Hawaii Adventure - Big Island secrets
Waimea - Big Island Adventure GuideHawaii the Big Island Adventure Guide
| saddle road |Waimea, the Big Island of Hawaii


“The universe is a big place, perhaps the biggest.” – Kurt Vonnegut

W.M. Keck Observatory (65-1120 Mamalahoa Hwy, 885- 7887, www.keckobservatory.org) is the base of operations for the pair of telescopes that are perhaps the most recognizable installations on the summit of Mauna Kea. The bright white, twin spheres actually work as a single telescope to peer far into space, identifying new planets and pioneering other impressive astronomical endeavors. The Waimea headquarters are where the astronomers make their nightly observations, interfacing with the telescopes via computers rather than experiencing the ill effects of high altitude at the summit. There is little for the visitor to do at the observatory, though there is a mildly interesting video available for viewing, as well as an “information kiosk” that provides an overview of the telescopes, current science and goals of the observatory. Select “Planet Quest” on the touch screen for a slick production that will get you pumped about all the planets these folks have discovered. Ironically, there are two public restrooms in the Keck offices at the summit of Mauna Kea, but none here. Open 8 am-4 pm Mon-Sat.

Where to Shop

Byrd’s Audio Supply (64-974 Mamalahoa Highway, 885- 5002). This independent music store is really cool, with a large selection of Hawaiian and reggae music, as well as the pop, rock and soul standards. The owner has made numerous pilgrimages to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which we consider a mark of a true music lover. Byrd’s has its own flavor, with staff album picks, posters on the walls, Waipi`o surf shirts, music and surf DVDs, and a friendly staff that will offer to open your CD for you so that you don’t have to hassle with all that sticky cellophane. Open 10 am-6 pm Mon-Fri, until 5 pm on Sat.

Waimea Music Exchange (65-1291 Kawaihae Road, Suite 102, 885-8900). Musicians will want to head to Waimea Music Exchange for gorgeous guitars and `ukuleles, some keyboards and amplifiers, and music books. Open 10 am-5 pm Mon-Fri, 10 am-4 pm Sat.

Big Island Surf Co. (885-9283). The surf shop (part of a chain) in the Waimea Center has swimwear, rash guards, sunglasses, beach towels, skateboards and surf and body boards. Open 9:30 am-5:30 pm Mon-Fri, 9 am-5:30 pm Sat, 10 am-5 pm Sun.

Big Al’s Cycles and More (65-1290 Kawaihae Road, 877- 1326). Motorcyclists have to go to Big Al’s, especially if you want to cruise around on a “hog” while you’re here. Big Al’s is home to Slick Harley Rentals (989-5544), which rents Harley-Davidson motorcycles by the half-day ($100) or full day (nine hours, $130). Open 9 am-5 pm Tues-Wed, 10 am- 4 pm Thurs-Sat, 9 am-1 pm Sun.

Basically Bamboo (64-957 Mamalahoa Highway, 885- 7722, www.basicallybamboo.com). Tucked in the back of the Fukishima store, Basically Bamboo showcases products made with bamboo, such as lamps, ladders, clip boards, bed frames, flutes, furniture and even clothing. It’s amazing what can be done with this renewable resource. Open 9:30 am-1:30 pm Mon-Sat.

Gallery of Great Things (885-7706) lives up to its name, though it’s more of a store than a gallery. Feather headdresses and a mango rocking chair, butterflies behind plexiglass and antique Buddhas, marble cribbage boards and beaded dolphin art – the store’s inventory is indeed out of the ordinary. Open 9 am-5:30 pm Mon-Sat, 10 am-4 pm Sun.

Sweet Wind Books ’n Beads (885-0562) is a New Age store specializing in books and beading supplies, as well as jewelry, tarot cards, music, and cards with Hawaiian proverbs. Read the flyers posted outside for information about yoga classes or visiting Tibetan lamas. Open 9:30 am-5:30 pm Mon-Fri, 9:30 am-5 pm Sat, 11 am-4 pm Sun.

Waimea General Store (65-1279 Kawaihae Road, 885-4479) Waimea General Store sells needlepoint supplies, Hawaiian books and cookbooks, baby blankets, cookware, Crabtree & Evelyn shaving supplies, journals, coffee, teas, macadamia nuts, “gecko eggs” bubble gum… the kitchen sink must be in there somewhere. Open 10 am-5:30 pm Mon-Sat, until 4 pm Sun.

