Onomea Bay
Onomea Bay

Onomea Bay

Papaikou, Big Island of Hawaii, Hawaii

The basics

Sugarcane and taro once grew near Onomea Bay—and the 600-foot (182-meter) Donkey Trail is an old route leading from the mill to the water. The trailhead is past the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. Combine the trek with a short walk along Old Mamalahoa Highway to Onomea Trail, a half-mile (.8 kilometer) jaunt to the coast's gnarly trees, lava outcrops, and wicked surf. Or, see the crashing waters, verdant jungles, and collapsed Onomea Arch from the road.

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Things to know before you go

  • If you’re driving, come from the south (Hilo). The road is curvy and narrow; going in this direction keeps the pull-offs on your side.

  • Much of the hiking trails course through the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden; stay on the paths to avoid trespassing.

  • Don’t tackle this drive or these hikes in the rain—it can get dangerous.

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How to get there

If you want to take the scenic drive, take Highway 19 north out of Hilo and up the coast. At mile marker 7.5, you’ll see a sign that says “Scenic Drive,” ushering you to the right. Take it—it’ll pop you back out at Highway 19 in 4 miles ((6.4-kilometers). For the hikes, the trailheads are also on this road (Old Mamalahoa Highway) toward the mid-point, roughly .5 miles (.8 kilometers) apart.

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When to get there

The road never closes, but it’s good practice to only come here when it’s sunny—rain can make this narrow road and its hiking paths dangerous. Beyond that, many visitors say they prefer the soft morning light, which gives the jungle a golden glow. If you can swing sunrise, this is a spectacular spot to see it.

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A garden bonus

Saving the best for last: The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is spectacular. As the sign reads, it’s a “beautiful garden in a valley on the ocean.” Don’t picture rows of roses—this is an oasis where rare plants have been allowed to thrive amongst streams, waterfalls, and dense jungle. Consider it a natural extension of your time on Onomea Bay.

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