If you’ve ever driven from Kona to Hilo or Hilo to Kona, you’ve most likely passed through Waimea. It’s a small picturesque town perched 2,500+ ft. up among the alpine trees and grasslands between Maunakea and the Kohala Mountains.
- These are the horses in your neighborhood. Waimea, Big Island
Just ask anyone who’s spent some time here and they’ll tell you Waimea is one of the most beautiful and eclectic places in all of Hawaii. Here are a few things you should know:
It’s Waimea, not Kamuela
The only time we use the name Kamuela is when we write our address on mail. Since there happens to be two other Waimeas in Hawaii — one a valley on Oahu and the other a small town in Kauai — the U.S. Post Office forced us to choose another “official” name.
Back then, the naming committee agreed on Kamuela, which is Hawaiian for “Samuel,” after Samuel Parker. He was the godfather of Parker, who owns most of the land beneath Waimea and the surrounding area.
So remember–Kamuela is a postal destination and Waimea is the town. Nobody here ever speaks of “Kamuela” — not even the highway signs.
Two Distinct Seasons
Go ahead and laugh, but Waimea gets downright cold in the winter. Well, relatively cold. I’ve seen it drop into the 40’s many times during the months of December through March.
The chilly temperatures are accompanied by frequent wind and rain. Certain trees shed their leaves and some insects disappear until spring. You’ll even see a few people wearing fur-lined parkas, but this is certainly overboard.
- Maunakea summit in the winter with observatories
This “cold” is actually refreshing. It gives us a reason to light up our fireplaces and enjoy the crisp, rustic winter days. There’s even snow that blankets the summits of Maunakea and Maunaloa, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.
The flipside to Waimea’s cold winters are the warm and mild summers. From May through October, when Kona and Hilo are roasting and balmy, Waimea is sunny and, well, perfect.
World Class This, World Class That
Waimea may be a small town (about 7,500 population), but we make up for it in the quality and diversity of our people and facilities.
For starters, we have Parker Ranch and its cowboys (known ’round here as paniolo). The Ranch was founded in 1847 and is one of the largest in the United States. Horses, cattle and rodeos are more common here than coconuts trees and surfing contests.
Waimea is also home to two world-class astronomy facilities: Canada France Hawaii Telescope and Keck Observatories. Both have giant telescopes atop Maunakea that account for some of the most cutting edge research in the universe – literally.
And if that wasn’t enough, Waimea also boasts two college-preparatory private schools, some of Hawaii’s most prominent hula halau and musicians and beautiful fresh-grown produce you won’t see anywhere else.
And yes, Waimea has a Starbucks, too.
Beaches Are Closer Than You Think
One moment you’re frolicking in an alpine-like meadow, the next you’re sipping Mai Tais on a warm tropical beach. It’s tough, I know, but that’s the beauty of Waimea.
Within less than 15 minutes, you can drive from the center of town to the nearest beaches — Maunakea or Hapuna. These aren’t your typical Big Island black lava, scary jagged shoreline beaches, either. We’re talking golden sand, sparkling blue water in the sunniest spot in the entire state of Hawaii (this is true).
And if that wasn’t enough, the entire South Kohala coastline contains some of the most killer surf break on the Island during the winter. And here’s a secret: Try bodysurfing at Hapuna at daybreak. The waves are absolutely phenomenal, plus you’ll practically have the entire beach to yourself.
A Great Place to Visit, an Even Better Place to Live
I always marvel how little time it takes to drive from one end of Waimea to the other. Most people passing through stop to get gas or a bite to eat and then they’re back on the road to marvel at the volcano or snorkel in Kona.
For the average tourist, there isn’t much tourism here. We don’t have torch-lit luaus, plastic leis or sunset dinner cruises. The things we do have take time to know, appreciate and love.
So if you’re willing to stick around for awhile — maybe even for good — Waimea may indeed be the Hawaiian paradise for you.
- View of Waimea town from surrounding puu.
Charles Bohannan is the Editor of Wordful, an unconventional blog about writing, creativity and publishing. He resides in Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii with his wife and 4 children.