Small Town Highlight: Historic Honokaa Town
Driving from the hills of Waimea through the Ahualoa forest, you are greeted by a proud, yet a slightly crooked sign that welcomes you to Historic Honokaa town. The contrast between the blue of the sky and the ocean against the greenery of the foliage is striking. As you turn down Mamane Street, you are drawn back into time as you pass the single-walled wooden plantation-era commercial buildings that line the quaint downtown. Many of the buildings proudly display the age they were built, the oldest of which dates back to 1882.
The small town was once a thriving epi-center of sugar cane production and Honokaa was the meeting spot for r&r after the workday's end for the plantation workers in the early 1900s. The sugar cane industry in Hawaii lasted until the 1990's and the industry left its imprint on the town. The history of Honokaa is truly a mixing pot, thanks to the immigration of workers for the sugar plantations. Workers migrated from the Philippines, Japan, Portugal, China, among other places, to work at the sugar cane plantations and their culture has left its mark on the small town. The overall feel of the town is a mix of the western cowboy mixed with Asian influence with that added aloha vibe.
There are several restaurants in Honokaa, including two vegan restaurants, two cafes, an Italian restaurant, Hawaiian food spots, and a local bar. The Mamane Street shops are filled with small businesses proudly selling local goods ranging from locally made bathing suits and clothing to talented artist galleries to coffee and produce. The emphasis placed on local products is evident, as you walk the streets of Honokaa. There is a zero-waste store as well as a 1930's movie theater, which doubles as a venue for local events. The Honokaa Heritage Center is a free exhibit with pictures from the past and provides a great insight into the history of Honokaa. The Hamakua Country Club is a laid-back and affordable 9 hole golf course, in which you can walk the course or rent a cart. Sundays the local Farmer's Market, the Hamakua Harvest, takes place. There are local food trucks, education demonstrations, music, and often dancing, ranging from western to hula.
Some of the most notable events of the year in Honokaa town include Western Week, which takes place at the end of May and offers week-long events ranging from silent auctions to rodeos to parades. Likewise, there are usually events tied to the high school, which is the heart of the town as well as the Hamakua Harvest Festival, which highlights all things local agriculture.
Outside of Honokaa town is Waipio Valley and Kalopa State Park, two notable natural features on the island and are must-visits on the island. As you leave Honokaa and drive towards Hilo, you will see remnants of sugar cane past in the large swaths of land now converted to pasture. The small town of Honokaa is a place where you will walk downtown and inevitably run into a familiar face. This "small town, big aloha" feeling is not commonplace in today's disconnected world and Honokaa is one such place that puts an emphasis on its community and its history.
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