Akaka Falls and the Historic Hamlet of Honomu

By Katie Young Yamanaka
akaka falls

Akaka Falls. Photo: Thomas.

Eleven miles north of Hilo along the Hamakua Coast sits the formerly bustling sugar plantation town of Honomu. The village today exemplifies the best of both old and new, and while historic Honomu maintains its small-town charm, the area still sees more than a million visitors pass through annually on their way to the most famous waterfall in East Hawaii, Akaka Falls.

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Take a Stroll Through Historic Honomu

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Honomu, Hawaii Island. Photo: Jasperdo.

But the town itself is worth a stop, too, if only to admire the historic architecture, grab a bite to eat or explore the eclectic shops that line one side of the main street. You will find everything from locally grown coffee and pastries to jewelry, antiques, artwork and clothing. There’s even a hair salon.

Grab a Bite to Eat in Honomu

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Photo: Jasperdo.

Hilo Shark’s Coffee Shop is just about the only place to sit down and enjoy a meal in Honomu. (You can find other Hilo Shark’s locations in Hilo. They serve breakfast and lunch items ranging from breakfast burritos to Belgian waffles — as well as salads and sandwiches. You can also grab a variety of coffee beverages, a smoothie or a milkshake. The former I. Ishigo Store & Bakery, now home to Mr. Ed’s Bakery, will lure you in based on smell alone. Here, fruit-filled turnovers, flaky manju, monstrous bear claws, sticky monkey bread, and as-big-as-your-face cinnamon rolls are baked fresh daily. But what’s even more impressive than the baked goods is the wall-to-wall selection of nearly 150 varieties of homemade tropical jams, butters and chutneys which Dean (“Mr. Ed”) and June Edmoundson are famous for. You’ll find some interesting combinations — from tangy dragonfruit and lime to a creamy purple sweet potato and haupia to a sweet, spicy mango and habanero pepper. You will be hard-pressed to make a decision.

Explore the Eclectic Shops in Honomu

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Honomu mainstreet. Photo: Ian Gratton.

A few stores down, Glass From the Past features vintage bottles from around the island. Owner David Ackerman has other vintage items as well, including aloha wear, vinyl records and plantation-era pieces. You’ll also find the work of local artists in Honomu, including the Woodshop Gallery featuring handcrafted ukulele, chairs, kitchen pieces and other beautiful items. Michael Arthur Jayme Gallery and Studio opened last year, featuring the work of 19 East Hawaii residents in addition to Jayme’s own watercolor and oil paintings, and hand-painted silk scarves. Who can resist the kitschy ambiance of the “Same Same but Different Boutique,” whose entry covered with bamboo and coconut shell wind chimes, and “Sarong Heaven,” whose façade is draped with colorful beach cover-ups?

It’s a fun stop on the way to the major attraction, Akaka Falls State Park, which is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Akaka Falls

akaka falls state park

Akaka Falls. Photo: Hawaii.com member lrma O.

The short 0.4 mile slight uphill walk over a paved footpath will take hikers through dense tropical forest that reveals two picturesque waterfalls along the circular route: the 100-foot tall Kahanu Falls and the thunderous Akaka Falls, which plummets 442 feet into the gorge below. The hike takes less than an hour round trip.

To get to Akaka Falls State Park from Honomu town, follow Hwy. 220 for 3.5 miles, past abandoned sugarcane fields until you reach the parking lot. (It may seem like you are driving for awhile but don’t worry; it’s easily spotted once you get there.)

Akaka Falls Fruit Stand

akaka falls state park

Aloha Farms fruit stand in Honomu on the way to Akaka Falls State Park. Photo: Hawaii.com member Boris S.

Along the way you will pass a makeshift stand, Aloha Farms, which serves up ice-cold coconuts, pineapples, sugarcane, and a few arts and crafts items.

There are restroom facilities and a small parking lot, but you must pay a parking fee in advance to make the hike. They charge $5 per vehicle if you park inside the gate, or $1 per person if you park just outside the gate and walk in.

Don’t forget – special rental car discounts are available for Hawaii.com members. Check rental car rates here.

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