Where to Stay

Kamuela Inn (Kawaihae Rd, 885-4243, www.kamuelainn. com, 31 rooms and suites $59-$185) may be Waimea’s budget accommodation option, but the simple rooms are clean, cozy, and what they may lack in amenity they make up for in price. The original “wing” contains the more economical rooms, while rooms in the new “Mauna Kea wing” are more spacious and contain newer furnishings and larger windows with views of said mountain. They also offer a range of “penthouse” and “executive” suites that boast a greater choice of frills, including lanais, wet bars, living areas and full kitchens. This motel-style inn is centrally located just off Waimea’s restaurant row, within easy walking distance of galleries and shops. The property is about 100 yards from the road, so it’s quieter than typical off-the-highway places. On our last stay, there were quite a few temporary workers here, drinking beer in the parking lot but otherwise causing no trouble. Rates include a continental breakfast. $-$$$

Belle Vue Cottages and Suites (Konokohau Rd, 885- 7732, toll free 800-772-5044, www.hawaii-bellevue.com, two rooms $95-$175). This is perched high above Waimea, with astounding views across to Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and the Kohala and Kona coasts. As owner Gayland Baker puts it, “We can get up in the morning and see how the waves are breaking.” Considering they’re at nearly 3,000 ft. above sea level, that’s an impressive boast. Both of their rooms have this amazing view, as well as a host of amenities, including kitchenettes, living rooms and private baths. Despite the jawdropping views, the property is within easy walking distance (going down, anyway) of Waimea’s finest restaurants and shops. Rates include breakfast, fruit basket and fresh-picked tropical flowers. $$-$$$

Where to Eat

Edelweiss (65-1299 Kawaihae Road, 885-6800). This is the place for German food and beer. Edelweiss has a breathtaking, rich wood décor and heavy, creamy dishes from Chef Hans Peter Hager. Lunch includes burgers and sandwiches like bratwurst and sauerkraut. Dinner features complete meals that include soup, salad, vegetable and coffee or tea, such as the chicken liver omelette ($23.50) or the filet mignon with green pepper sauce ($29.50). There is also a light dinner menu. We once thought we’d have a happy hour drink and a snack here before dinner, and ordered 16-ounce German beers and the croute aux champignon. The “snack” turned out to be a mass of white wine cream sauce and mushrooms on top of bread, and we were so full we had to cancel our dinner plans. Open Tues-Sat for lunch at 11 am-1 pm and dinner at 5-8 pm. $$$

Waimea Coffee Co. (65-1279 Kawaihae Road, 885-2100, toll free 800-854-5662, www.waimeacoffeecompany.com). Located in Parker Square next to Waimea General Store, Waimea Coffee Co. has outdoor seating in the courtyard, which is lined with red hibiscus bushes, or indoors on couches. Breakfast is served until 11 am and includes bagel sandwiches, such as the spinach, bacon, Swiss cheese and egg, or oatmeal and raisins. Lunch is served until 3 pm and is mainly sandwiches, wraps and salads, including hot pastrami or an ahi salad sandwich. The coffee is excellent, and pairs well with desserts such as white chocolate liliko`i cheesecake, or the chocolate mac-nut torte. Whole bean Kona, organic and other fine coffee is sold by the pound or half-pound here and at their online store. Open 7 am-5 pm Mon-Fri, 8 am-5 pm Sat, 9 am-4 pm Sun. $-$$

Kamuela Coffee N’ Cones (65-1158 Mamalahoa Highway #14, 885-8566). “How many kids can say, ‘My grandma owns an ice cream shop’?” asked Debbie Davis, owner of Kamuela Coffee N’ Cones, as she sent one of her grandkids off with a cone. She says she opened the store for that reason, which is one incentive to support her with your business – but so is the double espresso, or the coconut ice cream. Open 7 am- 6 pm Mon-Fri, 9 am-5 pm Sat, noon-5 pm Sun. $


Kahilu Theatre (67-1186 Lindsey Road, 885-6868, www.kahilutheatre.org). Located behind the Parker Ranch Center, the Kahilu Theatre is a performing arts center, attracting national acts in music for concerts, as well as ballet and other dance troupes like the Beijing Modern Dance Company. The theater, which seats 500 people, has a rotating art exhibit in the lobby and volunteers distributing programs at the entrances. The Waimea theater set gets all dressed up for a night on the town – we’ve seen little kids wearing ties – even for rowdy acts like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, who were pretty confused that hardly anyone was dancing for their show one Fat Tuesday. A nice bonus for your ticket is free pupus like shrimp and corn fritters from Merriman’s for an hour before the event. This is also the venue for the annual `Ukulele and Slack Key Guitar Institute in November, which offers public concerts, workshops, and jam sessions. Schedule and tickets available online or through the box office 9 am- 3 pm Mon-Fri. WHAT’S IN A NAME? Troubadour Richard Smart, the last heir of Parker Ranch, who performed on Broadway and in cabarets around the world for nearly 30 years, named the Kahilu Theatre after his mother, Annie Thelma Kahiluonapuaapiilani Parker. She died the year after his birth, soon followed by his father, leaving him an orphan who inherited the entire Parker Ranch estate.

