Aside from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the town of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of the most popular attractions for island visitors. The hot, dry weather is a welcome change from the lush, tropical east side, and the nightlife in Kona is far superior to anywhere else on the island.
Most visitors to the Kona side of the island opt to stay in one of either three places: Downtown Kona, the area of Keauhou to the south of town, or the Waikoloa resort district 45 minutes north of town. While each area is nice in its own respect, experiencing other parts of the Kona coastline mean venturing out for a day trip, some of the most popular of which are listed below.
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau
One of the most popular snorkeling areas on the south Kona coastline, this pu’uohonua, or place of refuge, was historically a place where ancient Hawaiians who had broken the kapu system of laws could seek refuge from persecution. Now designated as a National Historic Park, the area has been refurbished and reconstructed to give the feel of an ancient Hawaiian outpost. While the cultural history of the area is reason enough to visit, the snorkeling from the shoreline is some of Kona’s best.
This towering heiau (religious temple) is one of the most sacred sites on the Big Island of Hawaii and is now preserved as a National Historic Site. Standing high above the dry grasslands of south Kohala, Pu’ukohola was constructed by King Kamehamhea before he unified all of the islands under a single sovereign crown. In addition to the powerful history behind the area, it’s believed that the stones used to construct Pu’ukohola were passed from neighboring Pololu Valley in a human chain which would have required 10,000-20,000 men. For those who want to learn more about the early history of King Kamehameha, it’s possible to visit his birthplace which lies in an undeveloped fields in the hinterlands of the Kohala coastline.
Anaeho’omalu Bay and Hapuna Beach
Though much of the Kona coastline is still comprised of fresh, black lava rock in its geological infancy, these two white-sand beaches stand out as the gems of the Kona coastline. The turquoise waters from here coincide perfectly with the black lava rock and blindingly white sands, and on many days they are sheltered from the tradewinds which can blow fiercely only a few miles away.
The Coffee Belt
Hawaii is the only state in America with the right climate for growing coffee, and some of the best coffee in all of Hawaii comes from the slopes above the town of Kona in an area known as “the coffee belt”. Not only are the views spectacular from the vantage point above the shoreline, but you can stop in at a number of different coffee plantations to sample the local crop and learn about the growing process. One of the most popular events of the year is the Kona Coffee and Cultural Festival, and plantation owners will proudly tell you how well they’ve fared in recent competitions.
Mauna Kea Summit and Observatory
Finally, although it’s a long, torturous drive, if you want to throw snowballs in the morning hours and build a sandcastle at sunset, with the right type of vehicle it’s possible to visit the Mauna Kea summit and observatory to stand at 13,796 ft. atop the highest peak in the 50th state. Bring a jacket, however, as temperatures up here can often drop to below freezing, but this is one of the day trips from Kona that fall into the category of things you won’t be able to do anywhere else on the planet.
Contributed by Kyle Ellison