Skip to main content

The Big Island of Hawaii - Waimea & N. Kohala

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

June is from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, but is currently residing in New York. She loves to cook naturally with plants from her garden.


Welcome to the Big Island of Hawaii Circle Island Tour

Aloha! E Komo Mai!

Hele Mai! Hele Mai!

The Big Island of Hawaii, also named Hawaii, is the most diverse of all the Hawaiian Islands. You can travel around the Big Island of Hawaii in one day and go from white sand beaches to snow-capped volcanoes; from cacti on cattle ranches to tropical rain forest; from black beaches to green sand beaches; and then on to live erupting volcanoes. All in one day!

But wait! You don't want to do it all in one day!

Relax, take your time, enjoy! There is so much to see and do on a Big Island of Hawaii Circle Island Tour!


Big Island of Hawaii Circle Island Tour Part 1 - Waimea & North Kohala

We Have Expanded

This hub grew so large that I was forced to break the tour into 6 segments to make it easier to view. Be sure to catch each bus (page) to see a different part of the Big Island of Hawaii on each one. On the bottom of each page will be a link to the next bus (page) to take you to the next portion of the tour around the island.

On this page, we will cover the northern part of the Big Island of Hawaii. We leave from Kailua-Kona and head north to Waimea.

Please remember to click the link at the end of the lens to continue to the next part of the Big Island of Hawaii Tour - the Hamakua Coastline.

Mahalo nui loa,

June - Kona Girl

Big Island of Hawaii - Part 2 - Hamakua Coast

Big Island of Hawaii - Part 3 - Hilo

Big Island of Hawaii - Part 4 - Volcano Area

Big Island of Hawaii - Part 5 - South Kona Coast

Big Island of Hawaii - Part 6 - Kailua-Kona

This is a Hawaiian Hale (House) - Tradition Requires You Remove Your Shoes Before You Enter


Eh! No Forget! You Gotta Remove Your Shoes Before You Go Inside

Scroll to Continue

Now That You've Removed Your Shoes......

Stick Around for a While

It is well worth it to take your time and plan on staying for a while. There are so many unique and interesting things for you to enjoy while visiting the Big Island of Hawaii. You don't want to just drive around the island without stopping and miss it all!

Slow down....absorb the beauty!

Slow down and experience the diverse cultures and lifestyles of the Big Island; slow down and savor the exotic tastes and aromas that the Big Island of Hawaii has to offer.

Each part of the island that we visit has something different to experience; something different to cherish; and something different to create memories for you to take home with you!

Keali'i Reichel Sings "Kawaipunahele"

Press the play button and listen to the beautiful and heart-felt music from my home in Hawaii, while you take the Circle Island Tour of the Big Island of Hawaii with me.

Sing Along if You Like. The Lyrics are Below.

The Lyrics to "Kawaipunahele"

Mahalo Nui Loa to to Youtuber 808Productionz for providing the lyrics in both languages.

Nou e Kawaipunahele

Ku`u lei aloha mae `ole

Pili hemo`ole,

Pili pa`a pono

E huli ho`i kaua

E Kawaipunahele

Ku `oe me ke ki`eki`e

I ka nani a`o Wailuku

Ku`u ipo henoheno,

Ku`u wehi o ka po

E huli ho`i kaua

E Kawaipunahele

Eia ho`i `o Keali`i

Kali `ana i ka mehameha

Mehameha ho`i au,

`Eha`eha ho`i au

E huli ho`i kaua

E Kawaipunahele

Puana `ia ke aloha

Ku`u lei aloha mae `ole

Pili hemo `ole,

Pili pa`a pono

Ke pono ho`i kaua

E Kawaipunahele

English Translation:

For you Kawaipunahele

My never-fading lei

Never separated,

Firmly united.

Come, let's go back.

O Kawaipunahele.

You stand majestically

In the splendor of Wailuku.

My cherished sweetheart,

My adornment of the night

Come, let's go back.

O Kawaipunahele

Here is Keali`i

Waiting in loneliness

I am lonely,

I hurt

Come, let's go back,

O Kawaipunahele.

Tell of the love,

Of my never-fading lei.

Never separated,

Firmly united

When it's right, we'll go back,

O Kawaipunahele


I was born in Hawaii and raised in Kailua-Kona, which is located on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii.

When I was a little girl, it was just a sleepy little fishing village and the soft, gentle breezes of the tradewinds that drifted in from the ocean kept the temperature at a balmy 86 degrees F. almost year round.

It was a different climate and a different time. The aloha spirit was everywhere and the ohana (family) and the aina (land) were the most important things in our lives.

When the fish were running and the taro and the breadfruit were plentiful; we were happy. We didn't ask for much and we didn't need much. Life was much simpler back then.

