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This post has been updated, expanded and superseded; please go here.

North Kona and Kohala: Ancient History, Sumptuous Beaches
Approximate minimum time start to finish (to see every site) 8 hours.

by Donnie MacGowan

The tour begins at the Keauhou Historic District with ancient battlefields, heiau (stone temples), surfing beaches and shopping in Kailua Kona. 15 minutes north of town is Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park. See how Hawai’ians used aquaculture to create thriving communities in desolate areas. Among the many coastal sites, Hapuna Beach State Park, 30 minutes north, is rated in the Top 10 Best Beaches of the world, then stop 20 minutes further at Pu’u Kohala National Historic Park to visit an enormous heiau erected to the war god, Kuka’ilimoku. After several more sites, the road ends at Pololu Valley where wild ocean, cliffs, rainforest, waterfalls and a black sand beach make for stunning photographs plus a one hour hike. Looping back, Highway 250 cruises 45 minutes over Kohala Volcano to the lush pastures of Waimea for history of ranching in Hawaii as well as great shopping and dining. From Waimea it is one hour back to Kona.

Leg 1) In Kailua Kona, start at Keauhou Historic District, southern point. Drive Ali’i Drive north to Kahalu’u Beach, Keauhou Historic District (north terminus), La’aloa Beach and Ahu’ena Heiau.

Keauhou Historic District and Kona Coffee

Kue'manu Heiau: the only temple to surfing gods still in use today: Keauhou Historic District, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kue'manu Heiau: the only temple to surfing gods still in use today: Keauhou Historic District, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

For almost 400 years, temples and palaces along the Kona coastline served as a kind of “Rome of the Pacific”, a great political, religious and cultural center in Polynesia, until the capital was moved to Honolulu in 1850 by Kamehameha III. The most important, interesting and best preserved historical and cultural sites lie within the Keauhou Historic District, between Kahalu’u Beach Park in Kailua running south 6 miles to Kuamo’o Bay in Keauhou. The District contains perhaps a dozen fascinating sites that are easy to walk to, well maintained and quite interesting.

To see the numerous fascinating and important archaeological sites in the Keauhou Historic District, it is necessary to park your car in the free parking at either Kahalu’u Beach Park or the Keauhou Beach Resort and explore on foot.

Just uphill from the Historic District is the Kona Coffee District. Hawaii is the only state in the union which produces coffee, and Kona coffee is perhaps the finest in the world. Over 2 millions pounds of coffee a year are produced on about 600, 2-3 acre farms; tours of coffee farms and roasteries are available.

Kahalu’u Beach County Park

Kahalu'u Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kahalu'u Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Loll in sand and sun under swaying palms, 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. This is the premiere snorkeling beach of the Island of Hawai’i; the snorkeling is in calm, shallow water. There is an abundance of fish of an enormous variety…perhaps the best display on the island. 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.
There are numerous sites of historic importance around the park. It was here that the great queen, Ka’ahumanu, and her cousin Kuakini (later Territorial Governor) were raised. 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.

La’aloa Beach County Park (White Sands/Magic Sands)

Boogie Boarders At La'aloaBeach, Kona Hawaii: Poto by Donne MacGowan

Boogie Boarders At La'aloaBeach, Kona Hawaii: Poto by Donne MacGowan

La Aloa Beach Park is a small, but fascinating, beach. The beach derives the name “Magic Sands” from the fact that for most of the summer and fall, it is a beautiful sandy beach. However, winter and spring storms wash the sand offshore, exposing a rocky terrace. With the onset of summer currents, the sands return. The surf is short, but spectacular, here, and many locals boogie board and body surf. Because of the violent, near shore nature of the break, it is not recommended for beginners.

The La’aloa Heiau, makai of the parking lot, is very sacred to the native Hawai’ians and a hotly contested archeological site. Although not fenced off, visitors are asked not to wander the grounds of the heiau, disturb stones or walls. A county facility, it boasts showers, toilets and running water in addition to a volleyball court and lifeguards stationed throughout the day (except State Holidays).

