You won’t find any beaches down in Onomea Bay, but you will find some of the most beautiful coastlines in all of Hawaii. This is an area not to be missed, and you get to choose just how you experience this stretch of paradise. You can take one of two hiking trails down to the bay, or you can simply enjoy the scenery from Hilo’s Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. It’s completely up to you.
The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is certainly the most beautiful and educational way to experience the bay. The garden offers visitors a myriad of waterfalls throughout its lush tropical landscape as well as a boardwalk that leads you right down to the ocean. It’s here, at the bottom of the botanical gardens, where you can look upon the majesty of this rugged coastline.
The bay was forged by the fire of The Big Island’s volcanoes. The hardened lava seems frozen in time as if some magical being pressed pause on a roaring fire. And the walls are covered in lush tropical plants and towering palm trees. It all stands in stark contrast to the swirling blue waters below. It’s perhaps the most “Hawaii” of all the coastlines in the state.
If the fragrance of over 2,000 tropical fauna doesn’t excite you, then you can hike down to the bay. You have two options when it comes to trails down to the water -- The Donkey Trail and the Onomea Trail.
Onomea was once a functional harbor, and donkeys were used to carry cargo down to its ships. The Donkey Trail brings you to a small promontory inside of Onomea Bay for unrivaled views. You can find the trailhead by driving just north of the botanical garden’s parking lot to find a small dirt lot on the ocean side of the road. There’s only enough room for about three cars, but you’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see an old brown sign with yellow letters marking the Onomea Trail.
The official Onomea Trailhead can be found exactly 0.5 miles south of the Donkey Trail. Again, you’ll find a small dirt lot on the ocean side of the road with an old brown sign. Just make sure your car is completely off the road when parking.
You can easily do both of these hikes in less than an hour, but it doesn’t mean the hikes are easy. The trails are steep and made up of Hawaii’s notorious red dirt. That means these hikes get hazardously slippery when wet and compacted, and, if there have been hikers on the trail or it’s rained recently, you can count on the trail being slippery. Make sure to wear good shoes with plenty of traction.
You’ll find a network of streams on your way towards the bay. These waters contain parasites, so don’t drink the water and be careful with any open wounds. The trails have turns that will take you into the botanical gardens, but, unless you’ve paid to enter, you’ll have to stay out of the gardens.
The large Onomea Stream that enters the ocean in Onomea Bay has a lovely waterfalls about 25 feet inland, and the promontory is a great place to take a panoramic picture. Just make sure you have a hiking buddy to hold you steady so that you don’t go tumbling into the violent waters below.