Not everyone might appreciate the new Miata's sharply creased fenders or rounder hood, but no one would complain about the utter simplicity of the Z-fold top that flops behind the seat with no trunk intrusion and clicks neatly into place-no need to struggle with the snaps of an extra tonneau cover. When the sky turns dark as we descend into Hawi at the junction of 250 and the Akoni Pule Highway 270 and the air gets a tad moist, it's a cinch to pivot in the driver's seat, pop the top release button, reach back, and haul the top over our heads, cinching it down with a one-handed twist of the newly designed center latch.
And then the sky falls.
This being the tropics, it falls hard for only an hour. Twist and flop, and we're back in the open air, admiring the bougainvillea, giant agapanthus, hibiscus, bird-of-paradise, and towering lines of Norfolk pines throughout the restored Victorian-era villages of Hawi and Kapaau, near the birthplace of Kamehameha the Great, the warrior king who united the Hawaiian Islands in the 1790s. Seventy years ago, this town of clapboard churches and modest, pastel-hued homes was the hub of the sugarcane industry, which eventually went bust in 1975. Artists, hippies, and assorted haoles have blended with the local native Hawaiians to create a laid-back corner of paradise.
Here you can find fresh-shucked macadamia nuts for two dollars a bag at Virginia Graham's honor stand ("We have a wonderful record of honor for ten years," she says). You can camp at the end of the road in the Makapala district, buy wildly beautiful shirts and dresses of unique design at Rainbow-Jo, and find books among the world's largest collection of Hawaiiana at the Kohala Book Shop. Browse among the galleries in Kapaau, eat overstuffed burritos at Hula La's Mexican Kitchen, order a killer pizza at the Hawi Bakery, or buy a rare wooden bowl (from $75 to $7900) at Larry Zeidman's gallery in Hawi.
Taking Highway 270 down the coast gives you an unparalleled view of the blue Pacific, suddenly taking your breath away as the entire Waimea Valley comes into sight below, from dormant Mauna Kea to the vast black nothingness of lava rolling for miles right into the sea, frozen in place from Hualalai's last big blow in 1801.
How you get your own ride in a 2006 Mazda MX-5 on the Big Island is your problem. This rider's problem right now is shaking out the sciatica and figuring out how to transplant the seats and the turbocharger from a 2005 Mazdaspeed Miata into this otherwise spectacular horse.