Ahu’ena Heiau and Kamakahonu Beach

Ahu'ena Heiau Temple Precincts, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Ahu'ena Heiau Temple Precincts, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Centuries ago the inhabitants of this region built a series of sacred temples, or heiau, which were originally used for the purpose of sacrificing human beings to their war god, Kuka’ilimoku. This particular archeological site is called Ahu’ena Heiau, which in Hawaiian means “Hill of Fire”.

Built originally in the 15th century and rededicated by Kamehameha the Great in the early 1800s as the main temple of his capital, the current structures seen at Ahu’ena Heiau were re-built in 1975 under the auspices of the Bishop Museum with financial help from the Hotel King Kamehameha and are constructed to 1/3 the original scale. There are restrooms and showers located on the pier near the beach. Adjacent Old Kailua Town is a treasure of shops, restaurants and aloha.

Leg 2) From Ahu’ena Heiau, drive Palani Road east to Hwy 19; go north on Hwy 19 to Koloko Honokohau National Historic Park.

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park

Kaloko Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kaloko Honokohau National Historic Park, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

At Honokohau, ancient Hawai’ians took advantage of abundant freshwater springs to site a large community centered on fishing, fishponds and taro fields. The National Historic Park preserves a vast complex of important archeological sites, including heiaus, fishponds, a fish trap, house sites, burials, a holua (sledding track), a Queen’s Bath and abundant petroglyphs. The Information Center, which is near Highway 19, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and has full facilities, restrooms and a small souvenir and bookshop.

Leg 3) Continue north on Hwy 19 to Kekaha Kai State Park, Kua Bay, Anaeho’omalu Bay, Waialea Beach and Hapuna Beach.

Kekaha Kai State Park

Makalawena Wilderness Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Makalawena Wilderness Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

At Kekaha Kai, there are a wonderful set of beaches plunked down in one of Hawai’i Island’s gem parks. The northernmost and loveliest beach is Mahai’ula and the smaller, more southerly, 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 along the entire beach making the near-shore water a little cold. Hidden in a little pocket of wilderness, perhaps the finest beach on the island, Makalawena Beach, is contained in this park. It is reached by a 20-30 minute hike over beaches and rough lava from the parking lot. Swimming and snorkeling on this uncrowded, indeed largely unknown, beach are beyond excellent. Facilities include public restrooms and picnic tables, but no drinking water.

Kua Bay

Kua Bay, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Kua Bay, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

The site of Kona’s newest beach park, this is a lovely white sand beach. Although there is no shade to speak of, 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. Also, sometimes in winter the surf removes the sand to offshore, leaving a rocky shelf that is less fun to frolic on than the sandy beach.

Access is via a newly paved road recently opened to the public (on the ocean-side from the Veteran’s Cemetery). Park facilities include parking, picnic tables, restrooms and water. Wild goats are frequently seen in this area.

Anaeho’omalu Bay

Anaeho'omalu Beach, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Anaeho'omalu Beach, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The most photographed sunset view on the Island of Hawai’i, Anaeho’omalu Bay is the icon of what most visitors envision Hawai’i to be like before they get here…swaying palm trees, a clean beach fronting warm, safe, swimmable ocean and eager beach boys bearing large, tropical drinks with comical names like “Malahini Wahine Wahoo”. Here at the bay, one can rent snorkel or surfing gear, sign-up for sailing trips, snorkel tours, windsurfing lessons or scuba dives, order food and drinks, or just lounge pleasantly in the niumalu (shade of the coconut palms). Facilities and services are available at A-Bay and on the nearby resort grounds.

Waialea Beach (Beach 69)

Waialea Beach, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Waialea Beach, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A perfect crescent of golden sand backed by abundant shade at the edge of the beach makes this an ideal, though little known, family beach. A chain of tiny islands and pinnacles leads northward to crystalline water and a long coral reef for some of the most outrageous snorkeling and shore diving anywhere in the state. On windy days the water in the bay is a tad murkier than ideal for snorkeling, but most of the visitors to this beach don’t seem to mind. Restrooms, picnic tables, water and showers round out the facilities.

Hapuna Beach

Hapuna Beach, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hapuna Beach, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Always rated in the Top 10 of American beaches, Hapuna Beach is the premiere beach destination on the Island of Hawai’i. Long, wide and phenomenally sandy, it has everything one dreams of in a Hawai’ian beach: abundant sun, surf, clean, clear and quiet snorkeling water, shade and well-maintained facilities.

