Hawaii Adventure - Big Island secrets
Ka'u - Big Island Adventure GuideHawaii the Big Island Adventure Guide

Adventures

Road to the Sea

With the promise of two black-and-green sand beaches, rugged coastline and few people, the Road to the Sea has been drawing more and more visitors down its difficult track in recent years. This, of course, somewhat defeats the purpose, as it is harder to find solitude here than in the past. This is undoubtedly what led some disappointed tourists to comment to us during our last trip down here that it “just wasn’t worth it.” However, for hopeless beachcombers or those who crave challenging driving conditions, it’s still possible to have an enjoyable and satisfying experience.

The name pretty much says it all. This bumpy road drops along a nearly straight line 1500 feet down to the rocky southern coast of the island. It crosses miles of bleak a`a lava from an older Mauna Loa flow. While it may be tempting to try this journey in a standard, low-clearance rental car, it would be foolish. Most of the road would only put a minor beating on the vehicle, but there is a section halfway down that would almost certainly be too much. The car might make it down, but it won’t make it back up. And you don’t want to have to pay for a tow truck to haul you out of here. You can’t afford it.

With a 4WD, the six mile drop isn’t too difficult, but the road is rough. We’ve seen cars broken down all over this road. One pair of Texans passed us in a rented Jeep doing about 40 mph, but we had no problem overtaking them later as they were fastening on a new tire. “We’ve been beatin’ on this thing all weekend,” one of them said sheepishly when we asked if they were OK. “It finally popped.” Ultimately, it can be faster to take your time. Plan for at least a half hour for the trip down, but 45 minutes is the smarter move. The first beach is at the end of the road. It’s small, with a modest span of fluffy black and green sand. The beach drops steeply toward the water, which produces a harsh shore break most days. Swimming here is nearly always foolhardy. Farther south, the road ends by a point where you might see some fishermen, and a tide pool that’s suitable for a refreshing dip. On big surf days, the waves break on the rocks and spray wildly and harmlessly over the pool.

A second, much larger beach is accessible by those with hardy 4WD rides, or a pair of sturdy legs. From the end of the road, travel 0.3 miles back toward the highway, then veer left into a rough lava road. Shortly, a road takes off sharply to the left, and a sign is visible welcoming visitors to Manuka Bay State Reserve. It sure looks like you should drive that way, BUT DON’T. The road is incredibly rough and ends unapologetically 50 yards or so past the sign. On the bright side, there is a turn around for those who don’t heed our warning. Continue another 0.1 miles and take that left. It becomes clear pretty quickly how harsh the road is going to be on your vehicle. Expect to dispatch your co-pilot to check for clearance at regular intervals, and don’t be surprised if one of those lava knives manages to burst through a rubber tire when a couple of tons come down on it.

After a half mile, you’ll come over a particularly nasty drop to a wide sandy lot. Consider parking here and walking the last half mile. If you are a glutton for punishment, however, continue on the road over some decent, some nasty and some downright twisted road until you reach a large pu`u (hill). You can park here or drive all the way down to the beach. There will likely be some other vehicles down here, and possibly large encampments, but refrain from driving on the sand, as you will be destroying the eggs of the rare and endangered hawksbill turtle. This beach is large, and made up of fine black and green sand. On calm days, the swimming might be more reasonable here, but again the beach drops steeply to the break and is exposed to the open ocean.

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” – G.K. Chesterton

Ocean View

Where to Stay

Bougainvillea Bed and Breakfast (929-7089, toll free 800- 688-1763, www.bougainvilleabedandbreakfast.com, 4 rooms, $75 with a two night minimum) Extras like a pool, hot tub and pineapple patch mean that this B&B offers a few more amenities than others in this area. However, the rooms are beginning to fray around the edges a bit, and we’ve heard that young children aren’t a good fit here. Breakfast is included. $$

