Hawaii Islands (Big Island [West])
will enter Big Island either in Kailua-Kona on the west side or Hilo
(pronounced HEE-lo, not High-Low) on the east coast, so we'll start with
Kona. Kona, which is divided into north and south districts, is known for
it's sunny, dry climate, hence its nickname "The Gold Coast".
This is the home of the International Billfish Tournament as well as our
legendary Kona coffee and the only USA coffee plantations.
When you land at the airport at Keahole
(pronounced Kay-ah-HO-lay), about 10 minutes north of Kailua, you are
likely to assume that all the stories you've heard about beautiful, lush
Hawaii were just travel agent tricks designed to trap you on an ugly,
desolate rock miles from home. Don't worry, we just like to build our
airports in the middle of old lava fields. It will get better. Much
drive north of the airport will take you further into north Kona, home of
the finest (and most expensive) resorts on the island. The Hualalai Four
Seasons, the Mauna Lani, Kona Village and further north the Hilton
Waikoloa Village all dot the coastline here. Though still rugged and
somewhat barren in this region, the hotels have made their own little
oases. This is also the area in which our best sand beaches begin (see
If you head south from the airport you
will soon come to the main town on our west side, Kailua-Kona. By the way,
don't worry about getting lost. There's only one major highway. Anyway,
Kailua is the shopping and general activity center for this side of the
island. Ali'i Drive (pronounced Ah-LEE-ee), the main street through town
will take you to quaint old shopping villages as well as a few dozen
restaurants (check our restaurant guide). At the north end of Ali'i you
will find the Kailua Pier, the starting line for the Ironman Triathlon.
Some places to visit in Kailua proper
must include the Hulihe'e Palace and the Mokuaikaua Church. The palace was
a summer escape for the royal family, built in 1838 by our first governor,
John Kuakini. Not palatial on the outside with its country manor style,
the inside holds some very precious treasure. If you are a person
who appreciates fine woodworking, the furniture in the palace is not to be
missed. There are also delightful personal effects on display. Operated by
the Daughters of Hawaii as a museum, there is usually someone on hand to
answer your questions.
Across the street from the palace is the
Mokuaikaua Church, erected in 1838 as well. Built of lava rock, ohia and
koa woods, it is said that this is the oldest Christian church in Hawaii.
Elegant and beautiful in its simplicity of design, hush falls on you when
you enter its cool, dark sanctuary. It's name actually translates, The
trees are felled, now let us eat, an example of the insightful,
creative and uniquely Hawaiian way of expressing a much deeper thought in
what seems to be a very practical and almost nonchalant manner.
If you follow Ali'i to its
conclusion at Keauhou Shopping Center you will pass by several of the best
beaches in the immediate area, many of which are popular surf spots. Tiny
(and I mean tiny) St. Peter's "Little Blue Church", built
in 1889 is along the way. Almost at the end of Ali'i Drive you will come
to Kahalu'u Beach Park, a popular tourist beach and good beginner's'
snorkeling spot, known for its friendly honu (sea turtles). For
your convenience, a trolley service runs through Kailua to nearby Keauhou
(Kay-ow-HO), but we recommend you rent a car to really get around the
further towards South Kona you enter the Real Old Hawaii, consisting of a
string of tiny villages and small coffee farms. You will notice the air
becoming cooler and the foliage lusher, as you're going up the mountain
(or mauka, as we say here). Here and there you will also see
remnants of old cattle pens and chutes left over from the paniolo (Hawaiian
cowboys) days. You will pass through Honalo, Kainaliu and Kealakekua
(famous for the little grass shack of song) in quick succession. There are
interesting shops and places to stop throughout this area. Leaving
Kealakekua you will see a road leading down to your right to Kealakekua
Bay, home of Spinner Dolphins and the best snorkeling around. This four
mile winding road will take you to the spot where Captain Cook met an
unenviable end. You can see his monument across the bay, which is where
the great snorkeling is. To reach it you will need a kayak, go by one of
several tour boats, or take the Kings' Trail Rides down the mountain. The
hike is a bit much unless you are in superb training. Ironman kind.
Driving further south you will come to
the village of Honaunau (Ho-now-NOW) and the Pu'uhonua o Honaunau or the
Place of Refuge. This is a National park in which you can stroll through a
replica of a Hawaiian village and see ancient Hawaiian culture
demonstrated. The Honaunau area, like all South Kona, is coffee country
and there are dozens of small farms along the way, as well as spectacular
valleys and postcard views. Have your camera handy! There is so very much
to see in Kona that it is impossible to describe it all here. Take your
time and look around.
Eating and drinking
ensures that the bars and restaurants of central Kailua – especially
those along the seafront – are well priced, though the relentless
vacation atmosphere means the place can seem a bit unreal.