There are lifeguards, several pavilions, barbecues, picnic tables, restrooms, showers and a small café. The center of the beach is for wave play and boogie boarding, the north and south coves are quieter, for snorkeling or gentle floating. Although most patrons must walk about 100 yards down a path from the parking lot, Handicapped Parking exists right on the beach.

Leg 4) Continue North on 19 to jct with Hwy 270; north on 270 to Pu’u Kohola and Lapakahi State Park.

Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Park

Pu'u Kohola National Historical Park, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Pu'u Kohola National Historical Park, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

A temple inspired by a god-sent vision of greatness, Kamehameha built Pu’ukohola in response to a prophecy by Kaua’i kahuna Kapoukahi that foretold if he built a great temple to his war god Ku in one day, Kamehameha would prevail in his wars of conquest and unite the Hawai’ian Islands. Perhaps as many as 20,000 people passing stones hand-to-hand from Pololu Valley raised this massive Heiau in a single day.

Pu’ukohola is the largest stone structure in Polynesia, not counting the modern rock wall in front of the Kailua Lowe’s Hardware store. The National Historic Park has a very nice, new visitor’s Center and Book Shop, clean restrooms and picnic facilities. Adjacent to the Park is Spencer Beach Park which has a full range of facilities as well as wonderful, protected swimming and snorkeling.

Lapakahi State Historical Park

Lapakahi State Historical Park, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Lapakahi State Historical Park, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

At Lapakahi State Historical Park you can walk through the partially –restored remains of a 600-year old Hawai’ian fishing village, Koai’e.

Bear in mind that Kohala was not always the barren wasteland seen today. Initially dryland forest, a thousand years ago or more the native Hawai’ians burned the forest to clear farmland for dryland crops such as sweet potato. Primitive farming techniques, overpopulation, overgrazing by cattle and climate changes caused this area to become desert like. Admission is free, self-guided tour takes about 45 minutes. There are portable toilets but no water available.

Leg 5) Continue north, north east on Hwy 270 to jct with Upolu Point Road (incorrectly spelled “Opolu Point Road” on Google Maps; sometimes also labeled “Upolu Airport Road”). Continue north on Upolu Point Road to Mo’okini Heiau.

Mo’okini Heiau

Mo'okini Heiau, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mo'okini Heiau, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Have you ever seen anywhere as stark, impressive, primitive and ancient, yet still able to raise the hackles on your neck? Here, untold thousands of people were sacrificed to worship a new god, the war god Ku. Mo’okini Heiau stands today at the north end of Hawai’i, the well preserved remains of a terrible luakini heiau built by the powerful Tahitian kahuna Pa’ao in the 11th or 12th century. This heiau was the first temple of human sacrifice in Hawai’i and the first site in Hawai’i to be preserved as a National Historic Landmark under the Historic Sites Act of 1935. Mo’okini Heiau is now part of Lapakahi State Historic Park; as Mo’okini is an active Heiau and visitors are reminded to stay away if religious observances are being celebrated. There are no facilities here.

Leg 6) Return Upolu Point Road to Hwy 270, continue north east to King Kamehameha Statue, Pololu Valley.


King Kamehameha Statue and North Kohala

King Kamehameha Statue, North Kohala: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

King Kamehameha Statue, North Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The green and lush north end of Hawaii Island contains a treasure trove of interesting small towns, important historic sights and incredible scenery.

The dreamy mountain town of Hawi is one of the few remaining outposts of what locals call “old Hawai’i”. Several small shops, galleries and restaurants make this a pleasant place to visit and grab something to eat on the way to or from Pololu Valley.

At 5480 feet, Kohala Volcano is the northernmost and oldest volcano on the Island of Hawai’i still above sea level. Perhaps the most ecologically diverse area on the island, the Kohala Mountains are dissected by deep, lush tropical valleys, and the slopes are covered by dryland forest, lava deserts, lonely windswept steppes and end in some truly wild beaches.

