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Living in Honoka‘a, Along Hawai‘i Island’s Hāmākua Coast

Of all the towns along the beautiful Hāmākua Coast, Honoka‘a is the largest, offering a variety of dining options, quaint shops, a picturesque downtown, and fun cultural events throughout the year. Steeped in history, this close-knit community is located on the makai (ocean) side of Mamalahoa Highway, just 40 miles north of Hilo and a short 15-minute drive south of Waimea.

Charming Honoka’a

Once the second-largest town on the island, roughly 2,258 people call Honoka‘a home, according to 2010 census data. The average age of residents is 40, with the population split almost evenly between men and women. The majority of Honoka‘a, Hawai‘i real estate consists of owner-occupied, single-family homes. There are fewer condos or vacation rentals in Honoka‘a, relative to other parts of the state. Overall, residents enjoy a more rural and less urban lifestyle along the coast.

For more than a century, life in Honoka’a and the surrounding Hāmākua Coast centered on the sugar cane industry. To this day, the small town retains its plantation-era charm. Most of the buildings on Māmāne Street, the main street in downtown Honoka’a, were built in the 1920s and 1930s by Chinese and Japanese workers who left the plantations to establish their own businesses. One of these is the historic Honoka’a People’s Theatre. Built in 1930 by the Tanimoto family, the historic theater is home to music festivals and concerts, and also shows current movies.

A Rich Agricultural Heritage

Agriculture and ranching remain a vital part of the local economy, even after the demise of the sugar cane industry in 1994. Honoka’a Farmers Market is a weekly market that fronts Honoka‘a Trading Company, which is held on Saturday mornings from 7:30 am and organized by the Hāmākua Ag Cooperative. Featuring organic and non-organic locally grown produce, it’s likely one of the oldest farmers markets in the area.

The Farmers Market put on by nonprofit Hāmākua Harvest is located at the intersection of Māmāne Street and Highway 19 just outside of Honoka‘a. Hours are Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the event features local vendors offering fresh, locally grown produce, value-added products and ono grindz.

What’s more, you could spend a month of Sundays exploring all the local farms that offer culinary and farming events in and around Honoka’a. Sip on organic green tea during one of Mauna Kea Tea farm tours or enjoy the Vanilla Experience Luncheon and Farm Tour at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, where the first U.S. commercially-grown vanilla has been harvested since 1998.

maunakeatea

Popular Honoka‘a Events & Activities

Although small in size, Honoka‘a offers a wide array of popular events throughout the year. On the First Friday of each month, downtown restaurants and shops stay open late offering specials, live music, and entertainment. Every May, Honoka‘a residents celebrate Western Week with a local rodeo, parade, saloon girl contest, and outdoor concerts. The Peace Parade and Festival is another big crowd-pleaser. It’s held every September in conjunction with the United National International Day of Peace and draws thousands of attendees from around the island.

When it comes to outdoor activities, there’s a lot to do in Honoka‘a. One of the most breathtaking views on Hawai‘i Island is just down the road from downtown Honoka‘a at the Waipi‘o Valley Lookout (as seen in the top image in this article). Only one-mile-wide and five miles deep, and surrounded by 2,000-foot cliffs, Waipi‘o Valley is among the most sacred places on Hawai‘i Island. The boyhood home of King Kamehameha the Great, the verdant valley is accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles and by horseback.

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There are numerous opportunities for hiking and horseback riding to explore the lush fertile valley that’s home to only 100 people. The adventurous can trek to the back of Waipi‘o to see Hi‘ilawe Falls; the 1,300-foot waterfall is the tallest on the island and is a magnificent sight to behold in person.

Many visitors to this area stop at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden to view some of the most exquisite tropical flora, and catch a glimpse of Onomea Bay.  The 40-acre valley is a nonprofit with a mission “to serve as a nature preserve and sanctuary, a living seed bank, and a study center for trees and plants of the tropical world.”

Honoka‘a Services & Amenities

Honoka‘a is home to the North Hawai‘i Education and Research Center (NHERC), a satellite campus of the University of Hawai‘i, Hilo. NHERC offers both college courses and non-credit personal enrichment classes, a computer lab open to community members, a rotating art exhibit gallery, and historical archives. Health care services are close by at the Hāmākua Health Center, located in downtown Honoka‘a. The North Hawai‘i Community Hospital is just a short, 15-minute drive away in nearby Waimea, where you’ll also find world-class private schools that are some of the best in the islands.

