Sightseeing on the Hamakua Coast of Hawai‘i is a nice mix with a few places to simply relax and enjoy the island, a bit of culture, activities, and beautiful gardens to explore. In particular the coast is a big treat for history buffs, as many locations feature ruins from the 1946 tsunami to be explored, plus recreations and exhibits of what the Big Island was like before it struck.
There are residents of the Big Island who have never been to see the abandoned plantation remnants in Hakalau Bay, a short detour off the highway. To get here from Highway 19, between mile markers 15 and 16 turn makai near the footbridge and follow the street around under the bridge and down toward the ocean and the park. Local kids come here to swim in the stream under the highway bridge (look up and you’ll see that this bridge was once a train track and was turned upside down to be used as a road). Even if you’re not interested in swimming in the murky water that flows into the ocean, photographers and history buffs will be eager to visit the ruins of Hakalau Mill, destroyed in the tsunami of 1946, which are scattered around the parking lot.
World Botanical Gardens
Touted as the state’s largest botanical garden with over 5,000 different species, the World Botanical Gardens (Hwy. 19 at mile marker 16, mauka side, 808/963-5427, daily 9am-5:30pm, self-guided tours adults $13, teens $6, children 5-12 $3, guided tours adults $33, teens $23, children $13) is really the backdrop of the Zip Isle zipline that makes use of the botanical gardens. The entry fee to the gardens is included with the price of the zipline, and during the zip course itself you’ll end up walking around a large portion of the gardens. When you are doing zipping, you can walk down to the river on a short trail or drive up to catch a glimpse of their waterfall. If you are planning to just come for the botanical gardens portion, your better bet might be to visit the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden in Onomea Bay down the road.
Laupahoehoe Train Museum
Although small in size, the Laupahoehoe Train Museum (36-2377 Mamalahoa Hwy./Hwy. 19 near mile marker 25, 808/962-6300, Mon.-Fri. 9am-4:30pm, Sat.-Sun. 10am-2pm, adults $4, seniors $3, children $2, families $16) is big on the history of the Hamakua region. Interwoven with the history of the coastal train route, a 34-mile stretch with 21 stops that was destroyed in 1946 by a tsunami, the museum offers abundant archival photos detailing what life on the Big Island looked like in the early 1900s. Next to the museum is a reconstructed train car and tracks. You only need about a half hour here, but it’s worth stopping in if you have the time (it’s a nice break when paired with lunch or dessert at the Back to the 50’s Diner next door).
Laupahoehoe Point Park
This wave-lashed peninsula is a popular place for weekend family outings. A plaque at water’s edge commemorates the tragic loss of 20 schoolchildren and their teacher, who were taken by the great tsunami of 1946. Afterward, the village was moved to the high ground overlooking the point. Laupahoehoe Point Park (Laupahoehoe Point Rd. off of Hwy. 19 between mile markers 27 and 28) now occupies the low peninsula; it has nice shaded picnic tables, showers, electricity, and a county camping area. The park can get busy on the weekends with local families cooking out and bringing their ukuleles around to play some tunes. The sea is too rough to swim in, except perhaps by the boat launch ramp, but many anglers come here, along with some daring surfers. The road down to the park is narrow and winding and runs past several rebuilt homes and a restored Jodo Mission. It will take about 10 minutes to drive down to the park from the highway.