Palms Cliff House Inn: Between the Jungle and the Sea

It’s always summer in Hawaii…or so we like to tell ourselves, once autumn takes hold.

One of my favorite versions of Hawaii, the northeast coast of the Big Island, has lush and frondy jungles, windswept coves, freakishly enormous flowers, tumbling waterfalls — and the comfortable elegance of the Palms Cliff House Inn.

The northeast edge of the Big Island, called the Hamakua Coast, is where you’ll find the island’s deep, green heart and a healthy dose of its tropical romance. About 15 minutes north of downtown Hilo, I was thrilled to discover a luxurious little cliffside bed and breakfast amidst a landscape that can easily make us forget the rest of the world.

Perched a long, quiet ways off the 19 near Honomu Town, at first glance the Palms Cliff House looks like someone’s sort of large, Victorian-y and whitewashed clapboard house. At the front door, though, you’re welcomed into the deceptively sprawling home of owners (and married couple) John and Michelle Gamble; these forty-something folks fell in love with Hawaiian culture and the Big Island back in 2000, and have since filled their inn with Hawaiian artifacts, crafts and a sense of place.

 

 

If you need a hit of ocean air right away, breeze on past the lobby’s sunken sitting room, waft through the French doors and lean against the railing on the first-floor porch. Or better yet, go check out the view from your digs.

There are only eight rooms here, all with ocean views; we were given one of the most popular with couples, Hawaiian Views (room #5). The room was huge and impressive, the decor a curious mix of stately manor, luxurious bordello and Hawaiian feather work; at first, this struck me as odd and a little garish, but soon began to blend into comfort with a bit of panache.

Schmancy perks like a gas fireplace, big ol’ flat-screen, marble Jacuzzi tub and balcony looking out over the water encouraged us to scurry back here from our adventures. The king-sized bed was full of pillows, allowing each of us to go all Goldilocks and find the one that was juuussssst right; tucked up in high-threadcount sheets, the fireplace turned down low, the sliding door open and the rumble of waves in our ears, we had ourselves a delicious night’s sleep here. (Hawaiian Views Suite, $349 US in summer and $449 US in other seasons)

 

 

 

Earlier that afternoon, leaning on the balcony railing with the soft blue glow of ocean in my eyes, I’d struggled a bit with myself: I could easily have convinced Adam to spend the rest of the day here with me, reading books and looking up occasionally to catch a drifting pod of dolphins. Or even a delightful spot of afternoon tea ($45 US per person).

But no — there was much exploring to do. (And just about all of it would require comfortable walking shoes with grippy soles.)

The Palms Cliff House is about three minutes south of Honomu Town, an early 20th-century sugarcane settlement that looks like a Hawaiian version of the Old West, and the spectacular Akaka Falls, a soaring 442-foot waterfall set amidst a big loop of walkways through a towering rainforest. Take a left from the 19 onto the 220, and you’ll find that it costs nothing to park in two-block-long Honomu (where you can score a turkey burger, ice cream and some local handicrafts) and all of $5US to park at Akaka.

About 7 minutes south of the Inn is the gorgeous Hawai’i Tropical Botanical Garden, a Northern California couple’s (seemingly insane) man-made celebration of otherworldly plants and flowers that spills down a steep hill into a rough tumble of stunning coastline. We sprayed ourselves thoroughly with insect repellent, picked our way down the initial path (watching lucky older folks get driven down in golf carts), and meandered amongst tiki idols, rare idols, rocky streams and giant ferns. Dee-lightful.

Tooling along the 19 back towards the Inn, we stopped by rushing rivers beneath tangles of vines, smuggled guavas from roadside trees, and gaped at sheer hillsides of palm trees that melted to verdant valleys and plunged to the rushing sea. Nice neighborhood they’ve got here.

 

 

For dinner that night, we got adventurous and headed north — way north. After about a 40-minute drive, we arrived at the Waipi’o Valley overlook, at the northernmost tip of the Big Island, in time to see the sunset. Sure, we could have caught the last blush of the day from our own balcony back at the Inn, but don’t judge until you’ve seen this wild slice of Hawaiian coast for yourself.

Aside from the pursuit of sheer beauty, our mission was dinner: come evening, there’s little to eat around Honomu. You can easily trek the few minutes back to Hilo, but we chose instead to take Michelle’s suggestion and head up to Honoka’a for homemade calzones at Café Il Mondo. A wise and delicious choice, we took refuge from a sudden rainstorm in a small, cozy storefront-style dining room with scuffed wooden floors and table-fulls of friendly locals. Excited to find that the dough here is made fresh in-house, we chose a light, chewy, olive oil-kissed Greek calzone with salty feta and (instead of marinara) the cafe’s signature pesto. It was absolutely wonderful, and fully worth the 25-minute drive back in the dark.

Morning back at the Palms Cliff House was a mix of strong winds, showers and intermittent rainbows, so we took our sweet, dense slices of homemade Dutch apple pancakes in the inn’s public room, sipping mild Hilo coffee, waiting out the rain and chatting with Michelle and John about their passion for the culture of hula. Their happiest (and busiest) month is in April, when the 3-day annual Merrie Monarch Festival is in full swing and a feathery flurry of hula dancers call the Palms Cliff home.

 

 

For us, we were content to explore the wilds of the Hamakua Coast and then sit awhile on that splendid wraparound porch, gazing off at the bay — with no place else to be.

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My stay at the Palms Cliff House Inn
was sponsored by the Big Island Visitors Bureau,
but all observations and opinions are my own.

Nightly rates include breakfast and range from
$199 US-$349 US during the summer and $299 US-$499 US in other seasons.

United/Continental offers direct, six-hour flights to Hilo from both Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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See also
A Hui Hou, Hilo
Hawai’i in Bloom
Shipman House: Back in Time, Hawaii Style
Hawai’i’s Big Island: Go With the Flow
Dreaming of Hawaii
TWT Travel Binder: Hawaii

Comments

  1. I stayed at a little hostel in Waipio and since I had an early morning in Kona, I saw the sun rise at the lookout! So beautiful!

    Hilo-side just totally reminded me of New Zealand, which is a big reason why I loved it so much. Loving the pictures!

  2. Love your photos, especially Akaka Falls! Your review makes me want to check into Palms Cliff House and spend a looooong weekend watching for whales from my oceanfront lanai, and exploring the Hamakua Coast. In between long, hot baths and sips of champagne, of course!

  3. We spent a few nights at Palms Cliff House Inn and enjoyed it immensely.

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