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Hawaii Calls

Kailua-Kona to Pololu Valley

As I write this in my home near Seattle, I'm listening to a tape of Isreal Kamakawiwo'ole (Kahmahkah vee vo olay) singing, literally, his heart out - Iz was a huge man at 600 lbs. He sang beautiful songs of Hawaii with a powerful feeling of love for his islands and his people, and projected that same warmth to all the island visitors that came to hear his music. His heart failed him, finally, but his life and love for Hawaii is preserved in his music, and providesme a perfect backdrop against which I can recall the idle miles ridden here through a paradise.

Because of the high latitude, dawn in the Pacific Northwest is a slow process as the sun ascends as much across as above the Cascade range. Morning twilight eases the dawn tenderly along, giving the body an opportunity to awaken with the day. The morning chorus of song birds begins with a soft twitter of an early riser and is soon a cacophony of avian cheer. Here in Hawaii, the sun balloons up from the edge of the world abruptly, without fanfare, and with little opportunity for song birds to do more than gargle a few notes before seeking out a bit of shade and a morning breakfast. I'm still on left coast time and am up with the sun, looking forward to today's ride. My wife Nancy (Big Red) is up a bit slower but we make the 7:30am pickup time.

Across Palani Road from the King Kamehameha Hotel is DJ's were I've rented a black 2000 Heritage Softtail. After filling out all the paperwork I throw a leg over it, hit the thumb kicker, and the v-twin rumbles to life. The engine is already warmed up and ready to roll, but before I drop it into gear I check it over. No vibration. None. The counter-balanced engine is smooth as silk, and while there is a lot of machine noise coming from all the extra parts that defeat the characteristic softtail vibration, the exhaust noise is all but absent. If I close my eyes I can imagine I am astride a 4-banger Yamahondasaki. Sorry, Harley-Davidson, but this machine has no personality. It is significantly lower than my '99 Road King which suits my short legs just fine, the front end has more rake and so is a bit heavier handling and over-steers some, but the pull-back bars are comfortable and I am immediately adapted to the machine as I drop it into gear and we head down Ali`i Drive. I've had the windshield removed so we can embrace all that the Big Island's roads offer one's senses.

Ms. PetersonTo our right is historic Kamakahonu Cove - Kamehameha's home at the time of his death and where today they reenact the spirit of aloha with a lu`au and garden dinner show. Continuing along Ali`i Drive we catch a bit of ocean spray as waves break upon the old sea wall. Overhead, centuries old banyan trees offer relief from the already oppressive sun. Kona Village is fairly bursting with people strolling, shopping, enjoying the idle life. We turn up the volcano to Kuakini highway and head towards the Kohala coast. Big Red puts her arms around me and hugs me as we go up through the gears.

Leaving Kona behind we take up Hwy. 19, also known as Queen Ka`ahumanu Hwy. and roll over what looks to be fresh lava beds - but which were actually deposited in 1801! The new airport is spread out across part of the flow and is a stark contrast of primordial earthly fire and hi-tech. Several cinder cones and a genuine volcano have formed the shape of the land here. Hualalai rises 8271 feet above Kailua-Kona and is still an active mountain. Much of the ride to Kawaihae, 35 miles up the highway, is along a moonscape of lava flows and you need no reminder to stay on the road as the lava is extremely rough and sharp. The colors range from pitch black to cocoa brown. Some areas, called pahoehoe, are almost glassy while others are crusty and crumbly piles called a`a (ah ah).

The ocean is every color of blue. Deep steel blues strain against soft azures of the shoreline and plumes of pure white foam jet into the sky. Obsidian black lava and green oases of palms and ferns complete the palette of Hawaii's imagery. Wonderful Hawaiian names challenge your tongue - Makalawena, Ka`upulehu, Nawaikulua, Kapalaoa, Keanapukalua glide behind us until we arrive at Kawaihae where we pick up some water and a jolt of Kona coffee. The lava fields of this part of Hawaii are older and less harsh. Weather beaten, it is softer, grassy in most areas, and even home to hardy trees that somehow have beaten the odds. It is also windy here - it has been for much of the ride, but not so windy as it will become when we begin our swing around Kohala mountain to the north shore. The area we've just traversed is called the South Kohala District and is where many of the very best resorts are found. I do all I can to avoid resorts, though, so we give them wide berth. None the less, for those island visitors who enjoy them, they are a wonderful thing.

Traveling north from Kawaihae we pick up the Akoni Pule Hwy and the wind picks up, too. Off in the distance, the island of Maui is just visible above the layers of coastal clouds and provides a backdrop for a couple pictures. We are on the western flank of an ancient volcano that rises sharply out of the Pacific. There are numerous inactive cinder cones - idle for thousands of years, but they have created a remarkable tangle of climates. The western side is dry... arid even, at sea level... but just a few hundred feet up the mountain it becomes verdant and grassy. Ancient ruins of Hawaiian culture dot the shoreline and provide an opportunity to better understand island life prior to the arrival of western influences. So many points of interest compete with one's schedule, that too many are left unseen. As the road swings through north to northeast the elevation rises and the temperatures cool. The wind now becomes fierce!

