Rainbow Falls - Big Island

Rainbow Falls - Big Island

Shaka Guide's North Island Jungle Adventure Loop Itinerary

Shaka Guide

Get ready for a full-day adventure! This tour loops around the Hamakua Coast on the northern tip of the Big Island visiting secret waterfalls, scenic hikes and a detour through Hilo.

On the North Island Jungle Adventure Loop, you’ll drive over 100 miles with the option to stop at 25 awesome spots along the way.

Note: This tour can be taken clockwise or counterclockwise around the island starting from Kona, Waikoloa or Hilo.

For simplicity’s sake, we will list the itinerary starting from Hilo headed counterclockwise.

The tour makes the same stops regardless of where you start or which direction you travel in.

north island jungle loop tour tour map


Depart Hilo EARLY. We recommend starting the tour before 9:00 a.m.

Hike the Scenic Onomea Trail OR Stroll through a Tropical Botanical Garden

Approximate time: 30-45 minutes

sea view form a trailViews from Onomea Trail, Tor Johnson via Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)

Onomea Trail, or donkey trail, is an easy hike that runs along a breathtaking section of coastline that gives you 180-degree views of Onomea Bay.

It’s worth it for the photo opportunities alone! Being on the wet side of the island, there are a lot of streams running through the trail as well as a small waterfall and a swimming hole.

If you want a stroll through a manicured garden with roughly 2,000 plant species opt to visit Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden instead of hiking Onomea Trail.

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The garden is more of a nature reserve where scientists study the unique and endangered plants of the rainforests.

The garden features a canopy of trees that include 100-foot tall mango trees from the 1800s and one-hundred-year-old breadfruit trees as well.

While you’re there, take the paved garden walk. It’s just over a mile and runs parallel to the Onomea Trail.

Note: There is a $30.00 per adult and $22.00 per child fee to visit the botanical garden.

Hike to Akaka Falls

Approximate time: 30 minutes

Arguably one of the most famous waterfalls on the Big Island, you can take a half-mile stroll on a paved path through a lush rainforest filled with wild orchids, bamboo groves and draping ferns to get a glimpse of this iconic natural wonder.

The accessible portion of the park lies high on the right shoulder of the deep gorge into which the waterfall plunges, and the falls can be viewed from several points along a loop trail through the park.

Note: There is a $10 per vehicle parking fee and $5 per person entrance fee. 

Hike to Umauma Falls


Approximate time: 20 minutes

Ready for another waterfall? There’s an entrance fee to see Umauma Falls, but once you do you’ll get to see a three-tier waterfall.

If you’re pressed for time we recommend you skip this spot.

Note: There is a $5 entrance fee to visit Umauma Falls. No reservations required.

Visit the Laupahoehoe Train Museum

trainImage from Flickr by 

Approximate time: 30 minutes

When you take this tour we’ll tell you all about the history of sugarcane in Hawai'i.

This industry once flourished on the islands and railways were a key mode of transportation for this vital export.

This museum celebrates the history of the Hamakua Coast and the railroads that connected this Big Island’s sugarcane industry to the rest of Hawai'i and the world.

Note: There is a $10 per adult and $5 per student fee. Family rate is $25. 

Pay Tribute at the Laupahoehoe Tsunami Monument

Approximate time: 20 minutes

In 1946 there was a devastating tsunami in this area that killed over 150 people, many of them being school children.

During the tour, you’ll hear the story of this tragic day and learn about a few brave survivors.

At the beach park, you can pay tribute at a memorial that honors the lives lost that day. This is also a great viewpoint of the ocean coastline.

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Grab Lunch at TEX Drive Inn

Approximate time: 30 minutes

At this point in the tour, you’re probably ready for a quick bite.

Well, do we have a treat for you! We’ll guide you to TEX Drive Inn -- a local spot with hearty plate lunches that will keep you fueled and ready to go for the rest of your journey.

Pro Tip! Be sure to order a malasada (a delicious Portuguese-style donut without a hole); they have some of the best in Hawai'i! Not hungry yet? Skip this spot and grab lunch in Waimea Town.


