by Donnie MacGowan
Imagine yourself in your home; it rains, sleets and snows through the long winter. Now imagine you are lying under cerulean blue skies bathed in healing sunlight on a warm golden sand beach, playing in bath-temperature water, and snorkeling among the brightly colored tropical fish and placid, but amazing sea turtles. Sound too good to be true? In West Hawaii, this soothing daydream is our day-to-day reality
Beaches of South Kohala and the Kona Coast
The site of West Hawaii’s newest beach park, this is a lovely white sand beach. Although there is little shade, the swimming and boogie boarding in the crystalline waters is primo. Strong currents and large waves call for respect, here; if the surf is up, don’t go in. Also, sometimes winter storm surf removes the sand to offshore, leaving a rocky shelf that is less fun than the sandy beach. Strong onshore breezes cause riptides and an influx of jellies.
Behind the beach on the north end is a small, inviting fresh-water pool. Don’t be seduced—it is bottomed by foul-smelling quicksand and is extremely nasty. There are sacred, native Hawaiian sites and ruins to the north of the beach. Please do not disturb them.
Park facilities include parking, picnic tables, restrooms, and water. Wild goats are frequently seen in this area.
One of the last, large, wilderness beaches in Polynesia, frankly, Makalawena is the finest beach on the island and the most beautiful beach setting to boot. This is the amazing beach you flew over just before you landed at Kona International Airport. This beach sports a series of coves, refreshing shade, big sand dunes, and a nice freshwater pond to rinse off in.
This beach is reached either by traveling the (extremely) 4WD road from the highway between mile markers 88 and 89, or by hiking about 15 to 20 minutes along an easy trail from Kekaha Kai State Park. The trail goes over rough pahoehoe and a’a flows and through keawe breaks, so shoes are required.
The land fronting the beach is owned by Bishop Estate/Kamehameha Schools and is slated to be turned into a development of condos and resorts; vigilance and protest on the part of locals and visitors is the only way we can keep this last, wild Kona beach wild.
Kekaha Kai State Park
A superbly wonderful set of beaches and one of Hawaii Island’s gem parks. The northernmost and loveliest beach is Mahai’ula and the smaller, less fine one is Ka’elehuluhulu Beach. The water is fine for swimming and boogie boarding but may be a little murky for ideal snorkeling. There are numerous small springs making the near-shore water a little cold.
The mansion of the original owners, the Magoons, can still be seen on the northern edge of the beach. Tours of the mansion have become scarce to sporadic in recent years; if you are interested, contact the Kona Historical Society.
Turn makai at the State Park sign, between mile markers 90 and 91; the road seems nasty to impassable but can be traveled by most passenger vehicles. Facilities include public restrooms and picnic tables, but no drinking water.
This small beach on the outskirts of Old Kailua Town is where boogie boarding was invented in the 1970s and is a favorite spot for surfers. Honl’s also has very nice snorkeling and is an excellent place to view the sunset and picnic. Remember when going into the water here, there is a fairly strong current to the north, so stay in the shallow reef area close to the beach. Parking is on both sides of Ali’i, but can be tight here during good surf; crossing Ali’i drive can be harrowing at certain times of the day. A new bathroom with running water has recently been constructed on the mauka (mountain) side of the road.
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 Hawaii defined the sport a thousand years ago! Kahalu’u is the choice destination of Kona Coast County Beach Parks.
Kahalu’u is the most popular snorkeling beach on the Island of Hawaii with good reason; protected from the open ocean by a seawall, the reef is also protected against commercial aquarium fishing. The snorkeling is in calm, shallow water and there is an abundance of fish—perhaps the best display on the island. Dozens of Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles call this bay home, thrilling the snorkelers. Numerous freshwater springs and shallow water bathers make the near-shore snorkeling unpleasantly cloudy, but about 100 feet offshore the water turns crystal clear and the display of coral is nothing short of amazing.
Outside the seawall 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.
Most days there is a food wagon selling sandwiches, burgers, shaved ice, and cold drinks at reasonable prices and a vendor renting snorkeling gear and boogie boards.
Two-Step Beach/Honaunau Bay
Some superb protected snorkeling and shore-diving is located at Two-Step Beach, adjacent to the Place of Refuge National Historic Park. A wonderland of turtles, coral, and fish, with frequent morning visits by dolphins, this snorkeling experience shouldn’t be missed. No swimming is allowed within the Park, as a measure of respect of the sacredness of the Refuge site; however, Two-Step Beach offers a convenient place to enter Honaunau Bay.
One can enter the bay either by walking down the boat ramp, or by stepping off the short cliff into the water. Two-Step beach gets its name from this short hop. Near the center edge of the lava beach there are two ledges serving as steps to the ocean. At low tide, it’s a simple matter of stepping down: “1, 2, OCEAN!” At high tide, one just steps off the edge and in. Getting out, one simply approaches the steps, puts hands palms down and waits for an incoming wave to float you up and onto the bottom step—the process is easier than it sounds. Resist the temptation to put fingers into small holes and pockets in the rocks to haul yourself out—they are filled with spiny sea urchins. Always lay hands on rocks palms down; don’t use fingers.
The best snorkeling is along the cliff edges and the shallows. Remember that you cannot get out of the water within the confines of the Park. Remember dolphin and sea turtles are federally protected species.
Ho’okena Beach County Park
Brilliant snorkeling, decent boogie boarding, passable shell collecting, and wonderful camping—it’s a wonder Ho’okena Beach is not more popular with visitors. Nestled alongside the ruins of Ho’okena Village, this beach is a wonderful place to spend a morning or a weekend.
Frequented by dolphin, stuffed full of pelagic and reef fish and turtles, and boasting crystal clear, warm and calm waters, Ho’okena is a must-see beach for avid snorkelers and divers as well as sea kayakers. Hiking south over the hills and through cow fields brings one to numerous small, sandy beaches where ocean current conditions make shell collecting possible. Hiking north from the park, one finds the remnants of once-thriving Ho’okena Village, in past times the main rival to Kailua for steamer traffic, but now all but lost to the ravages of tsunami, earthquake, and the passing of time. During the winter months, female Humpback whales and their babies frequent the waters off this bay.
Wonderful beach camping, new showers and restrooms, picnic tables, and abundant fresh water make this county park a gem. There is a vendor renting snorkel gear and kayaks as well as selling some snack and sundry items. Camping is by permit only on a first come-first served basis.
A true gem of West Hawaii and rarely crowded, Honomalino Bay is reached by a 20-minute hike from the south end of Miloli’i Beach County Park. The hiking trail starts between the bathrooms and a yellow church and the path to Honomalino is always along the right fork of the trail, in and out of the surf line, to avoid private property.
Snorkeling is very interesting on the north side in the rocks, when the surf is low. The water, though very clear, is sometimes quite cold due to spring discharge in the sand on the beach.
So now that you are armed with all this information and you’ve had the best-ever, mid-winter, beach daydream you’ve had in years, I just have to ask … what are you doing sitting there in your cold, wet, winter misery for? C’mon over to West Hawaii and soak up your fair share of the rays!
For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and touring the beaches of the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com. Information about the author can be found here.
All Media Copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan.