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by Donald B. MacGowan

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.
Mahana Green Sand Beach on Papakolea Bay at South Point, Ka’u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan
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.

The Colored Sand Beaches of the Big Island of Hawaii

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

This tiny beach at Pawai Bay is more typical of Hawaii Island beaches than the enormous, mile-long white sand beach at Hapuna, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Our Big Island is geologically quite young and the landscape is immature, so our beaches tend to be smaller than those on the older islands, and are therefore all the more precious. What the Big Island has that some of the other islands lack, though, are beaches with spectacularly colored sand…white sand, black sand, green sand and even grey sand.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.
Secluded, beautiful Makalawena Beach lies in the heart of a tropical wilderness just north of the Kona Airport, Kona-Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The creamy white sand beaches of picture postcards and hapa haole songs result from the accumulation of small particles of coral reef and crushed shell fish shells. As the reefs grow, wave and storm action break it into small pieces and many fish, such as the parrot fish and the humuhumunukunukuapua’a munch the coral, spitting-out sand sized particles, and the coral they swallow comes out…er…the other end as sand-size pellets of sandy waste. In this way, one coral-eating reef fish can produce up to a ton of white sand a year. Because our white sand beaches result from physical degradation of soft, biological material, the sand grains tend to have rounded edges. Thus, unlike sands derived from rock and mineral sources, such as the California beaches, they do not stack well and tend to produce poor sand castles.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.
Waialea Beach, or Beach 69, is an out-of-the-way gem that is rarely crowded on the Kohala Coast, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Beautiful white sand beaches occur all over the Big Island, but are biggest and best developed on the Kona and Kohala coastlines, as coral reefs prosper best on the lee-side of the island. Prime examples of white sand beaches include Anaeho’omalu, Hapuna, Waialea and Makalawena Beaches. Snorkeling at these white sand beaches is a joy—the water is a brilliant turquoise due to the amount of light reflected back into the water by the sandy shore bottom. However, this sandy bottom itself is relatively barren of life, so if seeing fish is your main snorkeling goal, be sure to choose a beach with a nearby reef, such as Waialea Beach, since the fish live in and around reefs and rocky cliffs.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.
Hawaii’s most famous black sand beach, Punalu’u Beach, Ka’u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Black sand beaches are strange and spectacular, and, because of their thermal properties, are warm even on a chilly day (Oh, yes, we do have chilly days here in Hawaii–in mid-winter temperatures can dip into the low 70s and even rarely the upper 60s!). In fact, it is the black sand beaches of the Big Island that are the choice among egg-laying female Hawaiian green sea turtles for laying their egg clutches on, precisely because of their warmth.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.
Littoral Explosions as Lava Enters the Sea at Waikupanaha, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Black sand beaches result from the fiery, explosive mix of hot liquid lava entering the ocean. The skin of the lava stream is instantly chilled as it flows into the water and then blasted off when the ocean water flashes to steam. Black sand also results from mechanical action during the natural physical erosion of the basalt (the name for the rock our lava becomes once it cools). You’d think that sand forged in the volcano would be tough and enduring, but in truth, it’s very, very fragile and black sand beaches do not last long over time. For this reason, although the sand is beautiful and rare, we ask you not to take any home with you.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.
Kaimu Beach, Hawaii’s Newest Black Sand Beach, Near Kalapana, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Black sand beaches occur all over the island… two of the largest are on the north end of the island, crossing the mouths of Waipi’o and Pololu Valleys, respectively. These are not visited as often as some of the others as both entail something of a hike down into the canyons. What once must have been a heart-achingly beautiful, large black sand beach fronts Hilo Town right on Hilo bay, but much of it has been eroded, polluted and degraded by industrial encroachment or simply paved over as a result of urbanization. By far the most popular black sand beach is at Punalu’u. Not only is the beach lovely, inviting and easily accessible, it’s almost guaranteed that the visitor will see Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles basking on this beach. The youngest and most vibrant black sand beach is Kaimu Beach at the end of the Kalapana-Kopoho Road. Kaimu beach, lovely if barren, is a crescent of sand that lies at the end of an unforgiving expanse of basalt from the 1990 flows. The old beach and the fishing village of Kalapana that once stood here are long gone, buried under 50-75 feet of lava—an unimaginable catastrophe

