Hawaii Stories

Adventure

Volcano Roadtrip

A local guide offers tips to make the drive to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park an adventure in itself.

Road through a rainforest

The long drive from Kailua-Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park traverses almost the whole of Hawaii Island, from dry plains to lush forests. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

“Getting there is half the fun” when heading to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from Kailua-Kona. You’re basically traveling from one side of Hawaii Island to the other, so there's lots to take in along the way. Two routes, one North and one South, offer the best sightseeing.

We recommend you leave early to make the most of your cross-island touring. Keep in mind, estimated driving time—without stopping—from Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is 3.25 hours on the North route and 2.75 hours on the South.

 

North

Kailua-Kona to Volcano via Hwys. 19 and 11


Waikoloa

Queens' Marketplace fountain 

Photo: Brian Walters Photography

Stick your toes in the sand at palm-fringed Anaehoomalu Bay in the Waikoloa Beach Resort. The beach and nearby Queens’ MarketPlace are mere minutes from the Hwy. 19 and Waikoloa Beach Drive turnoff.  Queens’ is a great place to stock up on snacks and walk around an outdoor shopping center—complete with fun fountains, a landscaped koi pond and food court.

 

Parker Ranch Center

Cowboy statue 

Photo: Fern Gavelek

About an hour from Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole on Hwy. 19 is the pastoral community of Waimea, home to Hawaiian cowboys called paniolo. At Parker Ranch Center, you’ll find a larger-than-life bronze statue of the legendary paniolo Ikua Purdy, not to mention one of the best burgers in the nation. Bite into a tasty burger made with local, pasture-raised beef grilled to perfection and served with ingredients sourced from nearby farms.

 

Malasadas at Tex Drive In

20 minutes from Waimea is Tex Drive In, right on Hwy. 19 in Honokaa. Here’s where you can indulge in a hot malasada—a Portuguese pastry treat with your choice of filling.

 

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden 

Photo: Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Another hour later stretch your legs at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. This garden has it all: a waterfall, palms, ferns, towering torch gingers, an aviary, a lily pond, and a descending walkway that lets you peer into the garden at various levels of the canopy. A must.

 

Ken's House of Pancakes

In Hilo, Hwy. 19 intersects with Hwy. 11 for the final stretch to Volcano. At the junction is Ken’s House of Pancakes, a long-time local eatery serving hearty breakfast and plate lunches 24-7. A bell rings when a patron orders the “sumo-size” loco moco, an island favorite of rice, hamburger patty, and a fried egg, topped with brown gravy.

 

Akatsuka Orchid Gardens

Orchid blossoms 

Photo: Fern Gavelek

The last stop before Volcano is Akatsuka Orchid Gardens near mile 22 on Hwy. 11.  There’s plenty of wow factor at this facility, which has been growing and specializing in Cattleya orchids for over 30 years. Explore the 13,000-square-foot showroom; greenhouse tours are 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wed. and Fri. Browse the gift shop to ship a bloom back home.

 

South

Kailua-Kona to Volcano via Hwy. 11


Royal Kona Coffee Mill & Museum

Coffee mill roadside 

Photo: Royal Coffee Mill & Museum

About an hour from Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole on Hwy. 11 is the Royal Kona Coffee Mill & Museum. See where coffee growers bring their coffee berries for processing and walk through a lava tube. The museum and well-stocked gift shop offer a spectacular vista of Kealakekua Bay. It's a great place to enjoy free samples of coffee, chocolates, and Kona Gold Rum Cake.  

 

Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park

Looking at carvings 

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Fifteen minutes further is Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park or Place of Refuge. Stroll the historical displays and palm-canopied grounds to see ancient kii (carved wooden images), a 965 foot-long masonry wall, and an ancient Hawaiian mausoleum, Hale o Keawe.

 

Historic lava flows

Beginning at mile 98, notice how stark black lava flows came down the mountain to cover the slopes of Mauna Loa.  The 1950 flow can be seen first, followed by the 1919 flow at mile 92, the 1926 flow at mile 88, and the 1907 flow at mile 79 and 75. 

 

Manuka State Wayside Park

Manuka State Wayside Park, near mile 81, has more than restrooms and picnic tables. A two-mile nature hike winds through native ohia trees, ancient lava flows, and forested pit crater.

 

"Southernmost Bake Shop in the U.S."

Punaluu Bake Shop sign 

Photo: Punaluu Bake Shop

Hwy. 11 follows the southern contour of the island to leave the drier leeward side for the lush windward side. In Naalehu, follow your nose to Punaluu Bake Shop. The specialty here is soft, fragrant sweetbread. Also on offer are pastries, shortbread cookies, sandwiches, and plate lunches that can be enjoyed in a café setting.  Large windows allow patrons to view bread and cookie making at the “Southernmost Bake Shop in the U.S.”

 

Punaluu Black Sand Beach

Sea turtle on black sand 

Photo: Fern Gavelek

The last stop before HVNP is Punaluu Black Sand Beach. If anything, stop here to snap a pic of the ebony-colored sand and its palm-lined coast. With its warm sand, the beach attracts sunning turtles; signs tell visitors to let them rest peacefully. There’s also a picnic area.

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