Hiking in Hawaii

The Kona Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of the best places for a winter getaway to enjoy sun, surf, and scenery. Unlike the rainforest-dominated landscape on the east side of the island, this area averages only 10 inches of rain per year, making it the perfect place for sun-deprived Pacific Northwesterners to dry out and recharge.

Snorkeling, paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming, boat tours, shopping, fine dining, and entertainment are only a six-hour flight away. There are miles of stunning beaches to lounge on with an exotic adult beverage in hand, because after the holidays you might just want to hang loose. There also are amazing hikes to tackle.

sea turtle on Kona Coast beachFrom the crater of Kilauea, to the black sand beach at Punalu’u and all the way into the world-class activity and entertainment district of Kailua-Kona, there are sights, sounds, and fragrances to please all of the senses.

For those who want a break from the crowds of fellow sun-seekers and desire a more intimate experience with the island as well as some solitude, a world of adventure is just over an hour north of Kailua-Kona. As soon as you pass Kona International Airport on Highway 19, the roads open up and a different sort of adventure begins — welcome to the wild side of the island.

“The smell of passionflowers mingles with other tropical fruits and flowers along the often-muddy fern-lined paths.”

The jewel-blue ocean is your constant companion as the views on the other side of the car change from lava flows to the lush green grassland near Wiamea. Several immaculate state parks beg the weary traveler to pull over and take in the scenery and a walk.

As Highway 270 breaks off of the main road and winds along the coastline, you slowly begin to climb up the rugged lava cliffs as you work your way around the northern tip of the island. This is where the road ends and the real adventure begins. The cliff is steep, and if you plan on going beyond the parking lot, you’ll need sturdy shoes, plenty of water, a good sense of balance, and strong legs and lungs.

The Pololu or Awini Trail lies at the end of the highway. The view from the small parking area alone is reason enough to make the drive. Grab a hiking staff from the community bucket; read all of the scary trail signs that warn of steep cliffs, falling rocks, dangerous currents, and other hazards; and step down the trail to adventure.

The lava-rock trail is steep and winds down a 350-foot cliff to an amazing black sand beach, where you’ll marvel at the powerful ocean on one side, and the Pololu Valley on the other. On the far end of the beach, a hidden trail makes its way 600 feet up an even-steeper cliff. The smell of passionflowers mingles with other tropical fruits and flowers along the often-muddy fern-lined paths.

tropical hills on Kona CoastSoon the trail opens up to traverse a ridge where you’ll be inspired by a 360-degree panorama. If you go early enough in the day, you may find yourself completely alone or close to it. Just as suddenly as the road to this place ended, so does the trail, just before the 3-mile mark, at an overlook with sweeping views and two lovely benches.

The trail to the second beach was destroyed in the 2006 earthquake, but if you walk down the remnants of the old trail, you might find a series of ropes leading down to the valley floor along a makeshift trail. This is not for the faint of heart or those without climbing/scrambling experience. You should be properly trained, and use technical climbing gear, to access the valley. Everyone else should stay put and take in the view from the benches.

On your way back, stop in the little towns along the highway, such as Halaula, Kapaau, or Hawi, to experience local gems and hospitality.

The North Shore of the Big Island holds limitless beauty, peace, and much-needed sunshine.

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