We will start the Big Island of Hawaii Circle Island Tour, by heading north to Kohala, where I will tell you a little about the diversities of this wonderful land that is my home. Kailua-Kona will be covered once we go around the island in Part 5 & Part 6 of our tour.

North Kohala Map



The map will show you the area that we are going to visit today. This is the most northern point of the Big Island of Hawaii.

Onward To Kohala

We will begin our tour by leaving Kona and taking the lower road known as the Queen's Highway, driving northwest to Kohala.

We will pass Honokohau Harbor and the Kona Airport. This strip along the beach use to be quite desolate.

We would camp at Pine Trees where we would fish and swim the day away. My uncles would play music, my aunties would cook and we would party!

Today there are huge golf courses and resort hotels. The hillside has exploded with the construction of million dollar homes.

Instead of continuing along the beach road we will head mauka (towards the mountains) traveling northeast through the "Beverly Hills" of Kona, Kona Palisades, until we get to the Mamalahoa Highway and head north toward the district of Kohala, and more specifically to Waimea - Kamuela.

When we return to Kona from the Circle Island Tour, we will revisit the beach road then on the last leg of the Circle Island Tour.

Waimea Video

Mauna Kea Observatory

Taking a side trip off the Mamalahoa Hwy. to Saddle Road, we can see Mauna Kea which is the highest mountain in the world.

Yes, even taller than Mount Everest by 10,000 feet, to a total of 32,000 feet, with 13,796 feet above sea level.

Mauna Kea, which is actually a dormant volcano, is measured from its base, just as Mount Everest is, however; its base is partly below sea level. It is the only place in the world that you can drive from sea level to 14,000 feet in 1-1/2 hours.

At the summit of Mauna Kea is the Mauna Kea Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai'i Observatory, home of the world's largest astronomical observatory for optical, infrared, and submillimeter astronomy.

The observatory is home to telescopes operated by astronomers from eleven different countries. There are currently thirteen working telescopes. In ancient times, our ancestors navigated by the stars that you can see from this observatory.

At the 9,300 foot level is the Ellison Onizuka Institute for Astronomy. These facilities were constructed in 1982 and were named in honor of Ellison Onizuka, the astronaut from Kealakekua, on the Kailua-Kona side of the Big Island, (where we call "up mauka).

Ellison Onizuka was one of the astronauts who died on 28 January 1986, when the U.S.S. Challenger exploded 1 min. 13 sec. after launch. The Onizuka family still operates their general store on the old Holualoa Highway (Route #180) by the coffee farms of Hualalai mountain.

Jade with Snowboard Stands on Top of Mauna Kea

Jade with Snowboard Stands on Top of Mauna Kea

During the winter, we actually have snow at the top of Maunakea.

When my children were young, during the Christmas season, we would pack up the 4-wheel drive vehicles with coolers full of food, thermoses full of coffee and cocoa, and make the trek to the summit to play in the snow.

We made snowmen, had snowball fights, went sledding on pieces of cardboard and paipo boards. After lunch, when the coolers were empty, we refilled them with snowballs.

We would then drive back down the mountain and go to Hapuna Beach where we threw snowballs (which by then had hardened into iceballs) at our cousins on the beach. Auwe! Only in Hawaii!

Snow on Mauna Kea - On a Clear Day....

Our Winter Playground For Family Outings Before Going To The Beach.

Our Winter Playground For Family Outings Before Going To The Beach.

Hawaiians in the Snow - What Happens When Hawaiians Encounter Snow....

"This is the average scene up at Mauna Kea when it snows....

Cold cold weather - check

Boardshorts and rubber slippers - check

Cooler with beer - check

Boogieboard, err, Hawaiian snowboard - check

Shovel to take snow home - check" ~ Charley Marley

Waikoloa to Waimea

Waiakoloa Parker Ranch Hawaii

Waiakoloa Parker Ranch Hawaii

As we travel north on Mamalahoa Highway from Waikoloa to Waimea, we are heading to the most northern part of the island, through terrain that will remind you of the deserts of Arizona or New Mexico. You will see cacti, pampas grass and tumbleweeds for as far as you can see as we begin entering the Parker ranch area.

The Gate to Parker Ranch - Mauna Kea in the Background of the Ranch

The Gate to Parker Ranch

The Gate to Parker Ranch

Parker Ranch

Parker Ranch

Parker Ranch

Parker Ranch was the largest working cattle ranch in the United States until recently, owning over a half-million acres. Yes, it is even larger than Gage Ranch in Texas.

Over the years, the size as dwindled down (through development) to just 170,000 acres and continues to drop as more of the land is turned into housing development.

Parker Ranch got its start in the early 1800s, but didn't become a full working ranch until around 1840. The land was a gift from King Kamehameha I in the early 1800s.