Marvel at Waipi'o Valley

Approximate time: 20 minutes

overlook of valley in big island hawaiiWaipio Valley, Island of Hawaii

Waipi'o Valley is one of the most storied valleys in Hawai'i. According to legends, the gods lived in Waipi'o in ancient days.

It was also the royal center for many ancient rulers on the Big Island, including Kamehameha the Great.

There’s a stunning view of the valley just from the lookout area! Take a moment to marvel at this beautiful place.

IMPORTANT NOTE: WAIPI'O VALLEY ROAD IS CURRENTLY CLOSED TO PEDESTRIANS (Updated 4/11/24) - Please only enjoy views of the valley from the lookout, and do not attempt to hike or drive down the road.

Explore the Inside of a Lava Tube

Approximate time: N/A - drive by

As you travel off the main road through this area in Hamakua towards Waimea, you’ll be driving above a network of underground lava tubes.

Have a look around and see if you can spot the entrance to these caves - just be sure to pay attention to the road!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to safety concerns, please do not enter the caves. 

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Waimea Town

Approximate time: 30 minutes - 1 hour

Waimea Town is an artsy farm town known for its quaint bed and breakfasts and cowboy history.

Waimea also has lots of amazing restaurants, a theatre, art exhibits, and historic ranches.

It's a good place to stop to grab a bite before heading back to Kona.

How much time you choose to spend here depends on your interests but here are a few activities that can keep you busy exploring this small town:

  1. Keck Visitor Center: The Keck Observatory has a small visitor’s center with models and images from their highly successful telescopes on Mauna Kea. They are open from 10 am – 2 pm Monday through Friday; admission is free. Note: The visitor center is currently closed for renovation.
  2. Anna Ranch: The Anna Ranch is a national historic site that harks back to the Big Island’s plantation days. The white, wooden walls contain a lot of stories; it’s been in the same ranching family for five generations and was home to Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske, aka the first lady of ranching. Note: There is a fee for the tours and advance reservations are required.   
  3. Waimea Nature Park: The name of this park is Ulu La’au which means "circle of trees" in Hawaiian. It’s a great place for a stroll or a picnic to relax next to a flowing stream.
  4. Parker Ranch: Here you’ll find two historic houses built in the 1800s. The houses serve as the Parker Ranch headquarters. Explore the grounds and historic homes on one of their self-guided tours. It's a great way to experience what life was like on this iconic ranch throughout the years. Note: There is a fee for the self-guided tours of the houses and grounds. Advance reservations are required.

Saddle Road or Daniel K. Inouye Highway

long roadImage from Flickr by 

Approximate time: 50 minutes

After Waimea Town, you’ll embark on your drive across Saddle Road, a main thoroughfare on the Big Island that connects Kona in the west with Hilo in the east.

This is about a 50-minute drive, and we’ll tell you stories the whole way.

There are three optional stops along this road:

  1. A rest stop, which we’ll point to on the tour;
  2. A cinder cone where you can get acclimated to the altitude if you’re embarking on a journey to Mauna Kea; and
  3. The Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station located at 9,200 feet above sea level on Hawaii’s tallest mountain.

If you’re not planning on visiting any of these places you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the drive.

Hike a Cinder Cone

Approximate time: 30 minutes 

Before turning for Mauna Kea, there is a cinder cone you can pull off to on Saddle Road. It's a good place to stop for some fresh air and just to get your legs moving before ascending Mauna Kea.

Explore Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station 

Approximate time: 1 -2 hours

road above sea of cloudsDrive up Mauna Kea on your North Island Jungle Adventure Driving Tour

The summit of Mount Everest is higher above sea level than the summit of any other mountain, but Mauna Kea is the tallest when measured from base to summit.

Astronomers from around the world explore the universe from its peak, and Hawaiians have many ancient spiritual connections to this special site.

For visitors, it is one of the clearest places on the planet for viewing the night sky and offers a rare opportunity to experience the polar tundra in Hawai'i.

We do not recommend you drive past the visitor center to the summit. The road is steep, extremely rough, and only suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles. 

The Visitor Information Station is high enough to still feel like you're sitting on top of the world--and it actually has a better view of the night sky than the summit.

Pro Tip! Call ahead of time to check the weather conditions. Sometimes it can be foggy. Also, it's very cold up on the top of the mountain, so dress warmly!