Approaching the town of Hawaii, the scenery couldn't possibly be more different from the western slopes. Here is lush greenery, huge elephant ear plants, plumeria trees, giant vines of split leaf philodendron climbing out of deep water-cut gorges, and trees everywhere thrashing in the stiff onshore breeze. All the senses are assaulted - the noise of the foliage in the wind, the fragrance of the flowers, the warmth of the sun, and arms around my shoulders providing such a strong sense of pleasure and peace it is difficult to describe. I can honestly say I have never enjoyed a ride on a motorcycle so much as this one.

A road winds down to the seashore that takes you to the birthplace of King Kamehameha - a sadly unremarkable spot fallen into ruin from neglect. Sad, given the reverence paid to the last of the great Hawaiian leaders.

The soil is rich here in the highlands and there are remains of sugar cane fields on both sides of the road. Commercial growing of sugar is all but gone from the big island, and the bare fields are now at the mercy of the elements. Left alone, the land will quickly revert to its natural form of course, but there is some development here and there that will retard the process.

The towns of Honomaka`u and Kapa`au are quaint and quiet places. There is a cultural site here, as well as a heavily photographed statue of Kamehameha, and at Makapala there is a wonderful little ice cream shop where we stop for a cool snack. Back on the road, we come to the end of the journey at Pololu Valley lookout, where the road ends abruptly at the edge of a deep shear cliff. A ways off to the east beyond Waimanu Bay, just barely visible, is the entrance to Waipio Valley. The inland side is the Kohala forest reserve, and the deep blue Pacific ocean rolls endlessly away in every other direction. More pictures are snapped as we take in the vistas high above the sea before we turn back to Hawaii where we pick up the Kohala Mountain Road to Waimea.

Heading south out of Hawaii, the road climbs quickly up a winding forested hillside until we are probably at or above 3500 feet. Heavy clouds have been racing along with us in the wind and spraying us with a thin, cool mist. The dampened foliage and soil bring more fragrances and the wind has picked up again. For some reason, the wind has remained steadily from the front for the entire trip no matter which way we travel.

This area of the Kohala district is cattle country, and there among the cinder cones are huge beasts fattening on the abundant Hawaiian grass. A wild turkey is seen between the pine trees that forest the land here, and there scurries the mongoose. The needles from the trees gather along side the road and are slick as ice which provides a near opportunity to drop the softtail on one of our stops.

It has become downright cold now as we continue southeast along the mountain's flank, but the road is engaging and full of curves and breathtaking vistas. Viewing the ocean from this altitude is a memorable experience I'll not soon forget. Past several ranches we begin to descend slowly and hopefully warm up. That didn't happen! The day was beginning to cloud up with huge belching black rollers, shepherded between mountain peaks by the stiffening wind. We stopped at Waimea for gas and a short break.

Waimea is paniolo country. Paniolo is the Hawaiianized form of Hispaniola where many of the cowboys from Hispanic California settled. They were brought in to help manage the cattle that were increasing in numbers at what was to become the Parker ranch. The Hispanic culture has contributed much to Hawaii and this is seen and heard in the art and music of the island.

Joining Hwy. 190 south, it becomes obvious we are going to be drenched by Madam Pele's tears. The altitude is still quite high and so it is still cold given the wind chill factor. The road, called "Hawaii Belt Road" is narrow with long straight stretches and tight turns. Traffic is in a hurry both directions and large fast trucks buffet the softtail. Wishing to hold a leisurely pace I pull off the road frequently to allow the locals and tourists to speed on - this is followed by thankful beeps on the horn and a wave. This is largely a happy place.

More cinder cones and lava punctuate the area, and soon we are recrossing the lava flows we traversed while northbound further downslope. Being higher up, it is clear that there was more violent activity in the flows and great breaches in the earth gape at the sky. Here and there are intersections where minor dirt roads wind off through the lava beds. A healthy 4-wheel drive rig would be appropriate for such wanderings and I'm not investing the Harley's tires on the sharp lava today. The road makes a sharp turn at Pu`uanahulu which is at about 2000' elevation and we start to feel the splatter of heathy Hawaiian rain drops, but the imminent deluge we were expecting hasn't started. As we again ride across the slope of Hualalai toward Kona, the clouds fall behind and we are again warmed by the air pouring off the sun-baked lava. Pele was happy with us today and shed barely a tear.

At Palini junction we are back in the Kailua-Kona city area and enjoy the last miles back to the hotel and the garden spot of Kona Village. It is said it never rains in Kona - it is called "the blessing", and around 7:00 o'clock Kona was severely blessed - but by that time we were napping in our hotel room. Life is good.


Dennis Peterson/Summer 2000

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