In the center of the tiny town of Kapa’au on the mauka side of the highway, stands a storied statue of King Kamehameha the Great. There are a few charming restaurants, shops and galleries in Kapa’au, including the justly famous Kohala Book Shop—definitely worth spending some time poking around. Hawi and Kapa’au have the only food and gas available north of Highway 19.

Pololu Valley

Pololu Valley, Hamakua Coast: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Pololu Valley, Hamakua Coast Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Violent, lush, wild; the north end of Hawai’i Island is as varied and exciting as it is unexpected. At the end of the highway are the Pololu Valley Overlook and the trail leading down to Pololu Black Sand Beach. The trail down to the beach drops 400 feet in 20 minutes of hiking—be forewarned, the hike up is difficult for those not in good physical shape and shoes, rather than slippers, are best here. This is one of the most beautiful, untamed spots in the tropical Pacific and should not be missed. There are no facilities at the valley overlook or within the valley.

Leg 7) Return west on Hwy 270 to jct with Hwy 250; take Hwy 250 south to Waimea.

Waimea Town and Cowboy Country

Waimea Town, Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Waimea Town, Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Snuggled between Mauna Kea and Kohala Volcano in Hawaii’s scenic mountain heart, seemingly always shrouded in mist and chilly, Waimea is definitely Hawai’ian cowboy country. Although jeans and flannel shirts appear to be the town uniform, Waimea is very sophisticated, boasting some of the finest shopping and restaurants and the most modern hospital on the island.

From Waimea, Highway 250, the Kohala Mountain Road, spills beautifully through mountain, upland meadow and forest to the “Old Hawaii” town and artist community at Hawi.

Additionally, the cattle industry centers in Waimea. In 1793 British Navigator George Vancouver presented cows to King Kamehameha which were allowed to roam free and soon became a problem. Shortly after horses were brought to Hawaii in 1804, Kamehameha recruited California vaqueros, whom Hawai’ians called “paniolo”–a corruption of the word “Espańol”–to control the wild herds, and the generations-old ranching lifestyle here was born.

The vaqueros also brought their guitars and their love of music. A deeply musical people, the Hawaiians were intensely interested in these, the first stringed instruments they had seen. They quickly learned to work-out their own tunings, called “slack key guitar”, which more suited the style of their indigenous music.

Leg 8) At Waimea, take Hwy 190 to return to Kailua Kona.

Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.comFor information about the author, please go here.

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan; all rights reserved.

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by Donald B. MacGowan

Evening Sunshine Glows on Old Kailua Town: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Evening Sunshine Glows on Old Kailua Town: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The town of Kailua Kona is the crown jewel on the island of Hawaii and the beating heart of the Kona Coast. A sleepy fishing village not so long ago, Kailua Kona is now the metropolitan center of West Hawaii’s burgeoning economy and exploding population. Founded by King Umi in the 1500’s, Kailua Kona served as the social, religious and political capital of Hawaii for several hundred years. Deeming it the loveliest spot in all the Hawaiian Islands, King Kamehameha the Great ruled his island empire during the final years of his reign from here.

Exploring the downtown area from the King Kamehameha Beach Resort to the Honl’s Beach on the south provides a couple hours pure enjoyment: easy walking along the incomparable turquoise Kona Coast under the warm, sapphire Hawaii sky, past ancient temples, missionary churches, intriguing and unique shops and wonderful restaurants. It is easy, walking here, to understand how one can be completely seduced by the magic of the Big Island.

Kailua Kona is a town made for walking, so start by parking your car. On the north side of town, abundant for-pay parking is available at the King Kamehameha Beach Hotel. Free parking on this end of town is available at Triangle Parking, between Kuakini Highway and Ali’i Drive. About half-way through town, by the Farmer’s Market and Hale Halawai Park, is a large area of free parking. On the south side of town there is abundant free parking at the Coconut Grove shopping area, and at Honl’s Beach.

Let’s start exploring Kailua Kona on the north and work our way south. The thatched structure surrounded by carved wooden idols across from the pier is ‘Ahu’ena Heiau, an ancient and sacred temple site. A temple (or Heiau) has existed on this spot since at least the first millennium, and as recently as the 15th century was occupied by a temple of human sacrifice (or luakini Heiau) dedicated to the war god Kuka’ilimoku. In 1812, King Kamehameha I ordered the heiau enlarged, rebuilt, rededicated as ‘Ahu’ena Heiau (“hill of fire”), a temple of peace and prosperity dedicated to the fertility god Lono.

