A Curious Crossroads

When the weekend calls, a languid holoholo from Honoka‘a to Hawi on Hawai‘i Island’s northside answers with scenic sights and charming personalities along the way.

Text by Rae Sojot
Images by Michelle Mishina

In the 1930s, Sunday drives emerged as a popular pastime for those with automobiles. Each weekend, Sundays were reserved for pleasure drives—ones needing no purpose, no rush, and no true destination.

My travel companion and I found ourselves under a dewy sky one late summer morning, the hint of rain neither dampening nor discouraging our spirits. Instead we relaxed our itinerary, divesting ourselves of any have-to’s and should-do’s. Why not allow the trip to unfold in its own way? We granted ourselves the quiet thrill that comes with freedom and leisure.

A general route emerged, one that would that take us from Honoka‘a to Hawi and then back again, allowing for as many stops as we pleased. We soon found ourselves in an open paddock at the Hāmākua Harvest Farmer’s Market. Among the colorful hodgepodge of tents were vendors of all kinds: beekeepers and bakers, a jewelry repairwoman and gelato maker too. Nearby a guitarist twanged out blues-y music accompanied by the dulcet notes of a violin. The violinist, we were informed, had invented the cigar box guitar.

In Honoka‘a Town, we strolled down the main thoroughfare in a light, intermittent drizzle. Honoka‘a’s charm does not immediately reveal itself to first-time visitors. Rather it is felt. As a sleepy plantation-era town, what it may lack in frills it makes up in sincerity. We pressed our faces against the windowpanes of Ikeuchi True Value Hardware, a family-run business since 1930, like unabashed children, looking in on the shelves of spray paint, light bulbs, and scoop nets.

Across the street, Gramma’s Kitchen, a cozy restaurant made even cozier by Portuguese tchotchkes and comfort food offerings, bustled with activity. Two women deftly maneuvered around chairs and tables while balancing trays laden with orders of pancakes, eggs, and fish and chips, Gramma’s Kitchen’s most popular menu-item. Regulars and newcomers smiled across the room at each other over full bellies. We couldn’t help but smile at this. Our hearts felt full.

Moving onward towards Hawi, we drove through Waimea Town, our conversation mirroring the pleasant pitch and yaw of the surrounding green pastureland. We wondered aloud if the overcast sky would hold or break anew and continued to stop at whatever piqued our interest—a dreamlike meadow that beckoned a photo op, a moss-covered stone, an unknown forested path that held promise of the ocean at its end. Each time we left the air-conditioned cocoon of the car, the damp air fell soft on our skin like a cloak and the humidity wrought havoc on our hair. We laughed at each other’s emerging curls.

Each stop offered its own cache of stories and delights. The achingly beautiful views of Pololū Valley was made even more beautiful by our encounter with a gentleman selling bottled liliko‘i syrup near the lookout. His eyes shone with sorrow as he told a story about a woman he had loved and lost and to whom the sweet syrup’s recipe originated from. A cup of ‘ulu chowder bought from a roadside food truck led to a conversation with the food truck’s owner who, after some gentle coaxing, shared the tale of the soup’s triumphant debut and how, on that serendipitous day, a visiting soup scion had sampled it, declaring it to be the best he had ever tasted. At Choke Collectors, a knickknack store in eccentric, artsy town of Hawi, its equally eccentric and artsy store owner paused a gossip session with a friend to share the colorful history behind an outrageously ornate bed canopy that we had been scrutinizing.

We made our way back to Honoka‘a admiring the passing contour of hill and valley in the gloaming. In town, the Honoka‘a People’s Theatre lights twinkled a warm welcome. An event had just commenced and many of those in attendance were making their way to Sea DandeLion, a local ‘awa bar. We made our way, too. Inside, we met the owners, a lovely couple who had fallen in love—twice: once with each other, and then with Honoka‘a.

As the evening faded into night, my companion and I marveled over the day’s ephemerality. How the constant mist softened the edges of our experiences and rendered them dreamlike. How we found treasure in people and places. How travel served as a sweet interlude between each discovery. As my companion and I parted ways for the evening, the rain momentarily stopped. Above us, was a sky full of song.