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By Kara Nelson. October 13, 2013 - 5:53 pm
To truly experience all the Big Island has to offer and get a touch of old Hawai‘i, one might like to make a day trip to historic Hawi and NorthKohala – the birthplace of King Kamehameha I.
Hawi can be reached from the main highway from Waimea or Kailua-Kona. On the day I went, I took the Kailua-Kona route.
After driving past the Kona airport, the driving traveler is flanked by lava fields on both sides, desert-like hills, and the alluring ocean glittering dark blue and turquoise in the distance. The wayfarer goes past hotels, shopping centers, and tempting eateries.
At Junction 270, a sign proclaims that Kawaihae is one mile away and Hawi is 19 miles away.
Kawaihae has the feel of a harbor industrial town. It is home of the highly-rated Blue Dragon restaurant, only open for dinner from Thursday to Sunday. The Kawaihae Center is also a great place to stop for snacks.
After passing Kawaihae, the road is closer to the shore, offering even more beguiling ocean views and beautiful beach homes and ranches. Slowly, the landscape gets greener with windswept trees until soon the traveler is in a lush and perhaps rainy area.
When you see Sacred Heart Church on one side and a sign saying Historic Kohala on the other side, your destination has been reached.
Hawi is a small town with plantation buildings, restaurants, art galleries, and Kohala Coffee Mill and Cafe.
Since it was windy and rainy when we got there, my family and I ate at the Bamboo Restaurant, a funky restaurant and gallery which boasts an interesting history.
According to the restaurant’s menu, the building was constructed sometime between 1911-1915 and was originally a hotel where sugar cane plantation workers would stay before they were taken to the camps.
In 1926, the hotel went bankrupt and was bought by the Takata family, who lived in the rooms and had a dry goods/grocery business. Nearly 65 years later in 1991, the Takatas left the building to opened a store one mile down the road (which is still running today).
Finally, the Bamboo Restaurant opened in the “tumble down town” in 1993. After some major renovations, Hawi turned into what it is today.
The Bamboo restaurant also claims to the “the largest consumer of lilikoiin the state of Hawaii,” as they use lilikoi for iced tea, desserts, and cocktails.
They offer many vegetarian meals including burgers, salads, appetizers, and entrees. I had the Vietnamese Toss Salad with tofu, which was tasty. My mom had the Bamboo salad and she said was delicious but too small for the price she paid. My dad had the fish sandwich, and my brother had the kalua pork with cabbage. Overall, our stomachs were happy with our choices.
The restaurant’s décor incorporates much bamboo as well as Christmas lights and Hawaiian and Asian art.
Guests can go upstairs to see some rooms with artwork from Big Island artists. It was like having lunch in a funky art gallery!
We left Hawi and continued North, passing places like the Bond Memorial library, the 1898 Nanbu Wore Buildings, and the original statue of King Kamehameha in front of the Kohala Civic Center.
The road began to get narrow and winding with hairpin curves and one-lane buildings.
Finally, we reached Pololu Valley Lookout. Several other tourists were there to admire the amazing view of cliffs, big rocks in the water, PololuValley, and the mountains. Some were even embarking down the PololuValley trail, which looks challenging and has warning signs but offers more stunning views and adventures.
The highway ends in Pololu Valley, so we turned back and drove from the rain back to sunny, hot Kawaihae.
We stopped at the Kawaihae Center for a treat at Anuenue Shave ice, which has been in business since 1998 and offers shave ice and ice cream. Their shave ice has been voted as “North Hawaii News’ Best of North Hawaii” every year from 2010-2013.
I tried coconut, passion fruit, and mango shave ice. Mom and I were both thrilled by the mango flavor. Mom said, “wow!”
My brother Chris, a senior in high school, had root beer shave ice and said, “I think it’s the best shave ice I’ve ever had” and noted that the “root beer flavor is better than real root beer.”
We felt that Anuenue has more refreshing and flaky shave ice than anywhere else.
Overall, it’s quite a drive to go to North Kohala and Hawi, but the adventure, fun, and tasty food are well worth it.