Rugged coastline overshot by waterfalls, wild beautiful beaches and forested interior slide past on the Big Island's east coast. Less visited than other parts of the island, the main road winds past old sugar towns, now quiet, and sandy shores where the silence is broken by the crashing surf.
Break the drive with side-trips into the small towns off highway 19, or stop for some exercise on the trails of Kalopa State Recreation Area before the road branches, continuing north on 240 or heading east on 19. The drive itself is probably one of the region's biggest attractions—the landscape, from blustering seas to calm, sunny skies over green valleys and steep headlands is something like the Pacific Northwest with tropical foliage. Foamy surf breaks here on relatively rocky beaches; consequently most tourists come for the views, not the swimming or snorkeling.
While caution is advisable if you do decided to get your feet wet in these waters, somehow the setting makes this sacrifice acceptable. The road ends at Waipio Valley, where the lush green lowlands stand in sharp contrast to the looming mass of land behind, a bluff from which waterfalls cascade into the dark blue sea below. Be forewarned that the road to Waipio can be all but impassable for anything other than 4WD vehicles.
Hike up to the top along Muliwai trail for views down the coast. If you'd rather not use your legs to earn the vistas, book a guided horseback tour of the ridge. ATV trips are also available out of Waipio Valley for those more comfortable on four-wheelers than four-legged creatures.
The Hamakua Coast runs for 50 miles north of Hilo to Waipio along highway 19 and Route 240.