Greek Taverna, Kona Plaza, 75–5719 Alii Drive (tel
808/334-1066). Delicious and inexpensive Greek food, from light
salads to substantial moussakas.
on the beach at 76–6828 Kuhakai St (tel 808/329-1493). Lunch and dinner only on a large ocean-view terrace; burgers, salads and
sandwiches, plus live evening entertainment.
Lava Java Bakery & Bistro, Alii Sunset Plaza, 75–5799 Alii
Drive (tel 808/327-2161). Seafront cafe/bakery just south of central
Kailua, with delicious Kona coffee, fresh-baked bread, and live
acoustic music in the evening.
View Inn, 75–5683 Alii Drive (tel 808/329-9998). Very
inexpensive Hawaiian and Asian diner overlooking the sea;
traditional fish dishes. Closed Mon.
of Noodles, Crossroads Shopping Center, 75–1027 Henry St (tel
808/329-2222). Pan-Asian noodle joint a mile up from the ocean near
the highway; great dinners from around $15.
Thai Kitchen, 74–5588A Pawai Place (tel 808/326-7808). Kailua’s best Thai restaurant; hard to find, but also hard to
beat, tucked away behind the North Kona mall. Red- or green-curry
specials for around $6, Pad Thai noodles for under $10.
Drive is lined for about five miles south from Kailua with hotels and
condos, but none offers much by way of budget accommodation. The listings
below therefore include a couple of places a bit further along the coast.
- Aston Royal Seacliff
- Aston Kona by the Sea Resort
- King Kamehameha's
Beach Hotel, 75–5660
Palani Rd . Long-established landmark hotel at the northern end of
oceanfront Kailua, centered around a picturesque little beach and
the Ahuena Heiau. $100–130.
- Kona Reef Hotel
75–5646 Palani Rd. Six floors of reasonable air-conditioned rooms,
with and without kitchens, plus discounted car rental.
Tiki Hotel, 75–5968 Alii
Drive. Bargain little three-story motel, on the ocean a mile south
of central Kailua. No phones or TVs.
Place, 75–195 Ala Ona
Ona. Chaotic, ramshackle budget hostel, up from the town center, and dominated by backpackers and surf freaks. $18 beds in four-person
dorms, plus some private rooms with shared bath.
- Royal Kona Resort
Billy’s Kona Bay Hotel,
75–5739 Alii Drive. Friendly central hotel, run by the same family
as The Hilo Bay in Hilo. Simple but comfortable rooms
arranged around a small pool and the Banana Bay buffet
Accommodation south of Kailua - Kona includes:
The best of the spectacular sandy beaches along
the Kona coast – safe for summer swimming, though with tempestuous
winter surf – lie to the north of Kailua. Hapuna Beach, almost
forty miles up the coast, is deservedly the most famous; it’s still
possible to rent cabins here, but since the opening of the giant Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel
in 1994 it has lost some of its charm. For real idyllic seclusion, head
instead for Kona Coast State Park (daily except Wed 9am–8pm;
free), reached via a bumpy dirt road just a couple of miles north of
Several extraordinary resort hotels lie in
the district of South Kohala, thirty miles north of Kailua. Three separate
enclaves – Waikoloa, Mauna Kea and Mauna Lani – have been landscaped
out of this inhospitable lava desert, each one a self-contained oasis
holding two or three hotels, a beach or two, and nothing else. Although Waikoloa
is the least exclusive of the three, it’s home to the ludicrously
ostentatious, mile-long Hilton Waikoloa Village,
said to consume seven percent of all the island’s energy. Guests travel
to and from their rooms by electric boats or monorail. The adjoining Outrigger Waikoloa Resort
is half the price, and has two good restaurants, as well as its own field
of petroglyphs. Accommodation north of Kailua - Kona are:
Arrival and information
Keahole Airport, on a field of black lava nine miles north of
Kailua, has the usual car rental places; otherwise the Speedi Shuttle (tel
808/329-5433) into town costs around $16 per person. Once in Kailua, a
regular shuttle bus runs the six-mile length of Alii Drive every
ninety minutes (8.30am–9.30pm; $2). One daily bus follows Hwy-11 around
the north of the island to Hilo, leaving Kailua just before 6am and
returning in the evening.
The Hawaiian Visitors Bureau is in Kona
Plaza on Alii Drive (Mon–Fri 8am–noon & 1–4.30pm; tel
808/329-7787), as is the well-stocked Middle Earth bookstore. Bicycles
can be rented from Hawaiian Pedals in the Kona Inn Shopping Village (tel
Drive detail map shows many of the hotel and condominiums
located on the Kona Coast as well as the center of much of the
activity in Kailua-Kona.
Coast map will guide you from the Keahole Airport to points
north, and through Kona Coffee country to the historic regions to
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