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Tag Archives: walking tour

by Donald B. MacGowan

Sunset from the Kailua Seawall, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Sunset from the Kailua Seawall, Kailua Kona, 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.

Along the Seawall from the Kailua Pier, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Along the Seawall from the Kailua Pier, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Choosing which beach you want to spend time on, or where you want to hike or drive can be an exercise in confusion and conflicting advice.  Even more so, finding quality information on the history, culture, geology and natural history of the area can be almost impossible–and much of what you do find is inaccurate, or third-hand retellings that are, well, better stories than histories.  Clearly, visitors to Hawaii could use help making quality decisions about how best to spend their time and understanding what they are seeing, the culture they are visiting.

Hualalai Looms over the sleepy fishing village of Kailua Kona, protected by it's seawall, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hualalai Looms over the sleepy fishing village of Kailua Kona, protected by it's seawall, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

This is why Tour Guide Hawaii is so excited and proud to announce the release of their new GPS/WiFi enabled App for iPhone and iPod video tour that helps you navigate your trip to Hawaii with hours of informative, location-aware video and information. Although our video guide will lead you to dozens of unusual, untamed and unspoiled spots, as an example of the fabulous coverage our App for iPhone and iPod provides, let’s look at a fascinating, but perhaps mundane-appearing couple of places in the heart of Old Kailua Town itself, but might not be able to find from maps and guidebooks and would otherwise miss if you did not have Tour Guide Hawaii’s new App.

Kamakahonu Rock, Kailua Pier and Sea Wall

The Old Seawall Behind the Kona Inn, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Old Seawall Behind the Kona Inn, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

In the heart of Old Kailua Town’s downtown section, amidst the many shops and restaurants, lies the old Kailua Pier and Seawall. As they excitedly trek from the pre-contact Hawaiian temple at Ahu’ena Heiau, to Hulihe’e the Hawaii Royal Palace and Moku’aikaua, the first Christian Church in the state of Hawaii, tourists busy shopping, dining and snapping photos often do not even notice these historic constructions. But the pier and the seawall have an ancient, complex and fascinating history, the stones recycled from gun-turreted forts and ancient Hawaiian royal palace walls over the centuries.

Mokuaikawa Church and Hulihee Palace stand above the seawall, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mokuaikawa Church and Hulihee Palace stand above the seawall, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Congregationalist missionaries from Boston crossed the Atlantic Ocean, fought the frigid, turbulent waters off Cape Horn, endured 5 months of intense stormy weather and unimaginably cramped and filthy quarters below decks on the Brig Thaddeus, and 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, the “Plymouth Rock” of Hawai’i, in 1820.

Along the Seawall, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Along the Seawall, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

First constructed in 1900 and then rebuilt in 1950, stones for the pier and the seawall that runs from the pier to the Old Kona Inn were scavenged from the immense stonewall that once surrounded the Ahu’ena Heiau Temple complex and from the massive stone fort erected after the destruction of the heiau during the reign of Kamehameha II. The large stone fort once boasted 18, thirty-two inch naval cannon and was nick-named “The Rock” by passing whalers; today, that appellation is universally applied by locals to the entirety of the Big Island.

A Hand-Built Boat Tied-up at Kailua Pier, Kailua Kona, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A Hand-Built Boat Tied-up at Kailua Pier, Kailua Kona, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The pier originally was built to facilitate loading cattle onto steam freighters bound for Honolulu. Before the advent of the pier, horseback cowboys used to rope and drag individual steers from Kaiakeakua Beach (the minuscule beach just south of the pier), plunge them into the surf and swim them out to waiting whaleboats. There, the cows were lashed to the gunwales of the whaleboat and, with their backs awash, ferried farther out to the steamer offshore. The cows were then, unceremoniously, by means of sling and crane hoisted aboard the steamer

Morning at Ahu'ena Heiau, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Morning at Ahu'ena Heiau, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The pier sat on Kamakahonu rock and pilings until 1950 when concrete pylons were poured. From around the turn of the last century until the 1970’s the pier was covered by various sheds and warehouses that served to protect 100 pound coffee bags, sugar and other goods ready for shipment. Renovators in the early 1950s even planted trees along the pier in an effort to beautify the downtown area. The modern shape and configuration of the pier resulted from a year and a half’s renovations during 2003-2004.

