Touring around the BIG Island of Hawaii

I went from “0-60” in just a few months! No, not in a car. On a bike. Not an ordinary bike, but a Kona Sutra gravel/touring bike. How did this come about? I’ve been an avid “supported” bike tourist for over thirty years and when I heard about a trip some buddies were taking across Mexico, self-contained, it aroused my curiosity. I was too late to prepare for that trip, but the next trip was similar to the upcoming “Big Island” (Hawaii) self-contained ride, a nine-day bicycle tour. I spent the next few months researching bicycles and the various accessories one needs to accomplish such a tour. In the end, nearly everything worked out great. Weight-wise, my bike was probably the “middle weight” of the bunch. With bike/bags it weighed around eighty pounds! Thanks to Jerry for organizing/planning the trip and the other Steve for his efforts.

Beg of ride

Day 1: Sheraton@Kailua to Hookena Beach Park

Steve and I took an Uber XL down to the Sheraton Resort in Captain Cook Area. We assembled the bicycles and fortunately there was a bike repair facility inside the hotel. They loaned their floor pump, as pumping 85 PSI is a long, long way to go on bicycle touring tires with a hand pump! Jerry showed up at the hotel later and then we began riding on Highway 160, a secondary road to Highway 11. Even though it was a secondary road, there was a lot of traffic. I noticed lots of big pickup trucks with tires extending out the wheel wells with fishing equipment hanging out the back. Immediately, lots and lots of climbing and there’s no time to warm up. Nice views of the ocean from the road. We had a chance to go on a lower elevation road, but didn’t take it. I think that was a mistake because traffic became worse on the small two-lane road, not safe for cycling. We eventually found Rocco’s Pizza and had a very nice lobster and garlic and tomato pizza, (only on Fridays) plenty of beer, and salad. And live entertainment, too! After that we continued riding towards the campground, finally turning right, down a moderate to very steep rickety road with fantastic views of the ocean. We rode about 1,000 feet to sea level in two miles and tomorrow morning we had to climb up that damn road! Stayed at Hookena Beach Park, very crowded with car campers. It was noisy with lots of wet sand. Not my kind of place, but we had little choice. It rained on and off all night and into the morning. Usually just a hard drizzle for brief amount of time, maybe 5-10 minutes and then stopped. Fortunately, the tent survived its first rain experience well.


Abandoned car

Another abandoned car

Day 2: Hookena Beach Park to Whittington Beach Park

After having to wait until the woman showed up late to give me back our camping deposits, I finally left for the big climb, two miles in a thousand feet. With eighty pounds of equipment, it was a tough climb. We continued on 11 South. A lot less traffic than yesterday; about 10% of the drivers were jerks on day 1 (see above). The considerate 90% gladly gave us lots of road room which was greatly appreciated. After a couple of hours, we finally caught up with Jerry and rode together. The first place we found we ate at because we were quite hungry. We continued southbound down the coast. Lots of downhill today. Stopped at a macadamia nut farm and talked to the owner. Very nice guy who sold everything he owned and his business and moved out of the Bay Area to Hawaii with his wife and two kids. Loves it here, 18 years later. Continued down a huge downhill for many, many miles to Whittington Beach Park. I found it much nicer than last night, only a couple of people camping, and no wet sand to deal with. There was no restaurant to go to for dinner, so we ate our supply of freeze dried dinner food while waiting for the phones to recharge. A local man and his young daughter came by and proceeded to have a very long conversation with us about Hawaii. Apparently, the cops are just figure heads here. All legal disputes are adjudicated neighbor-to-neighbor. And some dispense vigilante justice. Occasionally, people disappear in lava tubes or in the ocean for committing transgressions against others. Apparently, there’s a huge amount of white-collar crime amongst politicians. The same guy gave us some lychees–never had those before. They were very delicious.





Day 3: Whittington Beach Park to Hawaii Volcano National Park

Bryan, the guy we met last night and his daughter Leila, came over during our breakfast (we had banana nut bread, mac nuts, and lychees) and invited us to stay at his place a couple of days from now and get a hot shower. What a guy! The rest of the day we slogged it all the way to Hawaii Volcano NP. We stopped at the last town that had any food before the Volcano, talked with the locals a bit, and stocked up on food and drink. As we rode away it began to rain and then poured! I now had the opportunity to use the waterproof panniers covers and helmet cover. The rain turned about to be one of two times during the trip. We finally arrived at the NP. Jerry got us in for free, on account of his NP Lifetime Pass. Stopped at the visitor’s center, had a beer, and took look at the incredible crater below, Mauna Loa. The volcanoe makes its own weather, as evidenced by the picture with the “cloud.” Later on, we found out that our cabin was three miles away in the same direction that we came from! There was no Uber or any taxi available to get us back to the village area for clothes washing or dinner. So, we had to ride back to town and as we rode, we were lightly rained on (and it was cold!). Steve and I were soaked, even with windbreakers. We ate at a tasty Thai restaurant and returned back to our cabin to warm up.