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.
Black sand is made by the interaction of hot. liquid lava and cold ocean water, such as this littoral flow at Waikupanaha, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Snorkeling at the black sand beaches can be dark and mysterious, as little light is reflected back into the water from the sandy bottom, but the bouldery nature of the off-beach sea floor assures the prospect of abundant life and many reef fish. Be aware…because black sand beaches mostly occur on the youngest, and therefore most exposed, portions of our island, many are characterized by big waves, strong currents and nasty rip tides. Swim only where you see others swimming, and only when a life guard is present.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Mahana Green Sand Beach at Papakolea Bay, South Point, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Wild, surreal, enchanting, the Big Island’s green sand beaches are a rare geologic occurrence that appear in only a few choice spots on our island and almost nowhere else in the world. Although they take a little effort to get to, you should not travel all the way to Hawaii and not see these jewel-like beaches.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The olivine (also called peridot) crystals weathering our of the cinder cone make up the sand at Mahana Green Sand Beach on Papakolea Bay, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The green sand is composed almost entirely of the mineral olivine, or peridot as the gem quality crystals are known. These crystals precipitate out of the molten lava while it sits in the magma chamber reservoir before it erupts onto the surface. The liquid lava is melted from rocks at great depth within the earth; the chemical composition of the melt is at equilibrium at extremely high pressures and temperatures. As the magma migrates upward, many miles, through the Earth’s crust, it cools and pressure decreases; this causes crystals to precipitate from the melt. In magmas world wide, olivine is almost always observed to precipitate out first.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Small but marvelous Mahana Green Sand Beach on Papakolea Beach at South Point, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

In Hawaii, lavas migrate up to the surface so quickly, and then are expelled from the magma chamber onto the surface so quickly, that usually they have little time for many crystals to form. But when lava does sit in the magma chamber awhile, the olivine crystals do precipitate, and they slowly settle to the bottom of the melt. As liquid lava begins to erupt onto the surface, much of the olivine is left behind in the residual liquid. Thus, lavas erupted from the latest stages of these magma chambers sometimes are enriched with crystalline olivine. Since late stage magmas are also relatively cooler and less fluid, their eruptions are more explosive and they tend to form more spatter cones than flows. The green sand beaches of the Big Island result where the ocean has breached one or another of these spatter cones, and the winnowing action of the waves has washed away all the particles except for the relatively denser olivine grains.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The intense color of the sand at Mahana Green Sand Beach makes the waters at Papakolea Bay a very strange, and reflects an eerie light back along the amphitheater walls, South Point, Ka'u Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

There are tiny green sand beaches all along the southern coastline on either side of South Point, but the largest and most accessible is Mahana Beach on Papakolea Bay at South Point, reached by a moderate hike of about 2 ¼ miles along the wild coastline northeast of South Point, following an old 4WD two-track. Because of the unique sand color, snorkeling at the Green Sand Beach is a must…underwater pictures, if you are equipped with a suitable underwater camera, are quite stunning. Just be careful of the treacherous currents, rip tides and big waves. This is the wild and open ocean and this side of the island is completely unprotected. Once again, due to its rarity and the irreplaceable nature of this resource, we ask that you enjoy our Green Sand beaches, but don’t take any sand home with you.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Children hard at play on Hookena Beach, Kona Hawaii; a typical gray sand beach: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Warm, comfortable and inviting, grey sand beaches result from mixing of black sand particles with white sand along a stretch of beach and as such, are represented by a continuum of grey hues. In fact, many Big Island beaches probably fit more with a definition of grey sand beach than properly occupy either of the two distinct end member compositions, black sand or white sand beach. Ho’okena, Kahalu’u and Honomalino are three of the largest and most popular grey sand beaches on the Big Island. There is one entirely unique beach, Ke-awa-iki, which today is a dominantly black sand beach, but the black sand has incompletely mixed with the older white sand on the southern portion of the beach, leaving a stretch of strange, but oddly artistic, piebald black and white sand.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.

