Along the Hamakua Coast, MAUNA KEA’S slopes fall away into the pounding northeast surf which helped shape them. The consistent prehistoric and historic demographic pattern along this dramatic windward coast has been one of small villages scattered across upland gulches, ravines, forests and rocky coastlines. In ancient times, the surrounding wildlands served as a resource for feathers and canoe logs. In more recent times, the coast was covered with vast fields of sugarcane until 1993 when Hamakua Sugar Company harvested its last crop.
THE LAUPAHOEHOE TRAIN MUSEUM AND VISITOR CENTER showcases photos, memorabilia and stories of plantation life on the Hamakua Coast when sugar was king and railways the workhorse of transportation. It is located in LAUPAHOEHOE town, midpoint in the Hamakua Coast, and is marked by railroad crossing signs on the mauka (toward the mountain) side of the highway. The museum building is the original station agent’s residence, and stands on the site of the LAUPAHOEHOE TRAIN STATION LANDING DOCK.
The expense of spanning countless gulches and watercrossings gave the Hamakua portion of the Hawaii Consolidated Railway the distinction of being the most expensive section of railway built in America in its time. The “road of steel” became a road of asphalt after the tidal wave of 46 destroyed most of these trestle bridges, and many of the highway bridges on the Hamakua Coast are built on original railway foundations.
North of LAUPAHOEHOE, the town of HONOKAA serves as a cultural bridge between rural, agricultural East Hawaii and the upland ranching traditions and coastal resort development on the leeward or drier west side of the island. Just a minute makai (seaward) of Highway 19, the charm of Big Island small town living can be found by strolling down MAMANE STREET in HONOKAA town on your way to historic WAIPIO VALLEY.