It is also one of the country's oldest ranches, with almost 180 years of history. Trivia fact. Hawaii had cowboys (paniolos) before the west of the mainland US.

Hawaiian Paniolos (Cowboys)

Vintage Paniolo Photo at Parker Ranch from 1940

Vintage Paniolo Photo at Parker Ranch from 1940

As we get closer to Waimea, you can see the desert-like region changing into soft, rolling green hills of pasture land. Paniolos, Hawaiian cowboys, can be seen riding the range herding their cattle.

The paniolos were herding cattle years before the first cowboys appeared in the Mainland west. We can say mahalo, thank you, to the Spanish, Latin American vaqueros that came to Hawaii from Venezuela,

It was these vaqueros that came and taught the Hawai'ian people the roping and herding techniques to manage the wildly aggressive black longhorn cattle that had been running wild on the island.

The Hawaiian name, paniolo is a derivative of the word espanoles. Interestingly, the word cowboy, in the American West, came from the word gaucho, of the South American cowboy, from Argentina.

Paniolo Herding Cattle in the Ocean

Hawaiians Herding Cattle in Ocean

Hawaiians Herding Cattle in Ocean

Transporting cattle was all done by ship at one time. The cattle had to be lifted by cranes onto and off of the ships. First they had to be herded through the sea water to the ships where they were hoisted on board. When disembarking, the were lowered into long boats one at a time. Often they didn't make it to shore in the small boats and had to be herded in the ocean to land.

Paniolo Lowering Cattle into Long Boats

Hawaiian Cowboy Moving Cattle to Shore in Rowboat

Hawaiian Cowboy Moving Cattle to Shore in Rowboat

Kilakila Na Roughrider

Now that we're in cattle country, here is a fun, up-beat Hawaiian tune you can can listen to called "Kilakila Na Roughrider" about two Hawaiian cowboys.



Left to right: Archie Ka`pua, Jack Low and Ikua Purdy.

Left to right: Archie Ka`pua, Jack Low and Ikua Purdy.

Ikua Purdy

Hawaii's Most Famous Cowboy

This is an old photograph of our infamous paniolo (cowboy) that the Kohala Trio sing about in the music video below called "Kohala Purdy's Ride".

One hundred and seven years ago, 3 Hawaiian paniolos were sent to participate in the Frontier Days celebration and rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyoming; Ikua Purdy, Archie Ka`au`a, and Jack Low.

Waimea's Ikua Purdy shocked the American West by winning the 1908 World Steer Roping Championship in 56 seconds. Archie Ka`au`a came in second (with a lame arm and severed hand) and Jack Low (with an asthma attack) placed sixth.

The haole (white) American cowboys were very upset about this. Little did they know, the Hawaiians had been roping and riding a lot longer as original cowboy's than the haole Mainlanders. The Cheyenne Daily Leader reported, "Here was something new - the idea of a Hawaiian cowboy defeating a real cowboy at the cowboy's own particular game .... "

Ikua remains Hawai'i's most famous paniolo. "His riding and roping skills are legendary. We sing his praises and boast about his skills in cowboy songs and hulas. His prowess with the kaula ili (rawhide lariat) is recounted during talk-story sessions at brandings and gatherings......" - The Paniolo Preservation Society

Ikua Purdy Statue in Waimea

Ikua Purdy Statue in Waimea

Ikua Purdy Statue in Waimea

The Kohala Trio - The Sweet Sounds of the Grammy Winner Trio Kohala


Parker Ranch Rodeos

Every year on 4th of July and Labor Day, Parker Ranch holds its own rodeo. Throughout the year, they also host smaller amateur events at the Parker Ranch Rodeo Arena

The Parker Ranch Rodeo Arena is also home to a race track, polo fields, and bandstands. Huge dining tents are put up for the events which really make the rodeos, polo games and races great days full of fun. The rodeo arena has long been used by Big Island paniolo, family, friends, and fans for days of fun competition.

Parker Ranch also accommodates private parties on the ranch. No group is too large or too small. The ranch has seen many a wedding party over the years!

Hawaiian Cowgirls - Paniolas

Hunting Wild Game at Parker Ranch

Wild Hawaiian Goat

Wild Hawaiian Goat

While visiting the Waimea/Kamuela area, you can take a tour of Parker Ranch with the Parker Ranch Cattle Country Tours. You can get more information by visiting their website.

They also offer horseback riding and hunting trips. When my family has gone hunting in the Parker Ranch area, they have come home with pheasant, wild turkey, grouse, quail, wild boar and wild goat. There is still wild cattle running around the mountains too.

