Story by Derek Paiva
Last week in this space, I shared a compendium of “3 Hawaii Island Scenic Spots You (Likely) Haven’t Visited Yet” but should.
The idea behind the list was simple. Even if you think you’ve been to all of the Hawaii Island scenic spots everyone says are must-sees, there are always more. Always. How could there not be, with a total 4,028 square miles of Hawaii Island to discover, much of it unfamiliar even to longtime residents?
So here are three more Hawaii Island scenic spots you (likely) haven’t visited yet, bringing our full list to a vacation-filling six.
Maybe you’ve been to one of the three places here, or three of all six. Maybe you haven’t been to any of them. Maybe you’ve yet to even visit Hawaii Island. There’s something for everyone on these lists.
Check these three additional scenic spots on the largest island in the state off your bucket list.
Mauna Loa Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Some of the best panoramic views of the breadth of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s expansive and diverse acreage — from smoldering Halemaumau Crater and the Kilauea volcano summit area, to the park’s verdant fern forests and indigo lava deserts — are all yours (largely, in solitude) from multiple points along this 11.5-mile single-lane road snaking up the slope of 13,678-foot Maunaloa. Before ending near a lookout at the mountain’s 6,662-foot elevation, the road ascends through several of Maunaloa’s diverse natural landscapes, including thick forest canopies of dewy koa and ohia, sparse groves of pukiawe bushes and wild grasses, and jagged, impenetrable lava flows. Don’t wait until the end-of-the-road lookout to snap photos. Great views pop up sporadically all along the drive up. If you feel the need for further close-up exploration of the landscape (and have water and hiking shoes), hike a bit of the Maunaloa Summit Trail, which begins at the road’s end. Don’t go too far, though. The full 22-mile trail to the summit requires a four-day roundtrip backpacking commitment, as well as registration and permitting from HVNP’s Backcountry Office at park headquarters.
Why you haven’t been there yet: Though open to the public, Mauna Loa Road isn’t heavily trumpeted as a HVNP “must-see.”
Kalopa Native Forest State Park and Recreation Area
The scenic reward here is the forest. More specifically, the 100 acres of thick, green and rain-kissed upland Hamakua Coast native forest surrounding this little-visited park and camping area on all sides. Got a day or only a few hours for a visit? Bring a lunch to nosh in the breezy chill of the park’s charming picnic area before hiking its easygoing .75-mile loop nature trail, passing through old-growth ohia trees, ferns, flowering plants and more. Stay overnight in one of the park’s rentable cabins, and you can do the above, plus feel the true sensory coolness of dense, high-elevation evening and nighttime clouds eerily blanketing the park grounds — you’re at the 2,000-foot elevation of Maunakea volcano, after all — before waking up to the forest birds chirping, fresh mountain air and (on many mornings) clear blue skies. Sure, a day or two in the midst of a misty, sometimes rainy, forest isn’t everyone’s cup of nature. But for the rest of us, Kalopa offers a five-senses-pleasing lesson on the weather patterns and conditions that keep the east side of Hawaii Island evergreen.
Why you haven’t been there yet: The park’s upslope location can seem remote to some.
Ka Lae (South Point)
You’d think Ka Lae would be one of Hawaii Island’s most-visited spots. After all, it isn’t every day one gets to stand on a precipice where rugged land meets equally rugged sea and truthfully Instagram being the southernmost person in the United States. (Ka Lae — “the point,” in English — is also Hawaii’s and Hawaii Island’s geographic southernmost point.) But singing songs about the island’s southland isn’t the only reason to visit Ka Lae. For folks in search of unusual Hawaii landscapes, the remote, wind-whipped 710-acre Ka Lae peninsula is all grasslands and wind-gnarled kiawe trees meeting pummeling shoreline and sea cliff waves one day, and calmer, crystalline waters the next. (Warning! Because of the dangerous currents here, swimming is not advised.) Standing and facing south at Ka Lae not only feels like staring out from the edge of the world, it sort of is — sail due south and your next landfall is Antarctica, 7,000 miles away. Soak in the quiet, save for the sound of the wind and the waves. Take in, but do not enter, Kalalea, the best preserved of the peninsula’s remaining heiau (places of worship). And savor the fact that, except for a handful of fisherman and curious souls like you, there’ll hardly be anyone around.
Why you haven’t been there yet: The only way to reach Ka Lae is a 20-mile, single-lane road with several blind-turns and -sightlines, and car-rattling asphalt near its end. The same 20-mile road returns you to civilization. And there is no comfort station — save for portable toilets — or fresh water at road’s end.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my first “So Much More Hawaii” blog post of “3 Hawaii Island Scenic Spots You (Likely) Haven’t Visited Yet.”
About Derek Paiva: Derek Paiva is an editor and writer on the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau and Big Island Visitor Bureau account team at Anthology Marketing Group. A lifelong Hawaii resident, Derek has enjoyed careers in magazine and newspaper journalism, and was editor-in-chief of Hawaii Magazine from 2010 through 2015. He has traveled extensively throughout the Hawaiian Islands, written about them exhaustively, and is always looking forward to exploring and learning new things about his home islands. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.