The exotic black-and-white sands of Keawaiki Beach, Kohala Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

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.

iPhone and iPod Touch Video Tour Guide for Hawaii-fully GPS and WiFi enabled, fully interactive. Hours of interesting and compelling content. Available from iTunes or at www.tourguidehawaii.com.
The wild surf at Wawaloli Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

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.

by Donnie MacGowan

Donnie MacGowan Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Donnie MacGowan Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Whether you visit the Big Island for a few days, a couple weeks or a few months, you want to make the most of your time in Paradise. With such a wide variety of natural and commercial attractions, it is natural for the visitor to get a little overwhelmed in the “Option Overload” and not be able to make a balanced and informed decision on what they want to do and how best to spend their time.

Bart Hunt Filming Fish at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Bart Hunt Filming Fish at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Even choosing activities you want to participate in…do you want to snorkel, hike, go on a whale watching tour? We always recommend people do three basic things when they come to Hawaii: get in the air, go to a luau and get in the water. By getting in the air you get a glimpse of how magnificent our island home is, it is the best way to watch the volcano erupt and it allows you to sort of “scout” the island to see where you might want to spend more time. By going to a luau you get an introduction to Hawaiian culture and cuisine–you get a taste of what it means to live in Hawaii. And by getting in the water you experience the magic wonder of our reefs and colorful fish, the calm and renewal from floating in our warm, turquoise waters and the thrill of exploring something new, different and a little wild. We highly recommend you go snorkeling on your visit…but where do you go? Do you want a snorkel beach for beginners, or a place that’s challenging to experience? Are you going simply to get in the water and see the fish or do you want a beach that’s also alive with fun people? Are you looking for an experience that away from crowds, secluded and empty or one that’s exciting, but perhaps a little more tame? Do you want to snorkel near your resort or one that’s at the end of a day of delicious wandering?

Liz Maus Snorkeling at Hounaunau Bay, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Liz Maus Snorkeling at Hounaunau Bay, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Ranked in order, with the best on top, are our picks of the best snorkeling spots on the Island of Hawaii. We’ve tried to strike a balance in ranking these places since each is a gem in its own right, we’ve had to leave off many that are equally fine for their own reasons and of course, recommending some means that their popularity will increase and hence, they will become more crowded. This list at least provides an excellent starting point for deciding where you want to spend you beach time. When you arrive we ask that you treat these special places, and the people who live near them, with care, respect and aloha.

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay Has Some of the Finest Snorkeling in the World: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay Has Some of the Finest Snorkeling in the World: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay: Class Triple-A waters, stuffed with a wide variety of brilliant tropical fish, set in a calm and protected bay, and frequently visited by dolphins, this snorkeling area near the grounds of one of the most important Hawai’ian archeological sites is perhaps the most popular and one of the three top places to snorkel on the island. It earns the top spot because of it’s easy accessibility.

Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument from Napo'opo'o: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument from Napo'opo'o: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kealakekua Bay: Whether you hike or boat to Captain Cook Monument, or enter the bay to snorkel at the end of the road in Napo’opo’o, there is no place on earth that has better snorkeling or more fish than Kealakekua Bay. Frequented by both dolphin and whale, protected, Class Triple A waters and a setting unmatched in beauty anywhere, this the premiere place for kayak-to-snorkel adventures on the island. Arguably, this bay and the Hawaiian settlements that surround it, experienced the most momentous and important historical events yet to unfold in the human history of the state of Hawaii.

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

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

Kahalu’u Beach: Referred to by many visitors as “Snorkel Beach” Kahalu’u is centrally located along Ali’i Drive in Kailua Kona. The welcoming waters are protected by a seawall and are amazingly warm, shallow and crystalline turquoise. The safety and ease of conditions here, many resident turtles and abundant colorful fish and the great facilities make this a perfect place to learn to snorkel, or for the tried and true veteran to “get wet and meet the fish”.

