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Nestled on the northwest slope of the Mauna Kea volcano on the Island of Hawaii lies the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) town of Kamuela. If you’re wondering where exactly to find this hidden gem on the Big Island, read on for a deep dive into the location and geography of Kamuela.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Kamuela is located in Waimea on the Island of Hawaii about 250 miles northwest of Honolulu.

Geography of Kamuela

Located in Waimea on the Island of Hawaii

Kamuela, also known as Waimea, is located on the northwest side of the Island of Hawaii. It sits at an elevation of 2,670 feet above sea level in the district of South Kohala, on the leeward side of the Kohala Mountains and at the foot of Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest mountain.

Waimea translates to “reddish water” in Hawaiian, referring to the erosion of the soil in the area which colored the streams. The town was originally called Kamuela, meaning “Samuel” in Hawaiian, after Samuel Parker – an early missionary. The names have been used interchangeably over time.

Kamuela has a total area of just over 59 square miles. Being situated between the Kohala Mountains and Mauna Kea gives Kamuela a unique geography, with black sand beaches only 9 miles away to the west while snow can occasionally be seen on Mauna Kea’s summit to the southeast.

Situated at the Foot of Mauna Kea

At 13,796 feet elevation, Mauna Kea towers over Kamuela and has a huge influence on the geography and climate of the area. The mountain is home to the Mauna Kea Observatories which take advantage of excellent astronomical viewing from the high elevation and minimal light pollution.

Mauna Kea provides a stunning backdrop along Kamuela’s southeastern skyline. The contrast of lush green pastures dotted with cattle herds in the foreground and the often snowcapped rugged volcanic peak rising in the distance make for iconic views.

In the Middle of Several Climate Zones

Over 90 inches of rainfall per year soak the eastern side of Mauna Kea, contributing to rainforests and the cloudy slopes visible from Kamuela. Just 20 miles west across Kamuela the Kohala coast receives barely 20 inches of rain per year, classified as an arid desert environment.

Kamuela lies in an overlapping transition zone between these two extremes. The result is a remarkably mild climate referred to as “the goldilocks zone.” Kamuela enjoys warm sunny days year-round with temperatures typically ranging 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Evenings cool off into the 50s due to the elevation.

The reliable weather combined with rich volcanic soil made the area a center for ranching. Cattle thrive grazing the grasses growing around Kamuela to this day. The paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys) culture traces its origins running cattle in this area starting in the early 19th century when exotic herds were a gift to Hawaiian royalty.

Driving to Kamuela

From Kona International Airport

The drive from Kona International Airport to Kamuela takes around 1 hour and 45 minutes along Highway 19 and Highway 190. The route winds through stark lava fields, passing small towns like Waikoloa before traversing the Kohala mountain range.

Expect beautiful ocean views before the road turns inland. Fuel up in Waimea, the cowboy town, before continuing on Highway 190 to Kamuela. The changing scenery from coast to mountains is simply breathtaking!

From Hilo International Airport

Driving from Hilo International Airport to Kamuela takes just over 2 hours. Take Highway 19 north through lush rainforests and past the historic town of Honoka’a before climbing up Kohala mountain. Stop at the Waipio Valley lookout for a spectacular view down to the black sand beach 1000 feet below.

As you descend the other side, you’ll be greeted by panoramic vistas over the rolling pastures of Waimea. Fuel up here before the final 30 minutes along Highway 190 to arrive in Kamuela.

From Volcanoes National Park

The drive from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to Kamuela takes around 3 hours. From the park entrance, head north on Highway 11 through forests and farmlands. Pass Hilo Town, then take Highway 19 heading west past picturesque beaches and waterfalls.

Stop in Honoka’a town for a break before the climb up and over Kohala mountain. Amazing views await on the descent to Waimea. After fueling up, it’s a pleasant 30 minutes along Highway 190 to pull into Kamuela.

Be sure to stop at a few lookouts along the way to fully appreciate Hawaii’s incredible landscape!

Kamuela’s Neighboring Towns and Regions

Waikoloa to the West

Waikoloa, located about 30 minutes west of Kamuela, is known for its beautiful beaches and world-class resorts. Popular attractions in Waikoloa include the Hilton Waikoloa Village and the Four Seasons Hualalai.

