There's something about driving to the 'end of the road' that I find completely enthralling. To be able to go no further, to reach the edge of a frontier land to where vehicles cannot venture, demonstrates that thankfully the earth hasn't yet been completely covered in asphalt. It's good to know that there are still some wild places left on the planet.
Hawaii Belt Road (route 19) north of Hilo is such a road. It has to be one of the most scenic drives in the world. The road stretches from Hilo all the way to where it ends at Waipi'o Valley lookout on the north end of Hamakua Coast.
I set out on my day trip along this road with the Waipi'o Valley lookout as my intended destination, but a quiet voice inside me reminded me that my journey in Hawaii (and in life!) is more about 'going with the flow' and enjoying each moment rather than being focussed on or attached to a destination. With that in mind I decided I would just see where the road took me.
I joined route 19 at the Hilo Bay area near the beautiful Wailoa River State Park. The road winds its way around the bay and offers picturesque views. I took a deep breath but the air was not so fresh - the 'vog' (volcanic smog) was particularly dense due to the trade winds that keep the south-east part of the island relatively vog-free being unusually absent. As I drove out of Hilo town and took the Four-Mile Scenic Drive at the halfway point between markers 8 and 7 on Hawaii Belt Rd, the densely forested road took on an eerie demeanor as the vog vapour moved through the trees. It was as thick as though a forest fire had been lit. I journeyed on, enjoying the drive despite the strange feeling of suddenly being in a smoggy third world city.
The quaint country road was complete with dilapidated buildings and tiny unattended gift shops and galleries. I treated myself to some 'window shopping only'. I felt like I had stepped into a very old and authentic part of Hawaii, a feeling of timelessness prevailed.
Back on the road again, as I turned a corner I caught a glimpse of the beautiful Onomea Bay with its surrounding cliffs spilling into the azure blue ocean below. There was a convenient (unofficial) pullout with a stunning vista of the bay. The vog seemed to have cleared enough to see a remarkable view. I parked on the narrow strip and walked down to the black rock beaches - the trail borders a Botanical Garden and I was surrounded by many colourful tropical plants. The place felt incredibly remote and yet just a short drive from Hilo town.
Back on the scenic route, I accessed the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden entrance. It was a wonderful place to have lunch and take in the beauty of Hawaii's native plants. Relaxed in knowing that I had no particular destination to get to, I took time to allow the rainbow colours of the plants and the lush green of the surrounding environment to fill my soul with a restful quiet. It felt so good to just be living in the moment. It is nourishing for the soul to take time out in nature being quiet and just listening to the sounds of the earth. I felt satisfied that there was nothing to do and no place to go other than right there in that moment of time. Then I remembered the mystery and wonder of what might lay at the end of the road still undiscovered, and I walked back to the car to continue on to the next part of the journey.
Updated 2023 Hawaii Visitor Guides
If you're visiting Hawaii soon, be sure to download a copy of one of our updated 2023 Hawaii Visitor Guides. We've updated the packets with a lot of new great information for potential visitors (and for those who've been a time or two as well).