Hawaii Big Island
You’ve probably heard of the beautiful Big Island of Hawaii and the world-class triathlon competitions held there. Or perhaps you’re a fan of the Kona coffee grown on the slopes of the Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes. But did you know that paved roads ring this biggest of the Hawaiian Islands? Picture yourself camping on four of the most beautiful beaches in the world, climbing nearly 4,000 vertical feet over the flanks of mighty volcanoes, traversing lava fields, and becoming immersed in rainforests.
Our tour starts in historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona), not far from the airport and our designated bike shop. Be sure to leave space in your panniers for a set of snorkeling gear! Come join us on the Big Island for a 12-day tropical celebration of spectacular roads, gorgeous beach camping, delicious local foods, and much, much more!
"Our leaders had their 'stuff' together; great organization!"
Day 1. Kailua-Kona, 0 miles
You’ll meet your group and tour leaders mid-afternoon at a hotel in Historic Kailua Village. Once a sleepy fishing village, it’s now a bustling tourist mecca located not far from the airport and the designated “ship-to” bike shop. We’ll set the watery tone of the trip by meeting poolside for our introductions and orientation meeting, the sound of the nearby ocean hinting at things to come as we review the maps and cue sheets and distribute group gear for our upcoming adventure.
Day 2. Kailua-Kona to Ho’okena Beach, 25 miles
We will set out down the dry Kona Coast, passing spectacular seaside resorts and beach parks with snorkeling opportunities on a road that bypasses the main roadway. We’ll get the chance to try out our low gears as we climb toward the entrance of an active Kona coffee farm that offers tours and free samples. Our destination is a park, where we’ll camp right on the beach and where your most difficult decision will be whether to go snorkeling or kayaking before our group dinner. With today’s relatively short mileage, there’ll probably be time to do both!
Day 3. Ho’okena Beach to Punalu`u Beach, 48 miles
Taking advantage of the cooler morning temperatures, we’ll set out on a long, gradual ascent along the South Kona coastline and then swing eastward as we approach the Ka’u region, near the base of the Mauna Loa volcano. The final third of today’s riding is a lovely descent that passes through Naalehu, the southernmost town in the U.S. Having regained sea level, tonight’s camp is a black-sand beach park with more snorkeling options and where we’re likely to see turtles in the sand.
Day 4. Punalu`u Beach to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, 31 miles
We will follow Day 3’s successful formula for sustained climbing, taking advantage of a relatively cool morning departure as we climb to over 4,000 feet above sea level. This brings us to our overnight destination within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, just a few miles from the aptly named town of Volcano. We might explore there and take in the park’s visitor center, where we can get the latest lava flow reports and plot tomorrow’s adventure options.
Day 5. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park loop, 33 miles
We will start the day by pedaling a section of Crater Rim Drive amid a steamy lava landscape with breathtaking views into the active K?lauea Caldera and Halema?uma?u Crater, whose size quadrupled during the volcanic activity in 2018. Nearby we can explore the Thurston Lava Tube, a 400-year-old natural structure that’s 600 feet long and 10 to 30 feet across and which once contained a river of red lava. Since we’re overnighting at the same place as on Day 4, you’ll be able to choose from a series of options for the remainder of the day. The park offers some great hiking, or you can continue to explore by bike the Chain of Craters and Hilina Pali Roads, descending over 2,000 feet from the summit of K?lauea to a remote overlook with spectacular views of the lava fields from 2003 and earlier flows.Whatever activity you choose, you’ll be back with plenty of time for a great dinner and to rest your lava flow climbing muscles.
Day 6. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to Hilo, 55 miles
It's almost all downhill today as we quickly coast from an elevation of 4,000 ft down to sea level in the city of Hilo. Along the way, we will visit the town of Pahoa in the Puna region, best known for raising anthuriums, orchids, and papayas, but in 2018 was the heart of a major volcanic eruption. (Depending upon conditions, we may be able to view the newly formed cinder cone and cooled river of lava.). On the road to Hilo we will have the option of turning off onto the aptly named Macadamia Road. Here we’ll have the option of riding through a 2,500-acre macadamia-nut orchard and visiting a nut-processing plant and chocolate factory. (Free samples at both — are we in Hawaii or heaven?) Home for the next two nights is a unique hostel, where we can mingle with fellow travelers, while being surrounded by tropical plants. We’ll also take advantage of the indoor kitchen, permitting us to whip up some more ambitious meals than those we commonly prepare with the small group camp stoves.
