Off-the-Grid Road Trip: Discovering the Real Hawaii

Navigating Saddle Road. (Photo: Porsche)

Laura Begley Bloom - With its winding roads and dramatic landscapes, the Big Island of Hawaii is made for road trips. I recently went off the grid there, exploring some of the lesser known areas in a 2016 Porsche Boxster Spyder. My goal: to get to the heart of this gorgeous island.

A roadster like the Boxster Spyder is perfect for handling Hawaii’s rugged terrain. Lightweight, nimble, and loaded with torque, it flies around the hairpin curves with confidence. Plus, with the top down, you can take in all the surroundings.


There I am, behind the wheel in the Porsche Boxster Spyder on the Big Island. (Photo: Porsche)

One thing you need to know about driving a sexy sports car like the Boxster Spyder is that it attracts lots of attention. I felt like a movie star when I pulled into small towns or stopped at intersections. I even had a guy at a fruit stand offer to waive the bill because he thought the car was so cool (I think he was angling for a ride).

The only problem with being behind the wheel on a road trip like this is that the scenery is so beautiful you worry you might get distracted. The backdrops are spectacular — there are waterfalls all over the place. Not to miss is Akaka Falls, the highest waterfall on the Big Island, plummeting 442 feet into a gorge. Set in a rain forest full of orchids and bamboo, palms and ferns, it’s like something out of Jurassic Park.


Fresh Off the Grid, a roadside restaurant that runs off the grid. (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)

One of my favorite finds was a little food truck called Fresh Off the Grid. It’s a beautiful spot in the middle of nowhere, with views over the ocean and horses roaming nearby. Everything is made from scratch and the place operates off the grid. It just opened in May of 2015 on a family farm. They serve smoothies and shave ice made from fruit grown on the property; the fish is sourced from local fishermen. The day I was there, I dined on spicy ahi poke over sushi rice with a miso sesame baby green salad and sunflower seed daikon sprout slaw. Trust me: it is worth the drive halfway around the island.

Related: A Tale of Two Hawaiis—Adventures on the Big Island

Another great find for super-fresh fish is Da Poke Shack, a take-away spot hidden in a residential complex on the outskirts of Kona. A tip: instead of eating at the picnic tables in the parking lot, head to the other side of the building, where there are tables overlooking the ocean. It’s a spectacular view. 


Navigating Saddle Road. (Photo: Porsche)

The best drive on the island is Saddle Road, which cuts across the island through a dramatic panorama of lush rain forest, green hills, and wide open fields. Plus, it’s totally isolated and you can drive FAST. The Army originally built the road in 1942 in the “saddle” between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Full of blind corners and one-way bridges, it used to be that rental car companies wouldn’t allow you to drive here. Some of the road has been redone, but there are still precarious patches that are all the more fun when navigated in a Boxster Spyder. If you’re going fast enough, you can get airborne going over the steep hills. 

Related: Let’s Take an Adrenaline Fueled Island Hop Through Hawaii

I loved getting lost on the Big Island, which is the point of a great road trip, isn’t it? There are tons of quiet little towns to explore, roadside attractions to discover, and coffee plantations to visit. The tiny historic town of Kapa’au is a place where people go to drop out (and do lots of yoga). Honomu looks like something out of the wild west and has just 541 residents. I also loved Waimea, which is in the heart of paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) country, and where some of the stop signs say “whoa” instead of “stop.” With all its galleries, the artsy village of Holualoa is another great pit stop. It is set on the slopes of a volcano, right in the heart of the Kona coffee belt.


The sunset view from the Mauna Lani. (Photo: Laura Begley Bloom)

I stayed at the Mauna Lani, a resort in a stunning oceanfront location on the Kohala Coast. The spa is a highlight: the treatment rooms are in open-air thatched huts (hales) that feel like a scene from Gilligan’s Island. There are also wonderful small hotels across the Big Island, like the mountaintop Holualoa Inn, which has sweeping views of the island. An off-grid micro resort, Kipuka, just opened in a remote corner of the island. There are four bamboo eco homes and a saline pool located on a six-acre garden with rare and exotic palms.

One of the things you have to do is to get out of your car long enough to go on a helicopter tour. There’s nothing like seeing the Big Island from the air — especially when you fly over active volcanoes and lava flows. It gives you an entirely different perspective to have that birds’ eye view. 

But as beautiful as it was in the air, there’s still nothing like being on the ground and behind the wheel of a Porsche in one of the most stunning places on earth.

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