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Pololu Valley hike

The Kohala and Waimea region in the north offers some terrific hiking and adventure exploring opportunities. The Pololu Valley hike is one of the most memorable. In contrast to the south’s desert climate, North Kohala is lushly otherworldly with pastures, plantation towns and the Polulu Valley’s cascading cliffs, which was our destination. From Kona we took the Kahola Mountain Road (Hwy 250), offering amazing views of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Hualalai at 2,000 – 3,000 ft elevation, along the way.

Getting to the Pololu Valley hike

Looking back towards the Kahala-Kona coastline as we climbed from the town of Waimea was stunning. The rolling pastureland from Waimea was beautiful, with stiff winds blowing at the car. Parker Ranch, the 5th largest cow-calf ranch in the US is located here. Hawi was a major sugar plantation town in the past, and is now a Bohemian enclave of cafes, galleries and artisan gift shops.

We hiked from the Pololu Valley lookout approximately 3 miles, which took us, as physically fit 50-somethings, 4 hours with breaks. The lookout to cliffs and pounding surf was spectacular, and the trail down, about a 1/3 mile, offered vistas at every turn.

The Pololu Valley lookout sign marks the beginning of the trail

While it’s safe to marvel at the beautiful beach, we were cautioned to not venture into the water, due to currents being very dangerous.

The beach portion of the Pololu Valley hike

The Pololu Valley hike

The valley floor is where the trailhead starts and climbs up through lush forest, and vines along a well-worn muddy trail towards the Pololu Valley. It was quite rutted and when it started raining (a warm hard rain) the ground became muddy and slippery. We hiked to the top of the Honokane Nui Valley lookout, which was very steep, and then decided due to the rain and slippery trail conditions, we would return before reaching the final leg of the Pololu Valley. We had to laugh at the two shirtless, barefoot dreadlocks guys, who passed us on the way back. We were left wondering if barefoot was perhaps a better choice to the traction of muddy trail runner shoes? The tropical rain was warm, but with strong winds we were soaked through by the return. The sudden change of  weather was a great reminder of the diverse conditions that exist in the region. Hikers are well advised to plan for rain, even if they start out on a sunny morning.

Be prepared for some mud on the Pololu Valley hike trail, especially if a shower passes through
There’s a reason why everything is so green and lush along the Pololu Valley hike. Prepare for the possibility of a tropical shower!

Plan a stop in Hawi

We drove back to Hawi and checked out the Bamboo restaurant – rated the best restaurant on the island, and we were not disappointed! Despite looking like we had emerged from a mud wrestling match with a fully clothed tropical storm shower, they welcomed us with open arms.

We shared a double order of fresh caught tuna, rice and seasonal veggies, the absolute best breaded and crisp deep-fried calamari I’ve ever tasted, and washed it down with a couple Long Board beers. They do a Sunday brunch, but at 2:45pm, we were one of the last to be seated. There was a live band with guitars, twin ukuleles and singers for entertainment. Le Bamboo dates back to the late 1800s as a hotel for sugar plantation workers, and was refurbished as a restaurant in what was the general store floor area, using the hotel’s original kitchen.

Of course the views going from Waimea to Hawi are spectacular, it truly is saving the best for last in making the return decent back to Kona, as the entire Kahola and Waimea coastline gives way to the Kailua-Kona coast at sunset. Be sure to put the Pololu Valley hike on your activity list when visiting the Big Island Hawaii.

Accommodations

We stayed in an Airbnb in Kailua-Kona, about 10 minutes from the airport. It was a wonderfully central location to explore all sides of the island, and offered up a beautiful sunset view from the hill, where we toasted to our days adventure each evening at sunset. We planned “adventure days” with relaxed “beach days” to recover in between, but admittedly many hiking adventure days involved a beach at some point – it is Hawaii after all. Why try to escape them?

Here’s where to find our little “Garden Paradise”, in Kailua, hosted by Martina. It was a short drive from the airport, offered great sunsets and was very central for all of our day trips. Book with Martina below, or check out other options in the area available through VRBO and Booking.com

If you really want to exhaust your accommodation search be sure to run your dates through Hotels.com or Expedia. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a cheap flight while you’re in there?!

We rented a 4×4 Jeep at the Kona airport from Alamo, in anticipation of driving to the top of Mauna Kea, to experience the Polar Tundra climate at sunset, as well as being able to access some steep roads in the northern regions of the island by Waimea, and to travel lava rock roads in the south by Pahoa – not to mention seamlessly making the pass over the top of the island from Kona to Hilo, which can see snow at elevation in inclement weather. If you plan to venture beyond beaches and restaurants in the Kona and Kailua-Kona Coast areas, a 4×4 definitely is a consideration. Check here for car rental deals.

Planning guides

Great for planning, and you’ll want to pack it along for the trip – check out Lonely Planet’s Hawaii the Big Island. Or search out all of the Hawaii guidebook options on chapters.indigo.ca or on Amazon If you prefer immediate access in e-book format you can get that through Chapters/Indigo as well, or at ebooks.com

I’ve written about many of the beaches on the Kona side previously, which we revisited on our rest days. In fact, last year we rented twin scooters and visited eight. Link here to get a run down on some magic places to spend a restful beach day: Touring Hawaii’s Big Island Kona Coast Beaches by Scooter

Aloha!

One resource we found extremely valuable was Lonely Planet’s Hawaii the Big Island. Be aware it was written in 2017 though, prior to some volcanic activity since then in the southern regions. We’ve updated you here with our experiences since then.

Looking for cheap flights to Kona? Be sure to check out CheapOair.com (or CheapOair.ca if you’re searching from Canada). They make it easy to compare flight deals across different airline options. Their When to Buy Flights Tool is handy for planning. Plus you find car rental deals and accommodation through them too if you’re wanting to pinch the pennies across the board – who isn’t? Get your guide is a great online listing for booking tours, activities and attractions while on the Big Island, and there are often deals when booking in advance.

Save up to 40% on hotel booking

I also love what BookingCredits.com is doing in the accommodation space. Most hotel booking sites have access to rates not available to the public, but are required by the hotel to sell them at a the retail price. When you book your stay, they will pocket the difference between what you paid, and their commission — as profit. With BookingCredits.com instead of pocketing all the margin as profit, they give the majority of that back to you. Booking Credits was founded by former travel industry experts including the President of Delta Vacations and Senior executives from Expedia. There’s no membership required, and the credit goes back as cash on your credit card within 60 days of your booking. A simple, but cool concept! Do an accommodation search HERE and check them out.

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