Where to Eat

Anuenue Natural Foods (525 Lotus Blossom Lane, 929- 7550) This is a small natural food grocery store that has a deli case with cold sandwiches and snacks like hummus, and a hot lunch weekdays from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm Each day has a different theme, like Italian on Thursdays, featuring eggplant parmesan and four cheese ravioli. Open 9 a.m. – 5:30 p. m. Mon. – Fri., 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sun. $

“Man, when you lose your laugh, you lose your footing.” – Ken Kesey

Mister Bells (92-8754 Hawaii Blvd., 929-7447) A bright mural greets you as you approach this somewhat grotty place with big portions – the fish and chips are giant. There are good-and-greasy pupus like mozzarella sticks and wings, and entrees ranging from $15-$22, like surf and turf. You can wash it down with a 16- or 20-oz. beer. In addition to the dining room, there is an adjacent, smoky bar with signs posted that they have zero tolerance for fighting and that due to abuse, people can no longer run tabs. If you want to experience some serious stink eye (at the very least), go to their Wednesday or Friday night karaoke sessions. Whew! Open daily for breakfast 7 am-11 am (11:30 am Sun), lunch 11 am-5 pm (noon to 5 pm Sun), and dinner 5-9 pm $$

Wai`ohinu

Where to Stay

Shirikawa Motel (95-6040 Mamalahoa Hwy, 929-7462, www.shirakawamotel.com, 12 rooms, $43-$65) This well-worn little motel is run by the friendly Shirakawa family, who keep some lovely plants and flowers growing on the property. That said, the rooms are a bit threadbare and lack most modern amenities. However, the price makes this a reasonable option if you are determined to spend the night in Ka`u and don’t want to buck out for one of the B&Bs. They have a few rooms with kitchenette, and two with TV. The motel is centrally located, just a stone’s throw from the Mark Twain Monkeypod tree. $

Hobbit House B&B (929-9755, www.hi-hobbit.com, one suite, $175 with a three night minimum) Sitting on seven acres high above the Ka`u coast, the Hobbit House delivers unbeatable views, solitude and a fanciful suite of rooms powered by the sun and wind. While a 4WD is required to negotiate the steep road up to the hideaway, you’ll find it well worth it when you’re relaxing in a luxurious bath surrounded by stained glass windows or sitting in the picture window pondering the southernmost point in the U.S. Anumber of trees bear abundant goodies for guest, including avocado, Ka`u oranges and macadamia nuts. A hearty continental breakfast is included. $$$

“Live in rooms full of light.” – Cornelius Celsus

Na’alehu

Where to Eat

Na`alehu Theatre (929-9133) The Na`alehu Theatre is a local landmark, recognized by the picture of a turtle painted on its roof. It was built in 1940 to screen movies for up to 550 people, which it stopped doing in the 1980s. The current owners still host special events here, like community fundraisers and music classes, and plan to revive the Friday night “dinner and movie.” For now, it’s a delicious place for breakfast and lunch weekdays, with a few tables set outside among old posters for movies like Orson Welles in “Citizen Kane.” This is the place to come for individually prepared goodies like a portabello and gorgonzola sandwich with roasted peppers and sundried tomato mayo, Hawaii smoked pork wrap, or a spinach and feta omelette. There is high speed internet available for $6/hour and the theatre doubles as a “museum.” Open 8 am-4 pm Mon-Fri $- $$

Shaka Restaurant (929-7404) Shaka Restaurant, a.k.a. “the most southern bar in the USA,” serves typical food – burgers, stir fries and lots of fried munchies in the dining room or bar area. We were pretty happy here (and planned to watch the Superbowl here because of the No. 4 pupu of jalapeno poppers, fried mush- rooms, mozzarella sticks and onion rings) until the bill came and we found we’d been intentionally overcharged (we’d also watched another table of guests argue over their bill and receive a refund). Not sure if this is the restaurant policy or the work of one employee who’ll most likely be fired, but you’ll definitely want to scrutinize your bill. Bummer. Open daily for breakfast and lunch 10 am-5 pm, dinner 5-9 pm $$

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