Ahu'ena Heiau, Kailua Kona: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Ahu'ena Heiau, Kailua Kona: Photo by Donald MacGowan

The current structures seen at ‘Ahu’ena Heiau were re-built in 1975 under the auspices of the Bishop Museum with financial help from the Hotel King Kamehameha and are constructed to 1/3 the original scale. Here, there is a veritable forest of of carved, wooden sacred images in the “Kona Style”, considered the most refined in all Polynesia.  More about Ahu’ena Heiau can be found, here.

Three delightful, but tiny, beaches grace the immediate downtown area; from north to south they are named Kamakahonu, Keakaiakua and Niumalu–many locals do not even know thy have names. The snorkeling from these small beaches is spectacular and strangely uncommon. A beautiful coral garden and vibrant reef fish can be seen snorkeling along the shoreline off ‘Ahu’ena Heiau where fish, turtles and eels are abundant in Kailua Bay.  More about the history of these beaches, the pier and seawall and Old Kailua Village can be found here.

Pao Umi Rock and the Moreton Fig Tree in Kailua's Evening Light: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Pao Umi Rock and the Moreton Fig Tree in Kailua's Evening Light: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Pa’o Umi, a point of rock between the pier and Hulihe’e Palace and mostly buried under Ali’i Drive, is where High Chief Umi is thought to have landed when he moved his court from Waipi’o Valley to Kailua in the 1500’s. Umi consolidated and centralized religious and secular power of Hawai’i Island in Kona and built a number of temples, most notably on the current sites of Ahu’ena Heiau, Moku’aikaua Church and Kona Inn. Umi founded the political landscape which ultimately fostered King Kamehameha’s regime and led to the unification of the Hawai’ian Islands into a single nation.

Across Ali’i Drive from Pa’o Umi is a large Moreton Fig tree that appears in photographs of downtown Kailua since before the turn of the last century; as such, this tree is at least 140 years old.

Mokuaikawa; the First Christian Church in Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Mokuaikawa in Kailua Kona; the First Christian Church in Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

During the winter of 1819 to 1820, Congregationalist missionaries from Boston crossed the Atlantic Ocean enduring 5 months of intense stormy weather while headed for a new life in Hawai’i. In March of 1820, the missionaries sailed into the balmy waters of Kailua Bay and landed at Kamakahonu Rock (eye of the turtle”), the “Plymouth Rock” of Hawai’i, which now supports the Kailua Pier..

Mokuaikaua Church, built under the leadership of missionary Asa Thurston between 1835 and 1837, was specifically aligned so that the prevailing breezes would pass through it, but also so that it presented a strong, stone façade to the south and west, the direction from which strong Kona Winds, large storms and hurricanes come. The 112-foot steeple was for many decades the highest structure in Kailua and served as a navigation landmark both for ships at sea and people on land.

The church is constructed of rough-hewn basalt blocks mortared with lime made from burnt coral and bound with kukui nut oil. The corner stones were taken from a heiau built on the same spot by King Umi in the fifteenth century. The interior beams and woodwork are of koa wood. The joints were painstakingly joined with ohi’a wood pins; this is a magnificent example of the architectural style brought to Hawai’i by the missionaries in the 19th century.

The inside of the church is beautiful, cool and inviting, and visitors are welcome between services and on weekdays between sunrise and sunset; admission is free. There is a fascinating mini-museum, small but informative, which is open daily from sunrise to sunset and free tours are conducted from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3:30 p.m. The Museum features exhibits about Hawai’i, the life of the missionaries and contains a scale model of the Brig Thaddeus. More about Mokuaikawa Church and it’s fascinating history, can be found here .

Hulihe'e Palace, Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hulihe'e Palace, Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hulihe’e Palace was built by High Chief (later Governor) James Kuakini in 1838 as a home. For many years, the Palace was used by Hawai’ian royalty as an official residence and summer get-away palace, a place of great galas and parties, but was abandoned to ruin in 1914. Since 1928 the Palace has been operated as a museum by the Daughters of Hawai’i. The Palace Gift Store has many fine art items and hard-to-find books on Hawai’iana.