Hookena Beach in South Kona Is a Fabulous Beach Plunked Down in the Middle of Real Old Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hookena Beach in South Kona Is a Fabulous Beach Plunked Down in the Middle of Real Old Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Ho’okena Beach: Ho’okena Beach is a fabulously beautiful beach park well off the beaten path, plunked down in the honest-to-gosh old Hawaiian village of Ho’okena. This beach has an amazing array of underwater topography populated by perhaps the greatest variety of reef fish n the island; recently rebuilt, this park has fine facilities including a refreshment stand as well as snorkel and kayak rentals. Ho’okena is a true snorkeler’s mecca.

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekahai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekahai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Makalawena Beach: Perhaps the loveliest wilderness beach in Polynesia, Makalawena is the perfect sand crescent, beach backed by palms and iron wood trees with morning-glory-draped sand dunes. A easy mile hike in from Kekaha Kai State Park keeps this beach uncrowded. Snorkeling here is better than perfect. Simply drive to Kekaha Kai State Park and walk the well-marked trail north to the beach.

Bradford MacGowan Photographs a school of Humuhumuele'ele at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Photographs a school of Humuhumuele'ele at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Before we leave the topic of Best Snorkeling Beaches on the Island of Hawaii, we’d like to impress upon you the need to be proactive in keeping these places special and how to make your experience the best it can be. The open ocean is not your resort pool and deserves immense respect from you–the ocean is the strongest natural force on earth. Never snorkel alone, never turn you back on the ocean. Drink lots and lots of water; no, drink even more. Never snorkel after having consumed alcohol. Ask the lifeguard about conditions, chat with people coming out of the water about what they liked best and what conditions are like.

Bradford MacGowan Snorkeling at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Snorkeling at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau: Photo by Donald MacGowan

.Gary Burton and his daughter snorkel at Hounaunau Bay: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Gary Burton and his daughter snorkel at Hounaunau Bay: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Please wear a hat and t-shirt to protect yourself from sunburn while in the water–never apply sunscreen just before entering the water,wait until you are done snorkeling and have rinsed off–sun-cream kills the coral and poisons the water. When in the water, do not stand directly upon the coral to rest, do not touch the coral or the fish; never feed the fish or other marine animals. Do not touch, approach, chase or harass the sea turtles, dolphins or whales–it’s not only dangerous, it’s illegal and will earn you a hefty fine. Always obey posted warnings and the lifeguard; do not swim in windy conditions (dangerous) or murky water (sharks); be aware of currents and rip tides. Jellies ride in with inshore breezes.

Amanda Maus Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Amanda Maus Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Get out before you feel tired, get out before you feel sunburned, get out before you get thirsty; get out before the wind comes up or the sun goes down; get out before you feel ready–you are more tired than you think. Rinse yourself and your gear off after snorkeling and remember to apply sun-cream liberally and often–you are getting more sun than you think. Always pack out everything you brought with you and dispose of your litter (and that stuff the ignorant slob over there left, as well) appropriately. These beaches get an enormous amount of pressure, try to leave Paradise a little nicer than you found it.

Laurie Maus Using a Boogie Board as a Floatie: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Laurie Maus Using a Boogie Board as a Floatie: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

And for heaven’s sake, plunk-down ten bucks for a disposable underwater camera; in fact, buy two. I promise you will kick yourself from now until you return to Hawaii if you don’t! You will want to show the folks back home your snorkel adventures, which seem to always be the most memorable of any trip to Paradise. Trust me, any money you spend on disposable underwater cameras will be the best return on investment of any part of your Hawaii vacation.

A video introducing the subject of snorkeling, gear, technique and safety can be found here.

Bart Hunt Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Bart Hunt Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

For more information of traveling to Hawaii in general or exploring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com . Information about the author can be found here.

Monk seal at Honl's Beach near Kailua Kona: PHoto by Donald B. MacGowan

Monk seal at Honl's Beach near Kailua Kona: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan.

by Donnie MacGowan

Donnie MacGowan Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Donnie MacGowan Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Whether you visit the Big Island for a few days, a couple weeks or a few months, you want to make the most of your time in Paradise.  With such a wide variety of natural and commercial attractions, it is natural for the visitor to get a little overwhelmed in the “Option Overload” and not be able to make a balanced and informed decision on what they want to do and how best to spend their time.