More Information

With all that is has to offer and its proximity to both Hilo and Waimea, it’s easy to see why homebuyers seek out Honoka‘a when looking to live on Hawai‘i Island. If you’d like to learn more about living in charming Honoka‘a, Waimea (Kamuela), Hilo or Waipi‘o, or you’re interested in properties for sale along the Hāmākua Coast, please contact our Hawai‘i Life Honoka‘a office.

[This post was updated from its original in December 2019]

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Tracy Stice

February 27, 2015

I still remember my sawmill days in 1983 on Mauna Kea Ranch above the old dairy . I spent months camping in a tent and getting up every morning and brewing coffee, watching the wild turkeys and pigs dig through the sawdust around my mill, looking for bugs for breakfast. When you are 31 years old, life can be pretty simple, yet very pleasurable. My big relief was a hot shower at the Hotel Club Honaka’a , with my $10 room, and a huge breakfast of Portagee sausage, eggs, and 3 scoops rice.

Honoka’a is about as nice a town as there is , any place in Hawaii. The weather is cool with strong trade winds, plenty of showers to keep things green, and a small town ambience that never changes. If you want ” unspoiled ” Hawaii, I too would vote for Honoka’a and I am a Maui boy. Only Hana on Maui has the same feel of being lost in a time warp that hopefully never changes.

Ask Einstein, is time relevant ? I think so, my clock is ticking and breathing the clean air every morning, hearing my rooster crowing, hens clucking, and a morning rain shower sure makes me feel alive. Thank you Beverly for bringing me back to Honoka’a !

Mahalo Hawai’i

Tracy Stice

February 27, 2015

I still remember my sawmill days in 1983 on Mauna Kea Ranch above the old dairy . I spent months camping in a tent and getting up every morning and brewing coffee, watching the wild turkeys and pigs dig through the sawdust around my mill, looking for bugs for breakfast. When you are 31 years old, life can be pretty simple, yet very pleasurable. My big relief was a hot shower at the Hotel Club Honaka’a , with my $10 room, and a huge breakfast of Portagee sausage, eggs, and 3 scoops rice.

Honoka’a is about as nice a town as there is , any place in Hawaii. The weather is cool with strong trade winds, plenty of showers to keep things green, and a small town ambience that never changes. If you want ” unspoiled ” Hawaii, I too would vote for Honoka’a and I am a Maui boy. Only Hana on Maui has the same feel of being lost in a time warp that hopefully never changes.

Ask Einstein, is time relevant ? I think so, my clock is ticking and breathing the clean air every morning, hearing my rooster crowing, hens clucking, and a morning rain shower sure makes me feel alive. Thank you Beverly for bringing me back to Honoka’a !

Mahalo Hawai’i

Beverly Molfino, R(S)

February 27, 2015

Tracy – so glad my blog post brought back wonderful memories for you!

Honoka’a truly is a wonderful little town that still retains that small town feel and charm. It’s enjoying a bit of a renaissance these days: store fronts are full of quaint shops, lots of places to eat, and the Honoka’a People’s Theatre continues to host great concerts and movies. You really do feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. People are friendly. Stop in Malama Market for groceries and you’ll wind up talking story with a bunch friends and neighbors.

Thanks for sharing your memories of Honoka’a! You’ll have to come back and visit soon! If you know folks that are interested in living in this charming town, have them check out this lovely Honokaa home with ocean views.

Beverly Molfino, R(S)

February 27, 2015

Tracy – so glad my blog post brought back wonderful memories for you!

Honoka’a truly is a wonderful little town that still retains that small town feel and charm. It’s enjoying a bit of a renaissance these days: store fronts are full of quaint shops, lots of places to eat, and the Honoka’a People’s Theatre continues to host great concerts and movies. You really do feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. People are friendly. Stop in Malama Market for groceries and you’ll wind up talking story with a bunch friends and neighbors.

Thanks for sharing your memories of Honoka’a! You’ll have to come back and visit soon! If you know folks that are interested in living in this charming town, have them check out this lovely Honokaa home with ocean views.

Jenna

December 10, 2019

What a lovely post and comment below it. My family and I are moving to the island next year and are looking at the Honoka’a neighborhood. ❤

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