The museum is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There are friendly and knowledgeable docents who give free tours, which last about 45 minutes. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $1 for students; photographing inside the museum is forbidden. The palace sustained considerable damage during the earthquake of 2007 and is currently undergoing renovation.  More about Hulihe’e Palace can be found here.

Kona Inn Shops: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Kona Inn Shops: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The Kona Inn is of particular historic significance, as it was the first destination resort to open in West Hawai’i and it ushered in the era of tourism along the Kona Coast. Built on the site of Papa ‘Ula (red flats) where a temple of human sacrifice was built by High Chief Umi, today the Kona Inn features many unique and interesting shops and fine restaurants.

The Inn fronts on a large, palm-shaded lawn that leads to a seawall and the ocean. This area is open to the public and is a really grand place for picnicking, watching whales and dolphin and the fabulous Kona sunsets.

The Kailua Farmer’s Market, open Wednesday through Sunday, lies in the parking lot at the corner of Ali’i Drive and Hualalai Road between the Public Library and Hale Halawai Park. The market offers a wide and intriguing variety of fresh produce, hand-made local arts and crafts, Hawai’iana and other types of souvenirs.

Kailua Famer's Market: Photo by Harvey Bird Watching

Kailua Farmer's Market: Photo by Harvey Bird Watching

The grounds and oceanfront of Hale Halawai Park offer a peaceful, shady place for taking a rest from a busy tour of bustling downtown Kailua, or watching whales and dolphin and the unmatched Kona sunsets. Frequently honu (sea turtles) and boogey boarders can be watched from the seawall. Featuring coconut palms, a neatly manicured lawn, picnic tables and a seawall, the large, Polynesian-style pavilion is used for everything from community gatherings to orchid shows to wedding receptions.

Saint Michael the Arch Angel Catholic Church, Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Saint Michael the Arch Angel Catholic Church, Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Historic St. Michael’s Church was the first Catholic Church in West Hawai’i. The church offers services in English and Spanish throughout the week, but is primarily of historic interest; the burial plots in the cemetery date from 1855. In 1940, during less “ecologically aware” times, resident priest Father Benno Evers had his parishioners gather 2500 coral heads to build the grotto in front of the church, which covers the church’s original well. The seafloor in Kailua Bay has yet to recover from this pillaging of coral heads.

Coconut Grove and Waterfront Row cap the southern end of the Kailua Village shopping district along Ali’i Drive, starting next to the Hale Halawai County Park and ending at the Royal Kona Resort. Newer and more metropolitan that its sister shopping district to the north, Coconut Grove and Waterfront Row have almost everything, from tattoos to souvenirs to Hawai’iana, fine art, musical instruments, sundries, groceries and clothing. The range of cuisines available from restaurants here sweeps from local flavor to Thai, the Hard Rock Cafe to poi crepes to pizza and burgers

Public Queensbath Tidepool: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Public Queensbath Tidepool: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Between the Royal Kona Resort and Hale Kona Kai Resort is a fabulous tide pool that is completely protected from all but the most vicious winter surf. It boasts a moderate population of reef fish and even the occasional turtle! The water sometimes can be a bit murky, but it makes a nice place to take small children or beginning snorkelers. Drive into the entrance for the Royal Kona Resort and continue south past it until you see the blue and white Shoreline Access sign; find a place to park, go down the stairs to the tiny beach and enjoy!

Honl's Beach in Kailua Kona: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Honl's Beach in Kailua Kona: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Lovely but compact, Honl’s County Beach Park is a small beach on the southern outskirts of Old Kailua Town. A favorite spot for surfers and boogie boarders it 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 located on both sides of Ali’i Dr., but can be tight here in times of good surf, and crossing Ali’i Dr. drive can be a bit dangerous at certain times of the day. A new bathroom with showers and running water has recently been constructed on the mauka—uphill–side of the road.

