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Incredible drive along the coast of Hawaii

Hawaii

Amazing Stops Along Hawaii’s Kau Scenic Byway

By: Idoia Gkikas

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  • States:
    Hawaii

The Kau Scenic Byway meanders along an 87-kilometer stretch of Highway 11 on the island of Hawaii.

Starting at Manuka State Wayside Park on the western side of Mauna Loa and ending at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to the east, this byway offers some of the best views in the Hawaiian Islands.

Manuka State Wayside Park

Shaded by native trees, this great park is an excellent rest stop. It has an arboretum and a moderate 3-kilometer hike. Look for the pit crater and archeological remains. 

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Kula Kai Caverns

The Kula Kai Caverns are actually 1,000-year-old lava tubes – take a guided tour to get a historic overview of the cave system. More adventurous visitors will enjoy several tours that will have them wearing headlamps and kneepads as they crawl through narrow, unlit passages to explore the ancient formations.

Winding tunnels of the Kula Kai Caverns

Winding tunnels of the Kula Kai Caverns
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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kahuku Section

The Kahuku Unit of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has outstanding trails that traverse pasturelands, old lava features and forested areas to the edge of a collapsed crater. See the iconic ohi‘a trees, a native species that has survived numerous lava flows. It’s said that if you can’t reach your arms around the trunk, the tree is at least 200 years old. Check nps.gov/havo for advisories – this section isn’t always open.

Smoke rises from a volcanic crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Smoke rises from a volcanic crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
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Punaluu Beach

Drive past several beautiful outlooks from the Kahuku area to arrive at Punaluu Beach, one of the most famous black-sand beaches. Stop for a picnic and enjoy views of this photo-worthy shoreline.

The tide moves in at Punaluu Beach

The tide moves in at Punaluu Beach
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Tibetan Buddhist Temple

A neat little stop on the byway is the Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling Tibetan Buddhist Temple, commonly called the Wood Valley Temple. This retreat is open to (respectful) visitors as well as overnight guests. 

Kau Desert

This desolate landscape isn’t actually a desert, though very little grows here due to the acid rain caused by the nearby erupting Kilauea volcano. Take a short hike to see the fossilized human footprints of a group of warriors caught in one of Kilauea’s sudden eruptions. 

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Mauna Loa Road

The drive up Mauna Loa Road is something you have to experience. The first part of the road is suitable for cars; the road ascends to 1,800 meters for awesome views. If you have a few extra days and you’re an experienced high-altitude hiker, hike the Mauna Loa Summit Trail to the top of the volcano, at more than 4,100 meters.

The otherworldly landscape of Mauna Loa Road

The otherworldly landscape of Mauna Loa Road
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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The scenic byway ends at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – a must-see for any visitor. Take a scenic, educational drive on Chain of Craters Road or Crater Rim Drive for views of volcanic activity, unique hikes and, of course, unforgettable vistas.

Hiking across lava fields at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hiking across lava fields at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
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Getting There

Honolulu International Airport (HNL) is the main gateway to Oahu and the rest of Hawaii, but airports on each island make it easy to explore the entire state. Fly into Hilo (ITO) or Kona (KOA) international airports on Hawaii Island, Kahului Airport (OGG) on Maui, Lanai Airport (LNY) on Lanai, Molokai Airport (MKK) on Molokai and Lihue Airport (LIH) on Kauai.

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