Kohala Grown Farm Tours brings visitors up close to the many crops grown in North Kohala. // © 2015 Kohala Grown Farm Tours
Feature image (above): Zipline tours invite clients to explore North Kohala from above. // © 2015 Kohala Zipline
In 1998, Jeanne Sunderland was looking for a place to open a boutique eco-hotel and spa on Hawaii Island. She found her perfect setting in North Kohala.
“I recognize and cherish the sacredness of this land,” said Sunderland, owner of Hawaii Island Retreat. “North Kohala calls to people who are searching for a place where they can be free of the distractions of modern life and return to their true selves.”
Removed from the tony resorts, manicured golf courses and white-sand beaches to the south, North Kohala — Hawaii Island’s northwestern-most region — welcomes visitors on its own terms. It lures clients with its wild landscapes, sprawling pastures, ocean views and homespun communities. Teeming with history, culture and nature, it beckons to adventurers who want to immerse themselves in the island’s untouched outdoors.
“Many travelers to Hawaii Island seek off-the-beaten-path experiences, which can easily be attained in North Kohala,” said Ross Birch, executive director for Big Island Visitors Bureau. “North Kohala offers visitors small-town charm, a rich heritage and active pastimes that range from hiking and ziplining to farm tours.”
Clients who take the time to explore North Kohala can interact with local artists, musicians, designers, paniolo (cowboys) and ranchers, many of whom were born and raised in the area, according to Birch.
Historic Sites and Timeless Scenery
One of North Kohala’s biggest claims to fame is King Kamehameha I. Born in the town of Kapaau, Kamehameha grew into a great leader who united the Hawaiian Islands in 1810. Today, a statue of him stands in Kapaau, which honors him each year on his birthday, June 11, during the North Kohala Kamehameha Day Celebration. Clients can join the festivities, which include a ceremonial lei-draping of the statue, a parade and a hoolaulea (outdoor party).
Kapaau draws additional crowds in November for its annual Kohala Aina Festival. Timed with the traditional Hawaiian makahiki season, when ancient islanders celebrated their harvest, the event touts top musicians, educational workshops, games for kids and a feast showcasing locally grown products.
The town of Hawi, which served as the hub of North Kohala’s once-thriving sugar industry, delights clients with colorful old plantation buildings. At Hawi’s popular Bamboo Restaurant & Gallery, musicians play Hawaiian tunes on weekends, and employees have been known to break into spontaneous hula.
History buffs are transported back in time at North Kohala’s Lapakahi State Historical Park, the remains of a coastal fishing village. Clients can imagine what life was like there more than 600 years ago as they follow an interpretive trail past restored homes and lava rock walls. Nature lovers can drive along the northern road until it dead-ends above Pololu Valley and savor ocean and cliff views.
Unique Activities and Accommodations
There are many ways for travelers to experience North Kohala’s natural bounty. With Kohala Zipline, visitors soar along nine lines and cross five suspension bridges within a magnificent forest. ATV Outfitters takes guests four-wheeling, with a stop for a secluded swim. During Hawaii Forest & Trail’s Kohala Waterfalls Adventure, clients walk through a private nature reserve and cool off under refreshing cascades.
Tapping the agritourism trend, Kohala Grown Farm Tours leads groups to farms in the region that specialize in crops such as cacao, coffee, bananas, breadfruit and pineapple. Along the way, participants meet area growers and taste farm-fresh goodies.
North Kohala accommodations channel the destination’s laid-back aura. Puakea Ranch offers private digs in restored plantation-era bungalows. Hawi Plantation House features guestrooms in a two-story estate built in 1889. Sunderland’s Hawaii Island Retreat is ultra-sustainable, with solar power and an organic garden that supplies ingredients for its meals.
“Anyone who loves nature will love North Kohala,” Sunderland said. “It’s perfect for travelers who are looking for a rejuvenating and revitalizing vacation experience.”