Way to volcanoes

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Clouds NP

Day 4: Hawaii Volcano National Park to Bryan’s house

Always hungry in the morning, we rode back to the Volcano Lodge for a breakfast buffet– turkey hash, fresh fruit, Portuguese sausage, almonds, and Waffles–very delicious!
For me, the trip had two major highlights, aside from the scenery. Today was one of those highlight days. The plan was to ride from the NP to Hilo. I decided to take Bryan’s offer to stay with him and his family in the middle of the jungle, southeast of Hilo. The ride to his house was quite an adventure, due to the uncertainty of where I was going and Bryan’s admonishment that Google Maps couldn’t be counted upon to take me safely there, due to the fact that some roads had been wiped out by the recent lava flows. Heading towards the eastern part of the island, it was quite warm and humid. As I headed east, downhill, towards the coast, it became more and more green; and, who doesn’t love an unrelenting downhill? I stopped and talked with a local who had lived there for 46 years. Amongst other things, he asked me if I had a gun, as he recalled the road I was about to travel on as very dangerous and was “just a bunch of trees.” He was a bit kooky, to say the least and there was no danger involved. I rode through a gorgeous section of road called “Nānāwale Forest Reserve” on the way to their house. Bryan’s family farms 18 acres and leases another 21 acres. They literally grow/raise everything imaginable. Lychees, avocados, pigs, roosters, three donkeys, and other plants. They grow lots of fruit trees, including something close to a cherimoya, atemoya, Longan, Durian (known to “smell like hell, taste like heaven”), Lychee, Star Apple, and avocado. They have a large orchid business as well; I think I recognized some of their plants I purchased for gifts from Trader Joes! Bryan and Elizabeth allowed me to stay inside their house, gave me a much-needed hot shower, let me do laundry, and prepared a wonderful dinner of panko-encrusted fresh Mako shark, vegetables, and a homemade Hungarian chicken and vegetable soup. Bryan even drove me back to Hilo so I wouldn’t have to ride in the traffic. Thank you, Bryan, Elizabeth, and Leila for a wonderful experience!!


Seashore view

Nanawale Forest Reserve

Nanawale Forest Reserve again

Road to Bryan’s house

Bryan chicken

Bryan burro

Bryan orchids

Bryan family

Day 5: Hilo to Laupahoehoe Beach Park

Today’s ride began in Bryan’s van on the way to Hilo, and finally to Laupahoehoe Beach Park.
Today I experienced many interesting things. It was like cramming three days of riding into two days. After Bryan dropped me off, I headed for Bears’ Coffee Shop and had an excellent cheese souffle and smoothie. I rode to the King Kamehameha statue and took a picture there, along with a bunch of kids that were on an outing (it was the King’s birthday, btw). Finally decided to leave Hilo and traveled north on the Coast Highway, Route 19. Far fewer cars on Route 19 than Route 11 and all motorists were courteous. Stopped by a very interesting place called the Hawaii Plantation Museum. The museum volunteers insisted that I leave my bike inside the museum while Rick proceeded to give me a one-hour private tour with lots of detailed information. Even offered to take me in his truck to Akaka Falls. Another nice guy! I continued to ride towards the falls. Lots of bridges along the way and the road typically became quite narrow. One cool feature of the bridges was an on-ramp to a sidewalk on the bridge and an exit off ramp, making it an easy and safe transition. Eventually, I turned left to Akaka Falls. Turn out to be a 3-mile ride and a 1000-foot gain! On the way back I continued on Highway 19 and rolled into camp in the late afternoon. Lapuahoehoe Beach Camp was a beautiful place. Some smokers and other loud people hung out earlier in the day, but fortunately they cleared out. I awoke up to a beautiful sunrise coming over the ocean and very few other campers.