Wild Boar Kill on Parker Ranch

Hunting Wild Boar on Parker Ranch

Hunting Wild Boar on Parker Ranch

I had a stand-up freezer outside my kitchen door that was always full of game and fish. The only way you could starve on the Big Island is if you're too lazy to pick the fruit that grows wild, or to go fishing and hunting!

Hawaii Goat Hunting at Parker Ranch

Jacaranda Inn in Waimea - At Parker Ranch

Historic Jacaranda Inn Waimea Big Island of Hawaii

Historic Jacaranda Inn Waimea Big Island of Hawaii

Stay in a garden cottage at the Hawaii's historic Ranch Estate of the Jacaranda Inn in Waimea at Parker Ranch.

Rooms and bungalows are exquisitely remodeled ranch house and bunkhouses. It's a favorite of the star gazers visiting the Onizuka Observatories at the top of Mauna Kea.

It is a superb home base for your Hawaii vacation on the Big Island, that is not very well know to the average tourist, making it a bit more exclusive, yet very affordable.

Every one of their rooms are so beautifully romantic, that it is difficult to decide which one I like the best.

I do really love the cottage with its river stone fireplace and the beautiful view off the lanai that overlooks the Kohakohau Stream and the Kohala Mountains. It is rather large for just two people as it has 3-bedrooms.

Hibiscus Room - Jacaranda Inn

I fell in love with the whimsical shabby chic feel of the Hibiscus Room, but visit the Jacaranda Inn website to decide which one you like the best.

A "must have" for breakfast at the Inn is their famous French toast made with Portuguese sweetbread and a pot of Kona Coffee. Yummy!

(BTW - I am not affiliated with the Jacaranda Inn. I just know that it is a place you would love to stay while visiting Waimea, Hawaii.)

Ke Ola Mau Loa Church, Waimea, Island Of Hawaii

Ke Ola Mau Loa Church, Waimea, Island Of Hawaii


District of Waimea, Big Island of Hawaii

The closer we get to Waimea, the higher in elevation we will climb, and the warm temperature can change drastically, to a much cooler, misty and foggy climate.

The cooler weather supports a different eco-system than the desert-like, cattle country area we just traveled through.

Looking makai (towards the ocean) you will see a lush, deep greenery that stretches out past the sloping pasture land, to the cliffs overlooking the deep blue ocean. The contrast of the green against the deep blue ocean is magnificent.

The waves sparkle in the sun as the white crest of the waves crash on the black shiny rocks. The site takes my breath away with the beauty and expanse of it all. The change from the desert-like region that we just left behind is quite a drastic, yet remarkable change.

Driving the Old Mamalahoa Highway Through Waimea

Old Mamalahoa Highway in Waimea

Old Mamalahoa Highway in Waimea

Coming into Waimea, the scenery changes again as Waimea is home to many varieties of pine trees, eucalyptus and hardwood trees; such as koa trees, ohia, spruce and ironwood pine.

You can smell the pine and the eucalyptus mixed in with the scent of the koa wood and sandalwood trees, wild ginger and gardenias. Heavenly. The scent alone carries you into another realm.

The bright colors of the Bird of Paradise, orchids, hibiscus and hundreds of different varieties of ferns are everywhere showing through the fog that rolls in most every afternoon.

As you enter this northern town, you will notice an odd cross between an old Western town and Polynesia. You can still see hitching posts in front of some of the restaurants, saloons and the bank. The jungle gym at Kamuela Park has stirrups for handles, and several of the town stop signs read "Whoa!" instead of "Stop".

Waimea has grown extensively over the last decade or so as it now has two stop lights, instead of just one, and new shopping centers and homes have been developed. The homes being built in Waimea are $300,000 and up fee simple homes. These homes are being advertises to mainland people, not to the local island people.

Aerial View of Kamuela Town

Aerial View of Kamuela Town

Aerial View of Kamuela Town

Hawaiian Style Cafe - Kamuela - The Best Local Food on the Big Island

Hawaii Hawaiian Style Cafe

Hawaii Hawaiian Style Cafe

Real Da Kine Hawaiian Food

Authentic Hawaiian Food

Authentic Hawaiian Food

Want to try some real Hawaiian food? Stop at the Hawaiian Style Cafe. This is were the local people eat. Very unassuming place, low cost and plenty food. This photo shows a "plate lunch" of Kalua pig, Lomi Lomi salmon, Chicken Luau, Chicken Long Rice and Poi.

There is usually a line and you have to add your name to the wait list (no one will tell you this), but it is well worth the wait. There is only one counter and a few tables and chairs. All the food is home grown, made in Hawaii, and local style.

They serve a mean breakfast too! Try the Portuguese sweetbread French toast.

Address: 64-1290 Mamalahoa Hwy, Kamuela, Island of Hawaii, HI 96743

Phone: 808 885 4295