Bart Hunt Filming Fish at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Bart Hunt Filming Fish at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Even choosing activities you want to participate in…do you want to snorkel, hike, go on a whale watching tour?  We always recommend people do three basic things when they come to Hawaii: get in the air, go to a luau and get in the water.  By getting in the air you get a glimpse of how magnificent our island home is, it is the best way to watch the volcano erupt and it allows you to sort of “scout” the island to see where you might want to spend more time.  By going to a luau you get an introduction to Hawaiian culture and cuisine–you get a taste of what it means to live in Hawaii.  And by getting in the water you experience the magic wonder of our reefs and colorful fish, the calm and renewal from floating in our warm, turquoise waters and the thrill of exploring something new, different and a little wild.  We highly recommend you go snorkeling on your visit…but where do you go?  Do you want a snorkel beach for beginners, or a place that;s challenging to experience? Are you going simply to get in the water and see the fish or do you want a beach that’s also alive with fun people?  Are you looking for an experience that away from crowds, secluded and empty or one that’s exciting, but perhaps a little more tame?  Do you want to snorkel near your resort or one that’s at the end of a day of delicious wandering?

Liz Maus Snorkeling at Hounaunau Bay, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Liz Maus Snorkeling at Hounaunau Bay, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Ranked in order, with the best on top, are our picks of the best snorkeling spots on the Island of Hawaii.  We’ve tried to strike a balance in ranking these places since each is a gem in its own right, we’ve had to leave off many that are equally fine for their own reasons and of course, recommending some means that their popularity will increase and hence, they will become more crowded.  This list at least provides an excellent starting point for deciding where you want to spend you beach time.  When you arrive we ask that you treat these special places, and the people who live near them, with care, respect and aloha.

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay Has Some of the Finest Snorkeling in the World: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay Has Some of the Finest Snorkeling in the World: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay: Class Triple-A waters, stuffed with a wide variety of brilliant tropical fish, set in a calm and protected bay, and frequently visited by dolphins, this snorkeling area near the grounds of one of the most important Hawai’ian archeological sites is perhaps the most popular and one of the three top places to snorkel on the island.  It earns the top spot because of it’s easy accessibility.

Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument from Napo'opo'o: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument from Napo'opo'o: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kealakekua Bay: Whether you hike or boat to Captain Cook Monument, or enter the bay to snorkel at the end of the road in Napo’opo’o, there is no place on earth that has better snorkeling or more fish than Kealakekua Bay.  Frequented by both dolphin and whale, protected, Class Triple A waters and a setting unmatched in beauty anywhere, this the premiere place for kayak-to-snorkel adventures on the island.  Arguably, this bay and the Hawaiian settlements that surround it, experienced the most momentous and important historical events yet to unfold in the human history of the state of Hawaii.

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

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

Kahalu’u Beach: Referred to by many visitors as “Snorkel Beach” Kahalu’u is centrally located along Ali’i Drive in Kailua Kona.  The welcoming waters are protected by a seawall and are amazingly warm, shallow and crystalline turquoise.  The safety and ease of conditions here, many resident turtles and abundant colorful fish and the great facilities make this a perfect place to learn to snorkel, or for the tried and true veteran to “get wet and meet the fish”.

Hookena Beach in South Kona Is a Fabulous Beach Plunked Down in the Middle of Real Old Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hookena Beach in South Kona Is a Fabulous Beach Plunked Down in the Middle of Real Old Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Ho’okena Beach: Ho’okena Beach is a  fabulously beautiful beach park well off the beaten path, plunked down in the honest-to-gosh old Hawaiian village of Ho’okena. This beach has an amazing array of underwater topography populated by perhaps the greatest variety of reef fish n the island;  recently rebuilt, this park has fine facilities including a refreshment stand as well as snorkel and kayak rentals.  Ho’okena is a true snorkeler’s mecca.

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekahai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekahai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Makalawena Beach: Perhaps the loveliest wilderness beach in Polynesia, Makalawena is the perfect sand crescent, beach backed by palms and iron wood trees with morning-glory-draped sand dunes.  A easy mile hike in from Kekaha Kai State Park keeps this beach uncrowded. Snorkeling here is better than perfect.  Simply drive to Kekaha Kai State Park and walk the well-marked trail north to the beach.