The area also boasts two championship golf courses – the Waikoloa Beach Course and Kings’ Course.

Hamakua Coast to the East

The scenic Hamakua coast lies to the east of Kamuela. This lush, tropical region is home to magnificent waterfalls, including the famous 442-foot Akaka Falls and 100-foot Rainbow Falls. The area was once a hub for the sugar industry, and you can still see remnants of old sugar mills and train tracks.

The charming towns like Honokaa and Waipio Valley offer small shops, cafes, and galleries for visitors to explore.

Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa to the South

The majestic Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes tower over Kamuela to the south. At 13,796 feet, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in Hawaii. Its summit also houses the most advanced astronomical observatories in the world, drawn by unrivaled viewing conditions.

Meanwhile, Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on Earth by volume and one of the most active. While eruptions are rare, its lava flows have reached near Hilo in historical times. Visitors can drive up Mauna Kea or take a tour to witness its epic scale and enjoy unparalleled stargazing.

Outdoor Activities Near Kamuela

Mauna Kea Stargazing

One of the most popular outdoor activities near Kamuela is stargazing on Mauna Kea. At 13,803 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea offers some of the world’s best astronomical seeing due to its high altitude, clean air, and stable airflow.

Several world-class observatories sit atop the dormant volcano, including the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (

For visitors, Onizuka Center for International Astronomy offers free public stargazing programs 300 nights a year. Guests can gaze through professional telescopes at objects like Saturn’s rings, the Orion Nebula, and neighboring galaxies.

With Mauna Kea’s exceptionally dark skies, the unaided eye can see about 3,000 stars compared to a few hundred from most urban areas.

Mauna Kea Skiing and Snowboarding

Believe it or not, people ski and snowboard right here in Hawaii – on Mauna Kea, to be exact! Mauna Kea means “White Mountain” in Hawaiian, and at the summit, winter temperatures can dip below freezing with several feet of snow accumulation.

The Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station loans out free snow play equipment when conditions permit. Visitors can sled down slopes or even ski and snowboard if they bring their own gear. Local outdoor shops also offer snowboarding and ski tours up the mountain.

Ranch Tours and Horseback Riding

North Kohala, where Kamuela lies, was once home to many cattle ranches owned by Hawaiian royalty and missionaries. Several ranches still exist today and offer horseback riding adventures across their scenic grounds.

At Paniolo Adventures, guests can take horseback tours through the hills above Kamuela with panoramic views of Maui and the Kohala Mountains ( Just down the road, Naʻalapa Stables provides trail rides with a taste of Old Hawaiian cowboys’ culture known as “paniolo” (

Hiking and Biking Trails Galore

From easy coastal paths to challenging ascents up volcanoes, hikers will find endless options around Kamuela. Popular trails lead through lush forested valleys, green meadows grazed by cattle, and along rugged lava flows.

Some exceptional hikes include:

  • Pololū Valley Lookout – Stunning coastal cliffs and black sand beach
  • Waipiʻo Valley Overlook – Views of a sacred, emerald valley dotted with waterfalls
  • Mauna Kea Summit Trail – Above 13,000 feet with unreal 360° vistas

Kamuela also connects to the historic Kohala Ditch Trail, a 22-mile path following irrigation flumes across North Kohala. Mountain bikers particularly enjoy this ride. Parts of the trail reach over 4,000 feet in elevation with awesome views.


As you now know, Kamuela is uniquely situated on the northwest flank of Mauna Kea in Waimea on Hawaii Island. It lies in the center of the island, making it an optimal home base for exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to the southeast as well as the beaches of the Kohala Coast like Hapuna Beach to the northwest.

With its rich paniolo cowboy culture and plethora of outdoor activities ranging from stargazing to horseback riding, Kamuela has something for everyone. We hope this guide gave you a comprehensive introduction to exactly where this Hawaiian cowboy town lies.

The next time your travels take you to the Big Island, consider staying for a few nights in Kamuela to soak up all that this mountainous region has to offer. You certainly won’t regret taking the time to venture up to Waimea and discovering its hidden charms.

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