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It's easy to drive through the district of Ka`u and the town of Na`alehu. So easy, that the average visitor doesn't realize what they've missed. So often, the rush to get from one known tourist site to the next, given the island's size, leaves guests with little choice but to pass through those areas that are not clearly designated with tourist attractions. So, you may ask, what exactly are you missing?
Historically, Ka`u has a couple of very interesting layers. Looking around, it's hard to imagine that this area was once home to several villages and many thousands of Hawaiians. The spirit of those pioneers continues to echo across the Ka`u landscape. A search for petroglyphs and other significant sights in Ka'u can turn up some surprising and interesting discoveries. The heiau and mooring holes at Ka Lae, popularly know as South Point, are easily overlooked.
More obvious is the recent history of the plantation era. Na`alehu and Pahala were shaped by sugar and the layout of the towns reflects this. From the old Hutchison mill at Honuapo to the remnants of the C. Brewer sugar operations in Pahala, the ethnic cultures that shaped Ka'u through immigration are still fully evident.
Papakolea Green Sand Beach at Mahana Bay has become a very popular activity. Although you will see a lot of illegal traffic, the only legal way to access this beach it is to hike to it or arrive by boat. The land is owned by the Department of Hawaiian Homelands and they have posted signs prohibiting vehicles from driving off of the paved roads. These signs are often destoyed and may not be present when you visit, but that is rule. The hike is 2 1/2 miles and takes about an hour. Given the major erosion that vehicles are causing, the rugged trip by 4x4 takes almost as long. If you stay in the area and go early in the morning, you will be just about the only ones out there. The winds are strong at the point, but less so early in the morning.
Punalu`u Black Sand Beach is a popular stop for many, but few visitors plan adequate time to explore the area and its history. There are enjoyable coastal hikes going in both directions that lead to historical finds. This small bay has plenty of cold fresh water and is a popular place for seeing green sea turtles. It was recently funded with a county lifeguard and is suitable for swimming, but it does have a rip or swirl tide just past the boat ramp, so if in doubt, stay out.
Honomolino Gray Sand Beach is a remote beach that is accessible through the equally remote village of Milolii. The hike is through a coastal area that is a cross between low lying dry forest and salt water tidal zones. It takes about 20 or 30 minutes and culminates at a lovely cresent beach wrapping around a small bay. This is for the adventurous traveler and some planning is recommended.
White Sand Beach at Pohue Bay is not actually a beach. The white sand does not extend to the water. Moreover, this area is not currently accessible and is best viewed from a distance from the Ka Lae, the southern tip of the Hawaiian Islands.
The coastal hikes that these geographical wonders inspire are extrodinary moments in and of themselves, giving the hiker a real sense of aloneness that dramatically alter their awareness of the aina (land). The great crack, Wood Valley, and the upland dry forest are some other worthwhile adventures.There are good places to stay and there is good food available in the Na`alehu area for anyone interested in taking the slower road to their next designated tourist attraction.
There is a Ka`u Farmers' Market that meets in front of ACE Hardware lawn from 7:30-2:00 on Wednesday and Saturdays. They feature fresh grown local produce, local artisans, fruit vendors, local coffees, baked goods, and occasional guest vendors with a variety of unique products. This market is popular with local residents, with many of them doing most of their weekly produce shopping there. Fresh local tomatoes, potatoes, corn, papaya, banana, and citrus are just a few of the farm fresh goodies. Keep an eye out for delicious cookies as well!
Flyin' Hawaiian Coffee is a retro mobile Espresso "wagon" that parks next to the Farmer's Market on Wed., Sat. & Monday. Hours are 8:00 AM - 3:00 PM. World famous Ka'u coffee is served as well as frosty "Killer Chillers", lattes, mochas & chai. The home-baked espresso fudge brownies alone are worth the drive!
On the second Saturday of every month a Historical Garden Tour from 10- 2 PM, featuring Hawaii Plants from all over the island, is offered at Na`ohuelua Historical Garden on the Kamaoa Road.