Bradford MacGowan Photographs a school of Humuhumuele'ele at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Photographs a school of Humuhumuele'ele at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Before we leave the topic of Best Snorkeling Beaches on the Island of Hawaii, we’d like to impress upon you the need to be proactive in keeping these places special and how to make your experience the best it can be. The open ocean is not your resort pool and deserves immense respect from you–the ocean is the strongest natural force on earth. Never snorkel alone, never turn you back on the ocean. Drink lots and lots of water; no, drink even more. Never snorkel after having consumed alcohol. Ask the lifeguard about conditions, chat with people coming out of the water about what they liked best and what conditions are like.

Bradford MacGowan Snorkeling at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Snorkeling at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau: Photo by Donald MacGowan

.Gary Burton and his daughter snorkel at Hounaunau Bay: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Gary Burton and his daughter snorkel at Hounaunau Bay: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Please wear a hat and t-shirt to protect yourself from sunburn while in the water–never apply sunscreen just before entering the water,wait until you are done snorkeling and have rinsed off–sun-cream kills the coral and poisons the water.  When in the water, do not stand directly upon the coral to rest, do not touch the coral or the fish; never feed the fish or other marine animals.  Do not touch, approach, chase or harass the sea turtles, dolphins or whales–it’s not only dangerous, it’s illegal and will earn you a hefty fine.  Always obey posted warnings and the lifeguard; do not swim in windy conditions (dangerous) or murky water (sharks); be aware of currents and rip tides.

Amanda Maus Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Amanda Maus Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Get out before you feel tired, get out before you feel sunburned, get out before you get thirsty; get out before the wind comes up or the sun goes down; get out before you feel ready–you are more tired than you think.  Rinse yourself and your gear off after snorkeling and remember to apply sun-cream liberally and often–you are getting more sun than you think. Always pack out everything you brought with you and dispose of your litter (and that stuff the ignorant slob over there left, as well) appropriately.  These beaches get an enormous amount of pressure, try to leave Paradise a little nicer than you found it.

Laurie Maus Using a Boogie Board as a Floatie: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Laurie Maus Using a Boogie Board as a Floatie: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

And for heaven’s sake, plunk-down ten bucks for a disposable underwater camera; in fact, buy two.  I promise you will kick yourself from now until you return to Hawaii if you don’t!  You will want to show the folks back home your snorkel adventures, which seem to always be the most memorable of any trip to Paradise. Trust me, any money you spend on disposable underwater cameras will be the best return on investment of any part of your Hawaii vacation.

Bart Hunt Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Bart Hunt Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

For more information of traveling to Hawaii in general or exploring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com .  Information about the author can be found here.

Monk seal at Honl's Beach near Kailua Kona: PHoto by Donald B. MacGowan

Monk seal at Honl's Beach near Kailua Kona: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan.

by Donnie MacGowan

69 West Side Beaches 1_edited-1

Waialea Beach (Beach 69) Is a Hidden Gem That Is Just Waiting For You To Explore: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Whether you visit the Big Island for a few days, a couple weeks or a few months, you want to make the most of your time in Paradise.  With such a wide variety of natural and commercial attractions, it is natural for the visitor to get a little overwhelmed in the “Option Overload” and not be able to make balanced and informed decisions on what they want to do and how best to spend their time.

Even choosing the beach you want to spend time on…which beach?  How do you find the right beach for your particular needs?  Are you going just to relax and sunbathe somewhere near your hotel?  Or is the trip to snorkel, boogie board or to explore?  Do you want a beach that’s alive with fun people or one hidden, secluded and empty?  Do you want a beach near your resort or one that’s at the end of a day of delicious wandering?

Kua Bay Sunbathers: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Kua Bay Sunbathers: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Ranked in order, with the best on top, are our picks of the best beaches on the Island of Hawaii—we tried to choose beaches with a range of attributes and interesting features, rather than beaches that are all very similar.  Ranking these beaches is an onerous task since each is a gem and we’ve had to leave off many that are equally fine for their own reasons.  This list at least provides an excellent starting point for deciding where you want to spend you beach time.

