Exploring the north coast

Let’s see, we had done the western beaches, the southern coast, and the eastern volcanoes—time to explore the north coast! The weather was overcast and chilly, so we didn’t even bother looking for beaches; instead we wanted to take in the lush jungly terrain, the famous waterfalls, and explore the town of Hilo. We didn’t have a set itinerary, we just drove along the belt highway and pulled over as fancy took us.

The first stop was a scenic “lookout” that ended up being a secluded and rather wild waterside campground at the bottom of an overgrown ravine. The rocks made for some fantastic crashing waves, and a massive tree at the other end of the park caught our imagination.

A little further down the highway we crossed a bridge with a view over a spectacular little ravine with a river flowing directly into the ocean. We exclaimed how neat it would be to go down in there—and lo, there at the other side of the bridge: a state park sign with a narrow turnoff! A quick u-turn and a steep descent along that turnoff brought us to the riverbank. It was as lovely as we had hoped, with the river, a crashing waterfall, and all the rich foliage.

From there to the tiny village of Honomu and our first attempt to find the Akaka Falls. Our map guided us through the village and out onto narrow roads winding through green pastureland—and then dead-ended and a closed gate and a sign that had seen better days. We pieced the sign together and read that our “map app is wrong!” and that we needed to go back to the village and start over. Welp, okay then!

Sure enough, there was actually a very clear sign in the middle of the village directing us to the falls—if we had been paying attention instead of just following the back we would have seen it! From there it was only a moment to the waterfall enclosure.

We could see the waterfall in the distance but the path guided us on a little nature walk through the jungle—and specifically past that tree I wrote about in my post about the plants. Such a cool tree!

And then, suddenly, we got there—the waterfall! 440 feet of vertical drop into a little basin. Pretty spectacular.

After the waterfall we tried to visit a botanical garden, but it was closed fir the pandemic. So we drove on to Hilo and, well, we’re a little underwhelmed. The best way to describe it is stuck in time—a quiet shell of a town that seems to have slipped into a torpor since the tsunami and collapse of the sugar trade in the middle of the last century. But it did have the best gas prices in the island, so we filled up and drove back to our side of the island.

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