If you came to Hawai‘i not to sit on the beach, but instead to do a lot of sightseeing where it’s not too hot, this region is ideal for you. Whether you’re starting your trip from the east or west side of the island, you’ll want to plan around being in Waipi‘o Valley during the morning when the weather is better and when the majority of organized trips are set to leave. Unless you’re going to do an overnight hiking trip through the valley, you really only need a day to see the valley and trek down it in whatever capacity.

It will be hard to walk away from the most awe-inspiring sky you might ever see.Since the Hamakua Coast drive, without stops, actually is only 45 minutes, it can easily be completed in an afternoon even if you make several stops along the way. If you plan ahead, you can book reservations for a tasting at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company and/or trapezing through the World Botanical Gardens with Zip Isle. No planning is required to stop at any of the scenic overlooks of parks along the highway.

A woman on a Zip Isle zipline crosses a stream on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Zip through thousands of beautiful plant species and across streams with Zip Isle. Photo © Botanical World Adventures.

It’s unfortunate that there isn’t more to see in Waimea because there is so much good food that you’ll want to stay all day. I recommend visiting Waimea as a way to cool off from the hot afternoons of the Kohala Coast or to pick up provisions on your way to Mauna Kea. Stroll through the stores at Parker Square or schedule a private tour with arts and crafts projects for the kids at Anna Ranch Heritage Center before heading to dinner.

Regardless of how much time you want to spend at the top of Mauna Kea, it’s important to account for how much time it will take to get there. First there is traveling on the Saddle Road to the observatory access road, which can take about an hour from Waimea, depending on weather. Then, the drive up to the visitors center takes an additional half hour and an additional 40 minutes to the summit after you’ve spent time at the visitors center to acclimate to the altitude. If you’re driving in the dark, these travel times can be much longer.

The point is, a trip to Mauna Kea is hardly a quick jaunt and especially is not quick if you’re traveling on a group tour. Those planning on traveling to the summit to catch the sunset should leave a few hours ahead of time and even earlier if you might hike around the area first. After sunset, most visitors to Mauna Kea reconvene at the visitors center for an hour or two of star and planet gazing. Don’t expect to head down before 8pm—it will be hard to walk away from the most awe-inspiring sky you might ever see.

The crystal-clear air and lack of dust and light pollution make the Mauna Kea Observatory Complex the best in the world.

The crystal-clear air and lack of dust and light pollution make the Mauna Kea Observatory Complex the best in the world. Photo © Vadim Kurland, licensed Creative Commons Attribution,


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.