The Hamakua Coast

As you make your way to, from, or around Honokaa, the rest of the Hamakua Coast has much to offer. From sweeping scenic vistas and nature treks to collections that will satisfy any history buff, plan some time to check out North Hawaii's other attractions.

Camp Tarawa. From 1943-1945, over 50,000 U.S. Marines lived at Parker Ranch in Waimea and trained in and around Waimea and the Kohala Coast. These Marines went on to take part in some of the most important battles of World War II, including Iwo Jima. With the exception of a few buildings the camp no longer exists, however a memorial plaque with the story of the camp can be seen outside Parker Ranch on Mamalahoa Highway (Hwy 19).

Kolekole Stream Bridge and Park. The Kolekole Stream Bridge was built with steel girders and the F1 beam system. The bridge is 497 feet long and the deck elevation 183 feet over Kolekole Stream. In 1911-12, the Hilo Railroad established a northern rail line into the Hamakua District for transportation of sugar to the harbor at Hilo. The first train began service to Paauilo in May 1913. The company succeeded in erecting fourteen steel bridges, five wood and steel combination bridges, twenty-four wooden trestles; dug two long tunnels and undertook extensive grading to produce one of the highest per-mile railroad construction in the United States up to that time. The tsunami of April 1946 destroyed many of the bridges along the Hamakua Coast and ended rail operations. Portions of the former railway were reconstructed for highway purposes by 1953. The bridges are significant for their association with the Hilo Railway Company and are representative of early 20th century steel engineering technology. In 2010, six of the steel trestle bridges, at Nanue, Umauma, Hakalau, Kolekole, Paheehee and Kapue, were placed on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places.

Plantation Museum. About 5 miles outside of Hilo on the mountain side of Mamalahoa Highway (Hwy 19) is a museum with the goal of helping visitors to the Big Island learn about life on the plantations. Located in the former Onomea Plantation Store building in Papaikou, which dates back to 1902, artifacts and displays offer a window into daily life lived by plantation workers.

Laupahoehoe Park and Memorial. This is the site of the former Laupahoehoe School. It was here that the April 1, 1946 tsunami took the lives of 19 children and 5 adults. The names and ages of the victims were engraved on a memorial within the park. Just outside and below the Park lie the remains of the lower portion of the town, decimated by the tsunami. Since designated a tsunami zone, this area has never been redeveloped. Some impressive views of the Park and its environs can be seen here.

Laupahoehoe Train Museum. The Train Museum celebrates the story of Hawai'i's railroad heritage, particularly the Hilo Railroad/Hawaii Consolidated Railroad, which operated from Puna to Hamakua. The Hamakua section of the line, because of the rough topography of the coast, was in its time the most expensive railroad ever built. The Museum is housed in the old station agent’s home at the Laupahoehoe Train Station, the restored home is beautifully furnished in the period of the early 1900s. Throughout are displays, photos, memorabilia and stories that help bring Hawaii’s railroading past alive.

Onomea Bay. Spectacular views of eight streams, numerous waterfalls, and the former Onomea Bay Sea Arch made Onomea a popular stop along the Hamakua Coast. The Bay provided one of the best landings for ships, as most of the shoreline consists of 150 foot high cliffs. Inland, Onomea Sugar Company was begun in 1888 by Charles Whetmore and E. G. Hitchcock. Onomea, Paukaa and Papaikou sugar plantations were reorganized into the Onomea Sugar Company in 1888. The Company had an unusually large,water-driven, nine-roller mill located at the foot of the gulch. Sugar cars were hauled from the mill to the landing by a cable and sugar could then be sent by cable to the hold of ships without re-handling – a distinct logistical and financial advantage compared to many other small sugar operations. Today, you can drive a four-mile loop around the bay and tour the botanical gardens.

The Tsunami Museum. Located approximately in the center of the Pacific Ocean, as well as the Pacific tectonic plate, the Hawaiian Islands are vulnerable to rare yet potentially devastating tsunamis from nearly all directions. On April 1, 1946, an earthquake in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands generated a tsunami that hit Hawaiʻi Island, levelling much of Hilo, Laupahoehoe and other sites, killing a total of 160 people on the island. Then on May 23, 1960, another tsunami, this time from an earthquake in Chile, again wreaked havoc in Hilo. The history of these two events, and other information on tsunamis in the Pacific, can be found at the Pacific Tsunami Museum at 130 Kamehameha Avenue in downtown Hilo.