The still-rustic Big Island town of Honokaa, surrounded by the grassy slopes of Mauna Kea, is home to a number of noteworthy bed-and-breakfasts that make it a perfect fit for independent travelers looking to discover their own little corner of Hawaii.
There is much to recommend Honokaa as a base for at least a portion of a Big Island itinerary. There are several casual yet quality restaurants in town and an eclectic collection of shops, some catering to tourists and some to local ranchers and farmers.
Drive west out of Honokaa for about 30 minutes and you're in the upcountry ranchland town of Waimea, with the first beaches of the Kohala coast 20 minutes farther on.
Heading south, Hilo is a 50-minute drive along the spectacular Hamakua Coast.
There are also worthwhile options closer at hand, such as spectacular views of the Waipio Valley at the end of a 15-minute drive from Honokaa.
It's the start of an eight-mile wilderness of great valleys and sawtoothed mountains. In Polynesian times, now-isolated Waipio was one of Hawaii's most heavily populated areas, home to several thousand villagers who harvested taro in its fertile, riverside flatlands. Taro is still grown in Waipio, with a patchwork of fields easy to spot from the lookout.
Visitors can also head down into Waipio on one of several tours that access the valley floor in four-wheel-drive vehicles, descending 600 feet along a narrow cliffside road. If it's been raining over the mountains, there will be many waterfalls cascading down creases in the valley's near-vertical walls.
R&R at a B&B
The following is a sampling of area bed-and-breakfasts that put Honokaa on the map as part of a circle island itinerary or as a destination in its own right.
• Waianuhea: Located 15 minutes from Honokaa, Waianuhea provides a perfect setting for an off-the-beaten-path glimpse of a Hawaii few visitors get to experience.
The setting is bucolic, with views of Mauna Kea's distant summit. At an elevation of 2,500 feet, Waianuhea's climate is not Hawaiian in the tropical sense, so guests should pack a sweater for evenings.
This B&B offers elegant, plushly furnished accommodations with large bathrooms and soaking tubs and contemporary touches such as flat-screen TVs with cable, in-room cell phones, DVD players and wireless Internet.
The elegant touches extend beyond the accommodations, starting with a gourmet breakfast by the property's resident chef, who also prepares gourmet hors d'oeuvres for end-of-day cocktails served in one of the property's large public rooms.
There are four rooms in the main house, priced at $195 to $310 per night, and a larger suite adjacent with a fireplace and private patio, at $400. Rates are commissionable. Call (888) 775-2577, fax (888) 296-6302 or visit www.waianuhea.com.
• Mountain Meadow Ranch: This B&B is also situated on Ahualoa's upcountry meadowlands, at 2,200 feet above sea level. Here, privacy is king, in either the separate cottage or the two rooms in the main house. Seven acres of tall trees and pasture surround the house, which offers mountain and ocean views.
Breakfast is not included in the two-bedroom cottage rental, which is priced at $135 a night. Bed-and-breakfast rates for the in-house guest rooms are a bargain at $95. While bookings are not commissionable -- a policy the hosts claimed keeps their "very special" B&B affordable -- Mountain Meadow Ranch is likely to draw appreciative thanks from clients. Call (808) 775-9376 or visit www.mountainmeadowranch.com.
• Waipio Wayside: This B&B is located only a couple of miles outside Honokaa, on the road to the Waipio Valley lookout. Its rooms include the Chinese Room, outfitted with 19th century Oriental antiques, and the Library Room, with knotty pine walls lined with more than 400 books. The Bird's Eye Room, separate from the main house, offers privacy.
Rates range from $109 to $190 per night and include a full, organic, tropical breakfast. The welcome is warm, the setting relaxing and bookings are commissionable. Call (800) 833-8849 or visit www.waipiowayside.com.