orchid farm, enjoy a vanilla inspired lunch, and take a tea time. Learn all about local vanilla making in a presentation. Also along the coast is Hakalau Bay. A lovely place to swim, beachcomb and for historical fun (there's an old mill on the beach), this is a favorite with locals and a well kept secret.

So take some time to explore the greenest and calmest side of the island, with our list of the ten places things to see and do on northern Big Island.


Hamakua Coast

Hakalau Bay is a rather well kept secret with locals, and it's a favorite for many of them. It's a very Big Island style beach, meaning there's not really a beach but small black stones at a river mouth opening into the ocean. A highway bridge crosses over the river, and if you look up you'll notice that the bridge was originally a highway track turned upside down to be used as a road. The water is a bit murky, but the place is beautiful and a great place for history buffs and photographers to have fun visiting the ruins of the Hakalau Mill, which was ruined in the tsunami of 1946. They are scattered around the rocks and parking lot.

Recommended for Best of North Big Island because: Hakalau is a local favorite, and an enchanting place where mill ruins line a river.

Jade's expert tip: Bring a suit, but if even you don't want to swim this is a great place to explore and beachcomb.

Read more about Hakalau Bay →

Not many people realize vanilla comes from an orchid. On the Hamakua Coast lies the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, where visitors can shop, enjoy tea time, and take in a vanilla presentation and tasting as well as ours of the vanilla factory and farm. Presentations and tastings take place at 10:30 a.m. and run for 45 minutes, while tours of the farm and processing facility take place at 1 to 2 p.m. Both of these cost $25. In addition the full experience includes a tour and tasting, as well as a vanilla inspired lunch. These last for two hours and run $39 for adults and $15 for children 4 to 12 years old. Taking just the tea time after hiking through Waimea Valley, is a nice way to relax. To get here form Highway 19 look for the entrance between mile markers 36 and 37 and turn inland on Pohakea Road for three miles. Reservations are required for lunch.

Recommended for Best of North Big Island because: The Hawaiian Vanilla Company offers a refreshing tour and lunch on their farm, all about vanilla.

Jade's expert tip: Stop by the farm after hiking through Waimea Valley.

Read more about Hawaiian Vanilla Company →

Enter Lapakahi State Historical Park to experience Hawaii as early settlers did 600 years ago. The reconstructed historical village is a good place for children and history buffs alike. There's a well marked and maintained trail that is fitting for the self guided tour. Pick up a pamphlet at the teeny tiny visitors center by the parking to help educate yourself along the way. While exploring the trail for about 45-minutes, which consists of two half mile loops, you'll pass canoe sheds, a fishing shrine dedicated to a god, and a salt making area that shows how Hawaiians made salt from seawater. There are plenty of home sites to be seen, and Hawaiain games that are interesting for children. Look for the entrance between the 13 and 14 mile marker off of Highway 270.

Recommended for Best of North Big Island because: Offering a window in traditional Hawaiian society, Lapakahi State Historical Park is an easy and fun stop.

Jade's expert tip: Pick up a brochure at the stand by the parking to help educate and navigate yourself.

Read more about Lapakahi State Historical Park →


Macadamia nuts can be found here in just about all flavors imaginable. From Spam flavored, to chocolate covered, salted, garlic and onion, the flavor list goes on. What's even better news is that they're all available to sample for free. In addition, candy corn, brittles and candy corn can all be sampled too. Those planning to take home macadamia nuts as a souvenir can pick up gifts here too, with prices similar to those at the grocery store. While exploring and sampling you can also watch the inner workings of the factory through a glass window. Don't forget to crack a mac nut yourself at one of the interactive stations before leaving.

Recommended for Best of North Big Island because: The factory offers insight into local culture and industry and offers fun snacks and interactive booths.

Jade's expert tip: The best deal here is the four-pound bag of nuts for $32, depending on the flavory.

Read more about Hamakua Macadamia Nut Factory →

Parker Ranch, one of America's oldest and largest ranches, was founded in 1847. Island visitors eagerly venture here to find out about paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys) and to see what ranch life is like in paradise. Guests may opt to tour Parker's historic homes, where they can view heirloom art and furnishings and learn about the ranch's long history. Horseback and ATV tours are available, along with cattle country tours that expose the workings of the ranch and the beauty of the local landscape. Visiting the ranch is really visiting a part of the island's history that helped form it and bring it where it is today.