Choco store

View out of Hilo

King Kamanolea

Rick museum


Museum outside


Akaka falls

Akaka falls flower

Aloha Hilo

Day 6: Lapuahoehoe to Honokoa

Typically, there’s no restaurant or market nearby to go to for breakfast/brunch. Usually, I eat an energy bar to get the metabolism going. This morning we stumbled upon Gramma’s restaurant, a lovely place for breakfast or lunch. I had the Portuguese Hash and it was delicious.
After brunch we rode up a huge hill to see Steve’s friends, expats who have a small farm a few miles above the town. Unfortunately, no one was home. We went back to the main part of town and looked at some craft shops, drank a beer, and then rode to this evening’s B&B. It was quite rustic, to say the least, so I’m glad we stayed here for just one night. The location was nowhere near any restaurants, so we went to the market earlier and bought some groceries for tonight, including a pizza.
Earlier, I experienced a blowout flat today going uphill. Lucky I wasn’t going downhill! It appeared to be heat-related and/or a weak spot in the tube. The tire seemed to be okay.


Gramma's kitchen

Gramma chicken

Portuguese hash

Bridge view

Day 7: Honokaa to Waimea

Before breakfast we rode a mile or so to the Waipio Valley Overlook. Excellent views. Then, we returned to Gramma’s for breakfast and I had the fluffiest, lightest pancakes with blueberries that I ever tasted and, of course, they were excellent!
Steve was able to make contact with his Honokaa friends, Mike and Rhonda, and so we rode back to their farm. Mike gave us a great tour of the entire facility. They grow turmeric, white pineapple, cacao, avocados, and other fruit. Mike has been buying other country’s cacao beans and making chocolate for the past few years. We tasted all his chocolate, 70-85% cacao, and it was delicious! Instead of simply chewing up the chocolate, one is supposed to savor it on the top of the tongue and enjoy the developing flavors, like fine wine tasting.
We continued the ride to Waimea. It was much cooler in this part of the island and there was more hilly terrain. We arrived at the Bellevue Motel, which was really a house with upper and lower level. Much better than the “rustic cottage,” but they forgot to clear away the cobwebs! Later on, we met Rhonda and Mike at the Brewhaus and had a pretty good dinner there.

Waipio Valley Overlook

Waipio Lance Armstrong

Mike’s official farm name


White pineapple

Mike's farm



View south

Day 8: Waimea to Hapuna Beach State Rec Area

Today’s scenery was gorgeous and mostly downhill. Only one ornery driver angrily honked at us for “no reason.” As the pictures will tell, lots of great views looking south towards Kona. Jerry went straight into the town of Hawi (read tourist trap), so Steve and I rode down to Kohala and as far north as we could go to see the overview of the north side of the coast, Pololu Valley Lookout, the opposite end of Waipio Canyon.
We met Jerry in Hawi and hung out for a while. Nothing really special there. Then began the long, wind-blown hot downhill journey to Hapuna Beach. Jerry said it was 103 (plus humidity)! On the way down, it was Steve’s turn to get a flat. A huge nail lodged in his tire. Changing a tire in the hot sun isn’t fun, let me tell you. It was so hot we had to stop for a drink at a store. When we arrived at Hapuna, our passcode into the “cabin” wouldn’t work! After a flurry of phone calls, someone finally called back and showed up from the parks/rec dept and then the locksmith guy showed up to change the lock-thank goodness! Steve and I went down to the beach for a wonderful swim; we were quite heat soaked from the ride. And, the freshwater shower was to die for. After that, we sauntered over to the Westin for Cobb salads and dessert–very tasty! The “cabin” was an open-air A-frame, with two long benches to sleep on. Not very comfortable, but it did the job.


Looking south

Day 9: Hapuna to Sheraton@Kailua (LAST DAY)

We stopped at the Westin for breakfast before the ride, very tasty. The rest of the ride down to the Sheraton was uneventful. Warm, mostly downhill, and a nice dehydrating wind to boot. Our ride took us right through tourist ville along the coast, just feet from the surf. We dropped Jerry off near his condo, as he stayed another week, traveling with his wife. Our ride continued to produce beautiful views of the coastline as we rode to the Sheraton. The room wasn’t ready, so we stayed outside and packed the bikes. I must have lost a pound of water off my body from packing. Finally got into the room, took a shower, and I almost forgot how wonderful A/C can be!

Day 9


Here are the totals for nine days of riding (estimated, as I didn’t bring a cycle computer):

Miles = 342
Vertical feet climbed = 17,858

I’m very much looking forward to the next bike adventure! Who’s coming with?