Monk Seal on Honl's Beach at Sunset: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Monk Seal on Honl's Beach at Sunset: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

For details on a scenic drive through the Keauhou Historic District south of Kailua Kona on Ali’i drive, please go here.  To get details on visiting and snorkeling Kailua Kona’s famous Kahalu’u beach, where all the turtles are, please go here. For detailed information on a scenic drive through Up County Kona, please go here.  Information about the ancient villages, temple ruins, amazing beaches and fabulous hiking trails of Koloko Honokohau National Historic Park just north of Kailua Kona, please go here.

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

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All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan.  All rights reserved.

This post has been updated and expanded, please go here.

The town of Kailua Kona is the crown jewel on the island of Hawaii and the beating heart of the Kona Coast. A sleepy fishing village not so long ago, Kailua Kona is now the metropolitan center of West Hawaii’s burgeoning economy and exploding population. Founded by King Umi in the 1500’s, Kailua Kona served as the social, religious and political capital of Hawaii for several hundred years. Deeming it the loveliest spot in all the Hawaiian Islands, King Kamehameha the Great ruled his island empire during the final years of his reign from here.

Exploring the downtown area from the King Kamehameha Beach Resort to the Honl’s Beach on the south provides a couple hours pure enjoyment: easy walking along the incomparable turquoise Kona Coast under the warm, sapphire Hawaii sky, past ancient temples, missionary churches, intriguing and unique shops and wonderful restaurants. It is easy, walking here, to understand how one can be completely seduced by the magic of the Big Island.

Kailua Kona is a town made for walking, so start by parking your car. On the north side of town, abundant for-pay parking is available at the King Kamehameha Beach Hotel. Free parking on this end of town is available at Triangle Parking, between Kuakini Highway and Ali’i Drive. About half-way through town, by the Farmer’s Market and Hale Halawai Park, is a large area of free parking. On the south side of town there is abundant free parking at the Coconut Grove shopping area, and at Honl’s Beach.

Let’s start exploring Kailua Kona on the north and work our way south. The thatched structure surrounded by carved wooden idols across from the pier is ‘Ahu’ena Heiau, an ancient and sacred temple site. A temple (or Heiau) has existed on this spot since at least the first millennium, and as recently as the 15th century was occupied by a temple of human sacrifice (or luakini Heiau) dedicated to the war god Kuka’ilimoku. In 1812, King Kamehameha I ordered the heiau enlarged, rebuilt, rededicated as ‘Ahu’ena Heiau (“hill of fire”), a temple of peace and prosperity dedicated to the fertility god Lono.

The current structures seen at ‘Ahu’ena Heiau were re-built in 1975 under the auspices of the Bishop Museum with financial help from the Hotel King Kamehameha and are constructed to 1/3 the original scale. Here, there is a veritable forest of of carved, wooden sacred images in the “Kona Style”, considered the most refined in all Polynesia.

Three delightful, but tiny, beaches grace the immediate downtown area. The snorkeling from these small beaches is spectacular and strangely uncommon. A beautiful coral garden and vibrant reef fish can be seen snorkeling along the shoreline off ‘Ahu’ena Heiau where fish, turtles and eels are abundant in Kailua Bay.

During the winter of 1819 to 1820, Congregationalist missionaries from Boston crossed the Atlantic Ocean enduring 5 months of intense stormy weather while headed for a new life in Hawai’i. In March of 1820, the missionaries sailed into the balmy waters of Kailua Bay and landed at Kamakahonu Rock (eye of the turtle), the “Plymouth Rock” of Hawai’i, which now supports the Kailua Pier.

Mokuaikaua Church, built under the leadership of missionary Asa Thurston between 1835 and 1837, was specifically aligned so that the prevailing breezes would pass through it, but also so that it presented a strong, stone façade to the south and west, the direction from which strong Kona Winds, large storms and hurricanes come. The 112-foot steeple was for many decades the highest structure in Kailua and served as a navigation landmark both for ships at sea and people on land.

The church is constructed of rough-hewn basalt blocks mortared with lime made from burnt coral and bound with kukui nut oil. The corner stones were taken from a heiau built on the same spot by King Umi in the fifteenth century. The interior beams and woodwork are of koa wood. The joints were painstakingly joined with ohi’a wood pins; this is a magnificent example of the architectural style brought to Hawai’i by the missionaries in the 19th century.

