There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track. Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.
Kahalu’u Beach County Park
Loll in sand and sun under swaying palms, watch humpback whales dance in an exotic Kona sunset, snorkel among rainbow-colored fish on a protected reef or ride surf where the Kings of Hawai’i defined the sport a thousand years ago! Kahalu’u is the crown jewel of Kona Coast County Beach Parks.
Abundant parking, disabled access, picnic tables, two shaded pavilions, two sets of public restrooms, showers and lifeguards round-out the facilities of this beautiful beach park. Most days there is a food wagon selling sandwiches, burgers, shave ice and cold drinks at reasonable prices and a vendor renting snorkeling gear and boogie boards. This beach can be crowded on weekends, but there is always room for another snorkeler in the water.
This is the premiere snorkeling beach of the Island of Hawai’i; protected from the open sea by a sea wall, the reef is also protected against commercial aquarium fishing. Thus, the snorkeling is in calm, shallow water; frequently during low tide, one can actually walk to the sea wall, a couple hundred feet offshore. Also, there is an abundance of fish of an enormous variety, over 100 species…perhaps the best display on the island.
For these two reasons, Kahalu’u is where many visitors head for their introduction to snorkeling. If you are unsure about snorkeling, there is a great video about snorkeling, actually filmed at Kahalu’u Beach, available here; remember if you can float you can snorkel. A series of very short articles dealing with various topics on snorkeling in Hawaii are available here, here, here, here, here and here.
Dozens of Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles and a few Hawksbill Sea Turtles call this bay home, eating the limu (or seaweed) and thrilling the snorkelers. These turtles are generally observed along the shallow rocks and lava reef on the south (left as you face the ocean) side of the bay. Remember that these turtles are endangered and protected, it is a federal offense to approach, touch, handle or harass the turtles, in the water or out. More about the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle can be found here, and more about environmental awareness and protecting the reef animals can be found here.
Numerous freshwater springs and shallow water bathers make the near-shore snorkeling unpleasantly cloudy, but about 50 feet offshore the water turns crystal clear and the display of coral is nothing short of amazing. Outside the breakwater one may occasionally see deep water species such as marlin, tuna, dolphin and small sharks. Towards the south, where the bay shallows to a series of tide pools, many species of shrimp and seaweed not commonly seen in West Hawai’i are abundant.
Northward, and outside the bay, is an excellent surf break that is for intermediate or better surfers and boogie boarders. There is a fair current north out of the bay and along the coast…swimmers caught in this current should relax and swim with the current, angling towards land…they will come to shore a few hundred yards north of Kahalu’u and be able to walk back along the road. To avoid the current, simply stay well within the area of the bay enclosed by the seawall. If you feel the current begin to tug at you, simply turn toward shore, spot the pavilion and begin slowly swimming toward it; go slowly and steadily so as not to tire yourself.
The Hawai’ian word Kahalu’u can be translated as “the place where people go into the water”; in ancient, as well as modern times, Kahalu’u was a place of recreation, relaxation and restoration. The Kahalu’u are is part of the greater Keauhou Historic District; to find out more about the many fascinating temples, palaces and sacred spots in and around Kahalu’u Bay, please go here.
One of the numerous sites of historic importance around the park, such as the seawall, Paokamenehune, which predates the 15th century temple complexes in the area and is widely said to have been built by the menehune (sort of the Hawai’ian equivalent to leprechauns). In reality the seawall is only half man-made and half an augmented natural feature; building was initiated to enclose the bay as a fishpond. Whether the work became beyond the powers of the Ali’i at the time to administrate or the surfing faction won-out in the battle over use of Kahalu’u Bay is not known, but the breakwater was already in disarray at the time of European contact in the 18th century.
Ku’emanu Heiau, perhaps the only ancient temple to honor the Gods of Surfing still standing, was a place of ritual human sacrifice. The springs on the northern edge of the park, Waikui Punawai, where luakini (human) sacrifices were ritually cleansed and today surfers rinse ocean water off themselves after surfing. Between St. Peters Church and the northern restroom is the Awa pae Wai O Keawaiki canoe landing which figured prominently in the Maui-Hawaii wars of the 16th Century.
The large pond between the northern restrooms and the small pavilion, Wai Kua’a’la loko, was the private bathing pond of Hawai’ian Ali’i in residence at Kahalu’u. Between the two pavilions is another ancient canoe landing and even into historic times, a halau wa’a, or canoe storage house, was situated here. An important heiau and royal residence, Mokuahi’ole, stood where the large pavilion is today. It was at this site that the great queen, Ka’ahumanu, and her cousin Kuakini (later Territorial Governor) were raised.
When you visit Kahalu’u go humbly and carefully, full with respect and the memory of the great kings and queens who lived here, and go carefully into the water, being sure not to harass the endangered turtles, feed or harm the fish, nor touch or stand upon the corals. Kahalu’u is unsurpassed as a spot to watch sunset, spot whales and dolphin, snorkel, surf, or just relax under the swaying palm trees in those warm aloha breezes.
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All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.