Day 7. Hilo Loop, 27 miles
Today we will explore some of the natural and manmade wonders of Hilo and the surrounding countryside by bike, and end the day with a magnificent sunset at the summit of Mauna Kea. First we will head up to Rainbow Falls, a gem of the Hawaii State Park system, and one of the most accessible and beautiful waterfalls on the Big Island. Next we will bike to Kaumana Caves, where we can explore a portion of a 25-mile long lava tube formed by the 1881 eruption of Mauna Loa. Continuing on our loop ride, we can check out Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, the only natural tropical rainforest zoo in the US. Finally, we will return to downtown Hilo and have an opportunity to tour the Imiloa Astronomy Center, with exhibits on astronomy and Hawaiian culture and a nearby botanic garden. In the afternoon, we can snorkel at one of the nearby beaches and tidepools and prepare for the high point of our tour: a 4x4 van tour to the summit of Mauna Kea, elevation 13,600 feet. The sunset from here must be seen to be believed. Once darkness descends, our guide will take us on a laser-guided journey across the magnificent night sky.
Day 8. Hilo to Laupãhoehoe Beach, 31 miles
Today’s abbreviated mileage will permit us to rise and shine a bit later than usual, after the previous night’s stargazing odyssey. On departing Hilo, we’ll hug the rugged Hamakua coastline, with it cliffs of lava, pinched valleys, and numerous waterfalls. We’ll also pass a botanical garden, where huge versions of sumptuous tropical plants are tended. Tonight’s camp is at a beach park with a rocky shoreline and stunning views.
Day 9. Laupahoehoe Beach to Kukuihaele, 27 miles
We will haveWe continue riding today along the gorgeous Hamakua coast, ending the day at the popular Waipi'o Valley Lookout, with unrivaled views of the valley and the pristine coastline. We will camp nearby along a quiet road that will remind us of the "old Hawaii." Looking for another challenge? Try biking or hiking down the super-steep (25% grade!) paved trail to the beautiful crescent shaped beach below. Or just enjoy the splendid views from the lookout.
Day 10. Kukuihaele to Waimea, 26 miles
Today we’ll climb to just shy of 3,000 feet above sea level as we turn inland and head up to the Big Island’s “cowboy country.” We’ll overnight in Waimea at a motel situated close to Hawaii’s largest cattle ranch and have a chance to explore the nearby Anna Ranch Heritage Center and the W. M. Keck Observatory Headquarters with models and images of the twin 10-meter Keck Observatory telescopes that are up on Mauna Kea.
Day 11. Waimea to Spencer Beach, 41 miles
We’ll leave the ranchland behind this morning as we ascend into the Kohala Mountains, riding close to the ridgeline before dropping into the artsy town of Hawi. Here we can choose from several nice cafés serving great food, along with the ubiquitous Hawaiian staple of ice cream and shaved ice. Hawi marks the northern turnaround point for the cycling leg of the 56-mile Ironman triathlon; we’ll be following the entire Ironman course, with its wonderfully wide-shouldered roadways, for the remainder of today’s riding and for all of tomorrow’s. We’ll quickly reach the North Kohala coast, which boasts several public beaches, before arriving at what is perhaps the best park for beach camping on the entire Big Island. Protected from high surf by an offshore reef, the park promises great swimming and snorkeling.
Day 12. Spencer Beach to Kailua-Kona, 37 miles
We’ll pack up our tents and camping gear for the last time this morning and head down the splendid South Kohala coast. An assortment of fancy beach resorts and beautiful beach parks beckon, so you’ll have a final opportunity to use your snorkeling gear. We’ll return to Kailua-Kona sometime in the afternoon, where we will say our “alohas” and congratulate one another on taking part in this incredible tropical island cycling adventure.
Know before you go
Please take the anticipated weather conditions (mid-80s heat, high humidity, tropical winds) and amount of climbing (2,000–4,000 ft per day; 22,000 ft total) into account when preparing for this unique and beautiful tour. These factors can occasionally combine to make a day approach the advanced level of difficulty, despite the modest daily mileage. Additionally, camping at spectacular beach campsites means that there are several steep morning climbs (each approximately two miles long).