Sugar was the economic base for more than a century along the fifty-mile stretch of the Hawaii Belt Road (HI 19) on this northeast, windward side of the island. Until the last two sugar mills closed in 1994, the area was characterized by unending fields of cane, only interrupted by deep gulches. The highway passes through or by a number of small, former plantation towns, including Papaikou, Pepeekeo, Honomu, Wailea, Hakalau, Ninole, Laupahoehoe, Ookala, Paauilo, Paauhau, Honokaa, and Kukuihaele. The area is now going through a transition, striving to move into diversified agriculture in order to maintain the landscape's green open space.
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