Saddle Road


Pu’u O’o Trail (not to be confused with the Pu’u O’o in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park) Difficulty: Moderately difficult Distance: 8.75 miles, loop; or less with up-and-backs from either trailhead Time: 4-6 hours

This trail wanders in and out of dripping wet kipukas, over seemingly endless lava flows and past a small lava tube before joining up with Powerline Road near Emesine Cave. (Note: this is not the Pu`u O`o in Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park that has been erupting continuously since 1983.) It is mainly popular with birdwatchers, as many of Hawaii’s native honeycreepers live here. It is not a mind-blowing walk, and you won’t find any jaw-dropping vistas, but it’s a unique environment and a pleasant way to pass the day along the Saddle Road.We always do this as a loop, returning along the Powerline Road after a trip through the lava tube, as described here. You can shorten the hike by simply venturing out and back from either trailhead.

Park at the Powerline Road turnoff, just south of the 22 mile marker on Saddle Road. While the loop can be done in either direction, we prefer to walk along Saddle Road first. Turn left (west) and walk to the Pu`u O`o trailhead, about 8/10 mile down the road on your left. Then simply follow the trail as it tracks southeast across lava flows from the Mauna Loa eruptions of 1855 and 1881. It seems that each kipuka farther along has richer vegetation and a larger population of birds. About 2¾ miles in is a small lava tube on the left side of the trail. A low ceiling requires a tight squeeze to access the first room of the cave, which is littered with animal bones. More squeezes into the dark lead to a second room, but it appears to close off. If you’re claustrophobic and don’t want to explore the cave, you can have a snack in the sheltered entrance, or use binoculars to identify birds in the adjacent kipuka (this is particularly useful when it’s raining).

It’s another 1¾ miles to the Powerline Road junction from here, across several more lava flows and kipuka. At the time of writing, the ahu – rock piles that mark the trail across lava flows – were well maintained and reasonably easy to follow. A sign marks the junction with Powerline Road. Turn left and head north back toward Saddle Road. Emesine Cave (see below) is a half-mile down the road on your left. Then it’s just under three miles back to the road, and your vehicle.

“The earth is what we all have in common.” – Wendell Barry

Emesine Cave (Na Ala Hele, _974-4217, www.hawaiitrails.org). This lightly-used lava tube retains a wealth of subterranean features, and is so far off the beaten track that it is unlikely you’ll encounter another soul. The prominent characteristic is lava glaze, smooth “melted” surfaces that range in color alternately from copper to silver. Additional features include nearly constant flow ledges, aprons, roots and rare (in Hawaii) tubular lava stalactites, which are long-frozen ceiling drips.

Bring backup lights: The last thing you want to do is get to the back of this cave and lose your light. It’s unlikely anyone will be around anytime soon to get you, and no one will hear your screams. So, bring AT LEAST one backup light (three flashlights or headlamps is the norm). Jeans, gloves and helmets are also recommended.

The trail to the cave is along Powerline Road, a straight-line access that once ran power over the eastern shoulder of Mauna Loa. Some of the cut power poles can still be seen along the path. While there is little elevation change, loose rocks make for difficult walking, especially if you are on the return leg of the full loop and have additionally spent a couple hours groping around in a cave. The entrance to Emesine Cave will be on your right side about 2.8 miles from the road. There’s a brown and gold sign labeling the cave and warning that permits are required, so it is difficult to miss the entrance. Access to the cave is through a large skylight, which is a bit challenging to descend. There should be some stacked rocks at the lip to make the step down a bit easier. Since this is simply a roof collapse, the lava tube is accessible in two directions. The western entrance on the far side of the skylight is more difficult to explore due to a much lower ceiling near the entrance and beyond. It’s a good way to put a crick in your back, but may be worth exploring if you still have enough energy after checking out the other side.

The main entrance on the eastern side provides easy access to a gorgeous, pristine cave. The first section is a must, as it progresses through many of the amazing features more abundant farther on, before arriving at a vegetated skylight about five to 10 minutes in. Following the breakdown (roof collapse), the tube winds downhill in a gently snaking tube that’s filled with exceptional formations. There are many breakdowns along the way, which is a little bit freaky and gives the impression that the tube is unstable. Generally, though, most breakdowns occur during the initial cooling period rather than years later. You’ll know it’s time to turn around when you reach an impassable breakdown in about an hour.

Authors’ Note: There’s a sign in front of Emesine Cave that says you need a permit from DLNR, but no one at the office seems to have heard about it. We’ve called, visited several offices in person, left messages for “experts” who supposedly would call us back. Nothing. So having a permit doesn’t seem to be an issue if you’d like to visit (just bring backup lights and don’t remove anything).

Hawaii Forest and Trail (331-8505, toll free 800-464- 1993, www.hawaii-forest.com) is an outstanding ecotourism company; in fact, they were named the 2006 Ecotour Operator of the Year by the Hawaii Ecotourism Association. Their knowledgeable guides lead birding tours just 18 times a year (as specified by their special permit) to a meadow in Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge that is off-limits to the public. The cost of a full-day tour is $155 and includes lunch, snacks, water, rain gear, day packs, walking sticks and binoculars.

The company also offers tours to other parts of the island.


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