Boho Meets Old School Hawaii in Charming Hawi

By Karen Rose

Road to Hawi from Kamuela, North Kohala, Hawaii Island. Photo: Chad Podoski.

Tucked away among the slopes of Kohala mountain is the artist enclave of Hāwī. Quaint and charming, this North Kohala town has become popular among visitors longing to ditch the crowds and experience an eclectic mix of Hawaiian history and contemporary artisan culture.

Sugar Boom Town

Hawi, North Kohala, Hawaii Island. Photo: Neal Wellons.

Hāwī town is the perfect blend of small town allure with a hip, funky vibe. This northern most area of Hawaiʻi Island became an economic boom town during the peak of the sugar cane industry in the late 1920’s. However, once the industry began to decline, Hāwī adapted by diversifying its economy and developing into the laid-back artist community it is today.

Boho Meets Local

Hawi, North Kohala, Hawaii Island. Photo: Rosa Say.

Visitors and locals enjoy strolling the main street and exploring the diverse shops and art galleries. The bohemian spirit of Hāwī mingles with the town’s sidewalk cafes and surrounding emerald colored hills, creating an experience as surreal as a Hollywood backlot. Spend some time perusing the boutiques and sampling homemade fudge and delicious Kona coffee.

Taste of Old Hawaii

Bamboo Restaurant, Hawi, North Kohala, Hawaii Island. Photo: Ewen Roberts.

For a taste of old school Hawaiʻi, stop in for lunch at the Bamboo Restaurant and Gallery, where aunties will make sure you leave happy and well fed.

Birthplace of King Kamehameha

The beach at the mouth of Pololu Valley, North Kohala, Hawaii Island. Photo: .

Although famously known for being the bicycle turnaround for the annual IRONMAN™ World Championship held every October, the rich history of Hāwī makes it one of the most important historical locations in the state. King Kamehameha I was born in 1758, just outside Hāwī in the little town of Kapaʻau. Known for unifying all the islands, King Kamehamea I ordered and oversaw the construction of Hawaiʻi Island’s largest temple, Puʻukoholā Heiau. The heiau was built with rocks from Pololū Valley, some 39 miles away. Workers formed a human chain from the valley, through Hāwī, onto the other side of the mountain to the site of the heiau.

King Kamehameha’s Statue Stands in Kapaau

King Kamehameha statue in Kapaau, North Kohala, Hawaii Island. Photo: ClarkRealty.

Today a famous statue of Hawaiʻi’s first king stands near his birthplace in Kapaʻau, just a stone’s throw away from Hāwī. Every year on June 11th, King Kamehameha Day, the statue is draped with beautiful flower lie to celebrate the life King Kamehameha I. If you drive from Hāwī to Pololū Valley, make it a point to stop in the tiny town of Kapaʻau to visit this majestic tribute.

Driving Directions to Hawi

Road to Hawi from Kona, North Kohala, Hawaii Island. Photo: Keira Morgan.

To visit Hāwī from Kona, take Highway 270 north. The black lava fields will melt into the lush green hills and cooler temperatures of North Kohala. Once on the highway, keep an eye out for Humpback Whales (during the winter months) as they are known to breach in abundance in this area. It’s about 19 miles from the highway junction to Hāwī. It’s advised to take one’s time on the road, as it is one of the most beautiful drives on the island. One note of caution – once you’ve experience Hāwī, you may never want to leave!

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