Kona Coast – Big Island of Hawai’i

During each of my many trips to the Big Island, the Kona area was often the focus of the visits. There are some good reasons to make the west coast of the Big Island your destination too:

  • The Kona coastal area offers some superb beaches without the crowds encountered on the other popular Hawaiian islands.
  • Accommodation varies from tenting, to B&B’s, to timeshares and condos, house rentals, and a wide variety of hotels and resorts.
  • If you are a golfer, you will have to work at playing each course before you leave.
  • If you are a shopper, handcrafts, home craft foods, big box stores, tourist traps, art and music are all easy to find.
  • Restaurants vary from the usual mainland fast food outlets, to little cafes and eateries hidden along the highways and byways, and even a few high end restaurants are available for those special occasions.
  • Entertainment is a bit thin, but there are some clubs and bars in the bigger hotels and resorts which will keep you entertained into the late hours, and there are a few floor shows available.
  • Luaus are Hawaiian floor shows, which can include dinner or not, and be “authentic” or just glitzy. There are lots of choices for luaus.
  • Sightseeing on the Big Island is mostly based in the Kona coast area, so if you want a helicopter tour of the volcano, ride a submarine down to see the reef, watch the stars and see the observatories atop Mauna Kea, or snorkel from a sailboat, this is a good place to do it from.
  • A wide variety of accommodation is offered in this area, ranging from B&Bs, a wide variety of hotels and resorts, vacation rentals and condos for longer stays, camping along the coast, and up-country cabins and housekeeping rooms!

Here are some of my travelogues covering activities available along the Kona Coast area.

JoeTourist: Kona &emdash; 2009EIMG_5880aThe Atlantis Submarine is based in Kailua-Kona harbour. It takes you down 100 feet to see the reef offshore and the fish. Reservations can be made online, or call their reservation line (800) 548-6262. It takes a couple of hours by the time they take you out to the sub from the harbour, do the submarine dive to the reef, and return you to shore. Parking is very limited along Ali’i Drive, so I would suggest using the King Kamehameha Hotel parking lot (modest charge), since it is a very short walk to the departure point from the Atlantis office near the hotel.

South from Kailua-Kona town:

About 10 miles south of Kailua-Kona is the community of Kealakekua. Macademia nuts and the famous Kona coffee are produced in this area. Watch for factory outlet signs and stop for samples. We stocked up on the Kona coffee beans and the mac nut brittle – yum! Along the highway, you will likely notice hedges that are bright red in colour. These are poinsettias, which those of us in northern climates try to nurse along at Christmas time. These Hawaiian poinsettias are 10 to 20 feet high, and seem to have their characteristic red fronds on display all year round!

JoeTourist: Kona &emdash; Interior of the Painted ChurchNext, take the turn off the highway to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau and turn again onto Painted Church Road. Just a couple of minutes’ drive from the highway intersection, and you will find Saint Benedict’s Catholic Church, aka Painted Church. Take some change with you to donate to the upkeep of the church. Worth a look.

JoeTourist: Pu'uhonua o Honaunau &emdash; Sunset over the Hale o Keawe (burial place)Puuhonua o Honaunau – a place of refuge and serenity. This is my favourite location in the whole of Hawaii – not just on the Big Island. I suggest you bring a lunch and spend the day. A small entrance fee is charged, but the pass is good for several days, so plan to return if your time on the Big Island allows. There is a very nice picnic area available; potholing along the black lava rocky shoreline presents some fascinating tidal pools that are safe to explore; and there is a public beach with good swimming available just north of the preserve.

Next stop is Ho’okena Beach Park. When I visited here in 2001, the Spinner Dolphins were putting on a terrific display in the outer part of the bay. There is a nice small beach, good swimming, and what looks to be OK snorkling, however I didn’t go in the water. Parking is limited.

Next stop is Mioli’i Beach Park, about 15 miles south along the highway. The park and picnic area is a pretty location, with an easily-walked volcanic rock coastline. I had intended to park here and take the 20 minute walk to Honomalino Bay (a mostly deserted black sand beach), but the signs reading “Private Road”, “Do not trespass” and “Stop – kapu” convinced me to not bother. Even though guidebooks say it is not private, if the Hawaiians living here don’t want me around, I’ll find other places to visit!

Black lava fields in South Kona

Black lava fields in South Kona

Once you leave the South Kona area, and start heading east along the south coast of Hawaii toward Kilauea, the speed limit increases, and the road becomes mostly straight. Coffee is more commonly grown in the Kona area, and Macademia nut plantations  are found further south in this area. Things start to thin out as you make time driving toward the volcanoes. The lava flows make themselves evident – they go on for miles and miles, and in this region, they are much younger than flows to be found on other Hawaiian islands. They are incredibly BLACK. You may be say “well duh, of course lava is black”, however until you see this for yourself, its hard to appreciate just how black it is!

Sunset over the south Kona Coast

Sunset over the south Kona Coast

The lookout near Hawaiian Ranchos offers a spectacular view of the southwest coastline. This is the part of the coast where you will first encounter strong winds off the Pacific Ocean. Last stop for gas is at Ocean View if you plan to drive south to Volcanoes National Park. By now, you are probably two hours into your driving trip, so its’ time to decide to either carry on to Kilauea Volcano and Volcanoes National Park, or return to Kailua-Kona.

Restaurants on the Kona Coast – all JoeTourist recommended!

  • Mi’s Italian Bistro – on the mountain side of the Mamalahoa highway in Kealakekua…a bit hard to find. It is close to the infamous Manago Hotel (not recommended). I ordered the Seafood fettuccine (my first visit) which was made with lots of local seafood and home made pasta. The sauce was light enough to let me savour the seafood flavours. On my second visit, I ordered the Cioppino (fish stew), which was a delicious mix of prawns, scallops and blue crab in a rich tomato and garlic sauce. I ate it with a fork, despite it supposedly being a stew. Mi’s offers superb home style Italian cooking with an Island flare that is not to be missed. Prices are moderate, service is excellent, and there is lots of parking available.
  • Teshima Japanese restaurant – on the mountain side of the the Mamalahoa highway in Honalo by the Shell station. Very popular with the locals. You can’t go wrong ordering the Japanese dinners – they include Miso soup, salad and rice. Some combos feature Sushimi (raw AhiAhi), so if you don’t eat raw fish, order something else or ask for a substitute. Good food, very reasonable prices. Friday and Saturday nights usually see this place jammed with locals, so get there early if you don’t want to wait for a table. They only take cash payment (no credit cards).
  • Keei Cafe – on the the mountain side of the Mamalahoa highway at Hokukano – very good seafood specials, and a great view of the Kona coast sunsets from the tables near the balcony; nice atmosphere with live music some nights. They only take cash payment (no credit cards). Dinner only.