Visit 'Imiloa Astronomy Center

Approximate time: 30 minutes - 1 hour

The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center is part of the University of Hawai'i at Hilo and is a gathering place that integrates science and Native Hawaiian culture.

They have a visitor center with wonderful exhibits, programs and events.

Since Hawaiian society was built on exploration and observation, Hawaiian cultural practices have become an important part of ‘Imiloa’s exhibits.

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday from 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Explore Historic Hilo Town

hilo town in hawaiiImage from Flickr by 

Approximate time: 1-2 hours

We’ll end the tour in Hilo Town. Although this town may be small, there’s plenty to see and do.

We recommend you budget about 1-2 hours on this section of the tour alone. Here are some of the places you’ll explore in and around Hilo:

Hawaiian Fishpond & Beach

Approximate time: 20 minutes

This is a nice place to take a relaxing stroll next to the beach and hear an interesting story about the Hawaiian fishponds in ancient times.

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Coconut Island

Approximate time: 10-20 minutes

Coconut Island is a small beach park in Hilo accessed by a small bridge.

This island is also called Moku Ola, which means 'healing island' or 'island of life', and it used to be the home of an ancient temple that was dedicated to healing.

Legend has it that swimming around the island three times would heal any ailments or ill feelings.

Go for a quick stroll around the island, jump in the water for a swim or bring some treats for a picnic.

Queen Lili'uokalani Park

Approximate time: 20 minutes

monument in hilo hawaiiGate to Rock Garden at the Queen Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo;  brewbooks, CC BY SA 2.0, via Wiki Commons

Queen Liliuokalani Park is one of the gems of Hilo Town. This park is known as the biggest edo-style garden outside of Japan! In this serene park you’ll find majestic red bridges over Koi ponds, statues, and pagodas, along with stone lanterns lining the pathways.

Downtown Hilo 

Approximate time: 30 minutes

Here you will see many historic stores and buildings from quaint boutiques to fine restaurants and galleries.

Most of the buildings were built in the early 1900’s but over the years have been remodeled and are still in use today.

Pro Tip! If you're pressed for time and want to see Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots before the gates close at 6:00 p.m. -- skip Downtown Hilo for now and come back for dinner.

Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots

Approximate time: 20 minutes

waterfalls with rainbowRainbow Falls, Island of Hawaii

Located just a short drive from Downtown Hilo is Rainbow Falls.

On sunny days, rainbows appear amid the 80-foot falls, making for some pretty magical views.

The broad waterfall - nearly 100 feet in diameter - plunges over a natural lava cave and into the river below.

A few minutes down the road you’ll find Boiling Pots, a chain of overflowing waterfalls that looks like boiling pots of water after it rains.

Kaumana Caves

Approximate time: 20 minutes

Kaumana Caves is a massive cave part of a 25-mile-long lava tube created by the Mauna Loa lava flow of 1880.

The public part of the cave stretches about 2 miles and quickly goes pitch black as soon as you enter. Be sure to bring a flashlight if you plan to do some exploring.

Naha Stone at Hilo Library

Approximate time: 5 minutes

Pull over at the Hilo public library and take a look at the Naha Stone on the grass outside.

In ancient times the Naha Stone was believed to have spiritual powers and that whoever could lift this 5,000-pound rock would become the Hawaiian King.

Legend has it that at the age of 30, King Kamehameha successfully lifted the stone and overturned it.

End of the Tour, Return to Downtown Hilo

The last stop on this tour is the Naha Stone, but we recommend you end your day in Downtown Hilo for a nice dinner at one of its great local eateries.

Check out our tour highlights to find a few places we recommend.

When you’re in Hawai'i, we ask that you act respectfully toward the locals, land, and wildlife. 

Please pick up your trash; never touch any marine life, plants, or other animals; and avoid unsafe spots.

Hawaii’s natural resources are precious, it’s up to all of us to help preserve these resources.

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Ready to take the tour? Check out Shaka Guide's North Island Jungle Adventure Loop Tour!

We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at aloha@shakaguide.com.

Ready to take the North Island Jungle Adventure Loop? Here's everything you need to know before you go! 

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