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.
Kekaha Kai State Park: Makole’a, Ka’elehuluhulu, Mahai’ula, Makalawena and Manini’owali Beaches
This uncrowded park is comprised of a string of fabulous white sand, turquoise water and palm tree oases hidden away like cool gems in the blazing, barren lava desert. For all intents and purposes, the series of tranquil beaches appears to have been plunked down in one of Hawai’i Island’s most rugged wilderness areas.
To reach the main entrance to the park, turn makai at the State Park sign, between mile markers 90 and 91; the unimproved lava road can be nasty but is usually passable in most vehicles. Near the main parking lot, a lava 4WD road goes south to Makole’a Black Sand Beach and north toward Makalawena Beach.
The main attraction, though are the beaches just seaward of the parking area. The northernmost and loveliest beach here is Mahai’ula and the smaller, more southerly, one is Ka’elehuluhulu Beach. At both beaches the sand is deep, wide and long…some of the finest sand beaches in all of Hawaii. The water is great for swimming and boogie boarding but may be a little murky for ideal snorkeling. There are numerous small springs along the entire beach making the near-shore water a little cold. Facilities include public restrooms and picnic tables shaded by coconut palm trees. There is no drinking water; there is no lifeguard.
The wilderness portion of the park contains Makalawena Beach, which is perhaps the finest swimming and snorkeling beach on the island and the most beautiful beach setting. This is the amazing beach you flew over just before you landed at Kona International Airport. Makalawena Beach sports a series of coves, refreshing shade, big sand dunes and a nice freshwater pond to rinse-off in.
Makalawena Beach is reached either by traveling the extremely 4WD road that takes-off the highway from between mile markers 88 and 89, or by hiking about 15-20 minutes along a portion of the Ala Kahakai Trail from the main parking lot at Kekaha Kai State Park. The trail goes over rough pahoehoe and a’a lava and through keawe trees, so shoes are required. You can learn more details about hiking to, and camping at, Makalawena Beach here. There are no facilities and no lifeguard here.
The northern end of Kekaha Kai State park is comprised of the new Kua Bay Park at stunning, if tiny, Manini’owali Beach. More details about Kua Bay are located here. Facilities include restrooms, showers, drinking water and picnic tables; there is no lifeguard. The turn off to Kua Bay Park is between the 88 and 89 mile markers on Highway 19, however, you can hike four and a half rugged beach miles along the ancient shoreline trail from the main parking area of Kekaha Kai State Park.
The southern end of Kekaha Kai State Park contains lovely, but small, Makole’a Black Sand Beach. Even many longtime Kona residents are amazed to learn of this black sand beach, within easy biking distance of Kailua Kona. Snorkeling and diving here are superb, although visibility is limited near the shoreline. There is a lovely coral garden running from north, near shore, to south, farther out. Remember, this is the extreme western tip of the island, sticking out in to the open Pacific Ocean; there is little protection for this beach, so be wary of waves and strong currents; if the surf or the wind is up, don’t go in.
Access is via the road south from the main parking lot at Kekaha Kai State Park: with 4WD it’s just barely possible to drive in. Otherwise one can walk along the road or the shoreline, 15-20 minutes either way. No facilities, no lifeguard.
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