Canoes Parked at Kamakahonu Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Canoes Parked at Kamakahonu Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Back in the day, at the entrance to the pier sat H. Hackfield And Company, the largest business concern in Kona at the turn of the last century; in 1917, H. Hackfield was bought by American Factors which became AmFac in 1960. Hackfield’s buildings contained a general store, post office, coffee mill and an ice factory as well as serving as the company’s headquarters. Standard Oil stock tanks sat on the shore of Kamakahonu Beach in the 1950s and 1960s until the construction of the original Hotel King Kamehameha in the 1960s. This original hotel was rebuilt as the current King Kamehameha Beach Resort in the 1970s.

Ahu'ena Heiau Surrounded by its Ancient Stone Walls. Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacgGawn

Ahu'ena Heiau Surrounded by its Ancient Stone Walls. Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

In several places along the seawall, if you look 20-60 feet offshore, you will observe the distinct “boil” associated with undersea fresh water springs discharging into the ocean. These springs result from the discharge of aquifers that collect fresh water far up the mountain slopes and transport it down to where they intersect the seafloor. The Hawai’ians used to dive under the surface of the ocean with a sealed gourd, down to the springs, turn the gourd mouth-end down, uncork it and fill the gourd with fresh water. This was a necessary task to obtain fresh water, as fresh water springs are scarce in the Kona district. Today, one can often spot honu (sea turtles) languorously swimming through the springs, trying to kill parasites and algae that grow on their shells and skin.

Kamakahonu Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kamakahonu Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Today, Kamakahonu Rock (eye of the turtle) lies underneath the modern-day Kailua Pier, where it serves as a footing for it. It is not uncommon to observe dolphin, sea turtles and whale off the pier.

Kaiakeakua Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kaiakeakua Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Even many locals will be surprised to learn that the tiny beach adjacent to, and south of, the pier and the little beach associated with Hulihe’e Palace both have names; respectively they are Kaiakeakua (the god of the sea) and Niumalu (“in the shade of the coconut trees”) Beaches. Snorkeling from Kamakahonu, Kaiakeakua or Niumalu beaches is spectacular and strangely uncommon. A beautiful coral garden and abundant fish are to be seen snorkeling along the shoreline of Ahu’ena Heiau and fish, turtles, moray eels and the occasional sunken boat are abundant in Kailua Bay. Be wary of boat traffic to and from the pier, don’t go in on boat days, when careless lighter pilots ignore the marked swim channels.

Niumalu Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Niumalu Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Many commercial ocean-going enterprises use the Kailua Pier as their departure point, lighters from large cruise ships land here and fishing captains on charter boats still bring their catches of marlin and tuna to be weighed at the scale at the pier. During the 2nd or 3rd weekend of October, the Kailua Pier serves as the staging grounds for the first leg and finish line of the Ironman World Championship Triathlon.

Kamehameha's view of his taro fields, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kamehameha's view of his taro fields, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Good fishing is to be had all along the pier and the seawall, but the best is behind the Hulihe’e Palace and the Old Kona Inn. During heavy seas and big storms, waves up to 20 feet high explode over the seawall and surge across Ali’i drive.

Ahu'ena Heiau Sacred Iki, Kialua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Ahu'ena Heiau Sacred Iki, Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Views from the pier are spectacular, particularly at sunset; it is worth the time to stop, explore the pier and the adjacent Ahu’ena Heiau.

The Seawall at Hale Halawai Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Seawall at Hale Halawai Beach, Kailua Kona, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Facilities include showers, restrooms, changing rooms, drinking water, public telephones and a boat ramp; Kailua Pier and seawall lie in the heart of Old Kailua Town’s many shops and restaurants so anything the visitor could wish for is in easy walking distance.

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.

A Vog-Tinted Sunset from the Kailua Pier, Kailua Kona, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A Vog-Tinted Sunset from the Kailua Pier, Kailua Kona, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.


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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.