There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track. Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.
Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive and Onomea Bay Trail
Located just north of Hilo on Highway 19, this “Old Road through Old Hawai’i”, a four-mile-half hour scenic wander, parallels Highway 19 but is worlds removed from the traffic and hustle along the main road. The Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive is a special treat for visitors who may think they waited a century too long to visit Hawai’i.
Beyond breath-taking, in places the narrow road dribbles through jungle so thick that the tree canopy over head pulses green luminescence and sunlight barely flutters to the pavement; the musical air cavorts with the sounds of exotic birds, streams and waterfalls. Stop, soak up this ambiance, the torpid smell of fresh jungle, the sexual scent of glowing flowers, the tropic feel of intense life packed closely around you. In this world time is so heavy you can almost eat it.
Comprising a 4-mile remnant of the Old Mamalahoa Highway, narrow, winding and beautiful, the Scenic Drive may be taken in either direction; on the Hilo end, it begins at the small town of Onomea (meaning, literally, “the best place”) halfway between the 7 and 8 mile markers on Highway 19; on the Honka’a side, it begins at the 11 mile marker on Highway 19. Look for the “Scenic Drive” signs and be prepared to turn off the highway towards the ocean. On a sunny day, on a rainy day, it doesn’t matter; this scenic drive is a joy.
The drive winds along, over narrow one lane bridges, through paradise and eventually comes to the Hawaii Botanical Tropical Gardens, a commercial garden which takes about an hour to tour. All along the way there are numerous, obvious, hiking trails and swimming holes, but these are on private property for the most part—ask before you trespass.
A scenic overlook of Onomea Bay, near the south end of the Scenic Drive, reveals the wildly scenic, untamed coastline at the mouth of the gulch and beckons casual hikers to explore Onomea Bay. Only a few miles north of tame and sedate Hilo Bay, Onomea Bay is subject to the full fury and magic of the open Pacific Ocean. From the overlook one can see the spiny finger of rock jutting out into the where Onomea Sea Arch once stood, until it collapsed in an earthquake in 1956. Legend has it the sea arch was formed by Kamehameha throwing his spear through the rock, although it doubtless was thousands of years old when it collapsed. Rugged, jagged, majestic, the wickedly sculpted cliffs along the bay belie the easy 20 minute walk down to the beach.
At the overlook, the old donkey trail leads down to the water. Back in the days before railroads, Onomea Bay was a major port and donkeys would carry sugar, produce and goods being shipped out down to waiting boats at the bay and carry incoming goods back up this trail. Accessible to most walkers of even marginal condition, the trail leads alongside a commercial botanical garden (be sure not to wander through any their gates unless you are a paying customer) and falls forthrightly down to the canon mouth, past a tiny waterfall at the end of the stream and to the beach Onomea Bay. Crossing the stream, the trail continues along a fenced path onto a finger of land and then to tiny Kukilu Bay (Turtle Cove). The two gulches whose mouths you just traversed used to be occupied by Kahili’i fishing village until it was destroyed by the Tsunami of 1946.
A lovely walk and a wildly inspirational place; if you have an extra forty minutes to spare, this walk is well worth the time. The fishing here is great but we don’t recommend swimming here due to the wild currents and rip-tides.
The scenic drive makes a fabulous lazy drive or easy bicycle tour and also presents awesome opportunities for photo taking, bird watching and exploration, but no services.
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All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.