Recommended for Best of North Big Island because: Parker ranch is one of America's oldest and largest ranches and offers adventure tours and country tours.

Jade's expert tip: Visit Parker Ranch when crossing from one side of the island to another.

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This three-story stone temple, erected more than 1500 years ago, stands as one of the oldest structures in the state. Built to honor Ku (the Hawaiian god of war), it was the setting for countless rituals and observances, including human sacrifices and prayer vigils. As expected, the temple is steeped in legend, and many of them feature Kamehameha I, who was born near this site in the 1750s and who sought spiritual guidance here before setting out on his quest to unite the islands. The road to the temple is rough, so hiking from Highway 270 or riding in a 4X4 is suggested. The temple is now part of the Kohala Historical Sites State Monument.

Recommended for Best of North Big Island because: Mo'okini Heiau offers visitors insight into a sacred part of Hawaiian culture.

Jade's expert tip: Bring water and a snack here because it's a long drive to any shops.

Read more about Mo'okini Heiau →

Hamakua Coast

As the only certified zip-line company in the area, Zip Isle is located in the World Botanical Gardens, the state's largest botanical garden. This is quite a moderate zip-line course, not like a crazy one in a foreign country, but it's still exciting and will do the trick. It's a perfect course for children and first timers, and was constructed in partnership with certified engineers to guarantee the safest experience possible. They offer six tours daily and it's a good idea to reserve a week in advance. This a wonderful way to see the island from a bird's eye view.

Recommended for Best of North Big Island because: Zip-lining is a fun new adventure sport brought to the islands, and Zip Island was the first on the Big Island.

Jade's expert tip: Bring mosquito repellent.

Read more about Zip Isle →

Make it to the end of scenic Highway 270 and experience the majesty of the Big Island's dramatic Kohala coastline. High above waves that crash onto jagged rocks are several lookout areas that offer sweeping vistas of verdant cliffs and sliver-like waterfalls cascading over them. Folks wanting a touch of adventure can make the strenuous hike down to the black-sand beach at the base of the cliffs. Have care, though: the waters are not good for swimming, and no lifeguards are on duty. This is also a good place for history buffs as it was home to many kings who played significant roles in Hawaii's history.

Recommended for Best of North Big Island because: Pololu Valley is a sacred and beautiful place on the island that shouldn't be missed.

Jade's expert tip: Adventurous types can take the steep trail down into the valley.

Read more about Pololu Valley Lookout →

North Big Island

Mahukona Beach Park is a highly unique and intriguing place. Contrary to its name, there's actually no beach. It's a cement laden park along the water that blends naturally beauty and history. The underwater world here is one of the best places on the island to snorkel. Not only because of it's rampant, colorful fish population, but due to underwater archaeological finds. A sort of underwater museum boasts remnants from the plantation and railroad days. Bring snorkel gear and look for the ladder into the water at the north end of the beach. Backing the beach is the near intact structure of the Hawaiian Railroad Company which functioned here for years. Explore the ruins, but be careful. There are shaded picnic areas here but other than that there are no facilities here so bring water. On Highway 270 look for the access between mile markers 14 and 15.

Recommended for Best of North Big Island because: Mahukona offers amazing snorkeling as well as excitement for history buffs.

Jade's expert tip: Bring lunch because the nearest town is far away.

Read more about Mahukona Beach Park →

Hamakua Coast

The Big Island version of the Valley of the Kings, Waipi'o has long maintained a special place in the hearts of locals. Steeped in legend, the deep, narrow valley stretches some 5-plus miles, flanked on either side by towering rock walls. The valley floor is a lush tapestry of tropical flora, and guava, red banana, and taro hide a multitude of natural treasures, like tranquil freshwater streams and waterfalls. Tourists are discouraged from taking cars into the valley. A good alternative, though, is Waipi'o Valley Shuttle (808-775-7121), which offers narrated, 4-wheel drive tours. Visitors not wanting to take the 90-minute trip can experience the valley's beauty from the overlook.

Recommended for Best of North Big Island because: Waipi'o Valley is a gorgeous and sacred part of the island that enhances any visit.

Jade's expert tip: You can only take a four wheel drive down into the valley.

Read more about Waipi'o Valley →


Meet Jade Eckardt

Raised on the Big Island of Hawaii, Jade has traveled the world and doesn't intend to stop, yet the Hawaiian Islands are still her favorite place. She spent seven years living on Oahu and...  More About Jade