The inside of the church is beautiful, cool and inviting, and visitors are welcome between services and on weekdays between sunrise and sunset; admission is free. There is a fascinating mini-museum, small but informative, which is open daily from sunrise to sunset and free tours are conducted from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3:30 p.m. The Museum features exhibits about Hawai’i, the life of the missionaries and contains a scale model of the Brig Thaddeus.

Hulihe’e Palace was built by High Chief (later Governor) James Kuakini in 1838 as a home. For many years, the Palace was used by Hawai’ian royalty as an official residence and summer get-away palace, a place of great galas and parties, but was abandoned to ruin in 1914. Since 1928 the Palace has been operated as a museum by the Daughters of Hawai’i. The Palace Gift Store has many fine art items and hard-to-find books on Hawai’iana.

The museum is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There are friendly and knowledgeable docents who give free tours, which last about 45 minutes. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $1 for students; photographing inside the museum is forbidden. The palace sustained considerable damage during the earthquake of 2007 and is currently undergoing renovation.

The Kona Inn is of particular historic significance, as it was the first destination resort to open in West Hawai’i and it ushered in the era of tourism along the Kona Coast. Built on the site of Papa ‘Ula (red flats) where a temple of human sacrifice was built by High Chief Umi, today the Kona Inn features many unique and interesting shops and fine restaurants.

The Inn fronts on a large, palm-shaded lawn that leads to a seawall and the ocean. This area is open to the public and is a really grand place for picnicking, watching whales and dolphin and the fabulous Kona sunsets.

The Kailua Farmer’s Market, open Wednesday through Sunday, lies in the parking lot at the corner of Ali’i Drive and Hualalai Road between the Public Library and Hale Halawai Park. The market offers a wide and intriguing variety of fresh produce, hand-made local arts and crafts, Hawai’iana and other types of souvenirs.

The grounds and oceanfront of Hale Halawai Park offer a peaceful, shady place for taking a rest from a busy tour of bustling downtown Kailua, or watching whales and dolphin and the unmatched Kona sunsets. Frequently honu (sea turtles) and boogey boarders can be watched from the seawall. Featuring coconut palms, a neatly manicured lawn, picnic tables and a seawall, the large, Polynesian-style pavilion is used for everything from community gatherings to orchid shows to wedding receptions.

Historic St. Michael’s Church was the first Catholic Church in West Hawai’i. The church offers services in English and Spanish throughout the week, but is primarily of historic interest; the burial plots in the cemetery date from 1855. In 1940, during less “ecologically aware” times, resident priest Father Benno Evers had his parishioners gather 2500 coral heads to build the grotto in front of the church, which covers the church’s original well. The seafloor in Kailua Bay has yet to recover from this pillaging of coral heads. This historic church sustained considerable damage during the earthquake of 2007.

Coconut Grove and Waterfront Row cap the southern end of the Kailua Village shopping district along Ali’i Drive, starting next to the Hale Halawai County Park and ending at the Royal Kona Resort. Newer and more metropolitan that its sister shopping district to the north, Coconut Grove and Waterfront Row have almost everything, from tattoos to souvenirs to Hawai’iana, fine art, musical instruments, sundries, groceries and clothing. The range of cuisines available from restaurants here sweeps from local flavor to Thai, the Hard Rock Cafe to poi crepes to pizza and burgers.

Between the Royal Kona Resort and Hale Kona Kai Resort is a fabulous tide pool that is completely protected from all but the most vicious winter surf. It boasts a moderate population of reef fish and even the occasional turtle! The water sometimes can be a bit murky, but it makes a nice place to take small children or beginning snorkelers. Drive into the entrance for the Royal Kona Resort and continue south past it until you see the blue and white Shoreline Access sign; find a place to park, go down the stairs to the tiny beach and enjoy!

Lovely but compact, Honl’s County Beach Park is a small beach on the southern outskirts of Old Kailua Town. A favorite spot for surfers and boogie boarders it 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 located on both sides of Ali’i Dr., but can be tight here in times of good surf, and crossing Ali’i Dr. drive can be a bit dangerous at certain times of the day. A new bathroom with showers and running water has recently been constructed on the mauka—uphill–side of the road.

For more information on visiting Hawaii in general and touring the Big Island in particular, go here and here.