Formed by a 5,400-foot volcano, Kohala is dominated by lush valleys, laid-back plantation towns, verdant pastures and ancient Hawaiian religious sites. The area is an outpost of cowboys and hippies with its beaches, valleys and architecture, the latter of which ranges from the modern resorts of South Kohala to ancient temples constructed entirely of stone. Although the land area only comprises 6% of the Big Island's total area, it could still take weeks to explore in its entirety.
Most visitors to South Kohala are familiar with the resort enclaves of Waikoloa and Mauna Lani, where golf courses sit in stark contrast to the surrounding black lava fields. The white sands of Hapuna Beach are a favorite of beachgoers, and history buffs will love stopping in to the Pu’ukohola Heiau, which was commissioned by the great King Kamehameha. While this national historic site sees thousands of annual visitors, only a mere handful will make the journey to the smaller Mo’okini Heiau on windswept Upolu Point; constructed in the 5th century AD by some of the earliest Polynesian voyagers, this is also where King Kamehameha was born.
Further up the road in the North Kohala plantation towns of Hawi and Kapa’au, travelers will find artisan outposts of craft stores and coffee shops. A massive statue of King Kamehameha presides over Kapa'au and is still draped in flower lei during the annual King Kamehameha Day celebrations each June.
On the eastern coast, rugged valleys with sing-song names such as Pololu, Waipio, and Waimanu form deep clefts into the lush mountainside, and are a favorite of island hikers and thrill-seekers. Waterfall trekking to jungle ziplining are popular in these outdoor playgrounds, and Waipio Valley is regarded as one of the most scenic corners of the island.