Hapuna Beach: A mile long, 200 meters wide and with warm, calm, crystal clear-turquoise waters, always one of the top-ranked beaches internationally, Hapuna is clearly the “Alpha Beach” on the island.  Sometimes crowded, this beach is usually fairly empty until about 11 a.m.  A great beach for sunbathing, it has only fair boogie boarding and rather passe snorkeling.

Hapuna Beach from the south: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hapuna Beach from the south: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Anaeho’omalu Bay: A long crescent of sugary sand backed by swaying palm trees; snorkel, sail, paddle boat and kayak rentals on the beach and interesting hikes both north and south, make Anaeho’omalu is a great place to spend the day for any family.  Anaeho’omalu is one of the most sought-after sunset images to photograph in the state of Hawaii. Although spectacular for its scenery and beach social scene, the water at Anaeho’omalu is a bit cloudy for ideal snorkeling.

The Justly Famous Anaeho'omalu Beach is a Long Crescent of Gorgeous Sand: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Justly Famous Anaeho'omalu Beach is a Long Crescent of Gorgeous Sand: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach: The large, beautiful beach with acres of jet black sand, backed by a jungle of palm trees and with clear waters stuffed with endangered green sea turtles make Punalu’u not just one of the loveliest beaches in the world, but also one of the most interesting.  Although a little cold due to near-shore springs, the clear waters and black sand bottom at Punalu’u offer fabulous and unique snorkeling.  Madly crazy rip tides and strong currents out near the surf zone make Punalu’u a dangerous place for beginning boogie boarders.  There are numerous historic and pre-contact ruins in the area that make this a great place for exploration.

Bradford MacGowan Filming at Punalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Filming at Punalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Waialea Beach: Another lonely crescent of sugar sand which is relatively unknown, even by many locals, Waialea is generally uncrowded, lovely beyond description, and has a wild underwater features to tempt even the most jaded snorkeler.  Fine snorkel exploring, hiking and scrambling both north and south of the beach yield secret treasures of small coves, private inlets, sea arches and wild underwater topography.

Happy Bathers Relax in the Warm, Crystaline Waters of Waialea Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Happy Bathers Relax in the Warm, Crystalline Waters of Waialea Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Makalawena Beach: Perhaps the loveliest beach in Polynesia, Makalawena is the perfect sand crescent beach backed by palms and iron wood trees and with morning-glory-draped sand dunes.  A easy mile hike in from Kekaha Kai State Park keeps this beach uncrowded. Snorkeling here is better than perfect, camping here is so wonderful we don’t know why it’s not actually mandatory.  The coastline hike a few miles north from Makalawena to Kua Bay along the ancient, paved Ala Ali’i (Trail of Kings) is one of the finest, most rewarding shoreline hikes on the island.

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekahai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekaha Kai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Mahana Green Sand Beach (South Point): One of a handful of true green sand beaches in the world, the Mahana Green Sand Beach near South Point is not to be missed.  Beautiful, haunting, intriguing. Although the hike is 2 ¼ miles each way, the trail is relatively flat and easily followed. Snorkeling here, due to the green sand and vibrant water color is delightfully weird—be sure to purchase an inexpensive, disposable underwater camera.  Scenery is best viewed early morning and afternoon, although afternoons tend to be quite windy.  Swimming is safe in the protected bowl of the bay, but strong, relentless currents in the open ocean call for extreme caution beyond the bay.

Mahana Green Sand Beach in the Afternoon: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mahana Green Sand Beach in the Afternoon: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kua Bay: One of Hawaii County’s newest beach parks, Kua Bay is a true gem of a beach—although somewhat small, it is a lovely setting with warm waters perfect for snorkeling, boogie boarding or just relaxing in. In recent years, Kua Bay has become Kona’s leading “social beach” with scores of young visitors and locals coming to chill in the sand and sun every day.  Snorkeling is superb on both the north and south ends near the rocks, boogie boarding is great when the surf is up…like all Hawaii’s beaches, Kua can become hazardous in times of high surf.

Kua Bay from the north: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Kua Bay from the north: Photo by Donald MacGowan

For more information about traveling to Hawaii in general and exploring 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.