Like I mentioned in an earlier post (Hawaii, “The Big Island,” Third Time’s a Charm While Discovering Waimea), the first two times I went to the island of Hawaii, also known as “The Big Island,” I spent most of my time in the area called Kona or Kailua-Kona. For my third and most recent trip to The Big Island I decided it was time to branch out a bit and stay somewhere new so I chose Waimea in the northwest side of the island. That doesn’t mean I didn’t still go to Kona, though. Here are some of the things I saw and did in Kona this time in addition to places I’ve gone to on previous trips.
One of my favorite parks in Kona is the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. There’s a small visitor’s center with the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail behind the parking lot. To the north, you’ll find Kaloko Fishpond (closed to foot traffic), ‘Aimakapa Fishpond, and ‘Ai’opio Fishtrap. The trail also goes to Honokohau Beach, where you can see green sea turtles either eating algae or sunbathing on the lava depending on the time of day. I was there twice on this trip (and I had been there before), the first time in the afternoon and I saw the turtles sunbathing on the rocks and came back the next morning for a ranger talk and the turtles were busy eating algae then.
Another popular activity in Kona is going to the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano, (https://maunakea.com) and watching the sunset. I did this on a previous trip and this time I noticed how much more expensive it’s gotten, at $300 per person and up, so I chose not to go there again. You have to have a 4×4 vehicle to get to the top so most people go with tour companies. Since it’s almost 14,000 feet above sea level, it’s also quite chilly so if you’re going on your own, you’ll want warm clothes or if you’ll be with a tour group, ask if they provide coats or other warm gear (many do).
There are several places where you can tour coffee farms in Kona. Some charge an admission, some don’t. I chose one that was free, https://www.greenwellfarms.com, and thought the one hour walking tour around the farm was thorough and the guide was entertaining while educating everyone about growing and making coffee. We got to sample several different coffees afterwards and there were bags of coffee and some other items for sale. There are also farms with roasting tours where you roast your own coffee beans and take the coffee home with you for a fee, such as Sunshower Coffee Farm, Hala Tree Coffee, and Hula Daddy Kona Coffee, just to name a few.
If you’re not familiar with Kona coffee, it’s similar to wine from Napa Valley in California, where the physical location of the product, coffee beans in this case, drives up the price to an average cost of $20/pound (some brands are much more). In other words, these highly coveted beans are expensive. You’ll often see Kona blend coffees, which mean the beans grown in Kona are blended with beans from other areas. In Hawaii, there has to be at least 10% Kona coffee beans but outside of Hawaii, it could be as low as 1%. Obviously, Kona blends are much less expensive than 100% Kona coffee.
For history buffs, there’s the Hulihe’e Palace, originally built from lava rock. It was the first home to High Chief John Adams Kuakini, brother of Ka‘ahumanu the favorite wife of Kamehameha, and later home to more members of Hawaiian royalty. You can see artifacts from the era of King Kalākaua and Queen Kapi‘olani, such as koa wood furniture, portraits, kapa, feather work, and Hawaiian quilts. Docent-guided tours are available Wednesday-Friday for $22/adult and self-guided tours are on Saturdays for $16/adult. https://daughtersofhawaii.org/hulihee-palace/
The Kona Cloudforest Sanctuary sounds like an interesting place to tour, but at $95/adult for a 2 hour tour, that seemed a bit much to me so I’ve never been. There are also one hour Sound Bath Meditation Journeys for $40 and 45-minute Forest Immersion Meditation Journeys (with no availability listed so I don’t know the price for that). https://www.konacloudforest.com
Another place I’ve never been to in Kona but it sounds interesting and unique to me (but also a bit expensive, which is why I didn’t go) is the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm. A one hour tour costs $73/person, where there are apparently thousands of seahorses on their 3-acre farm. You can also take surfing lessons at the farm for $250 by professional local surfers. https://seahorse.com/product/oceanrider-seahorse-farm-tour-tickets/
Are you sensing a trend here? Most things other than the national historical park and coffee farm tour that I took are extremely expensive in Kona. This was one reason I chose to stay outside of Kona for this vacation. While I’m by no means saying things are cheap outside of the Kona area, they certainly seem hyper-inflated in the Kona area. But back to more things to do!
Of course there are black, beige, and a mixture of black and white sand beaches in Kona, many of which have clear water for snorkeling. Most are rocky, though, so either have tough feet or wear water shoes. There are several beaches in Kekaha Kai State Park between the 91- and 90-mile markers on Highway 19 north of Kona. Just be sure to check water conditions before you go because the water could have dangerous rip tides or big waves fine for surfing but not good otherwise.
Some hiking trails on the Kona Coast include the Makuala O’Oma trail, a 1.5 mile loop trail located at the Makahi Street trailhead. When you arrive at the Makahi Street trailhead, you feel like you’re in the rainforest in the middle of nowhere (which, you essentially are) so it’s a very different feel from the rest of Kona. The trails aren’t marked that great here, so pay attention and watch your footing, as there are more roots and rocks I had seen on a trail in a long time. This is within the Honua‘ula Forest Reserve.
The Captain Cook Monument Trail is 1.8 miles each way, with two paths, one that goes to Kealakekua Bay and one that goes to the monument. Parking is just off the roadside. Side note: Kealakekua Bay has some of the best snorkeling in the area and you can also kayak or standup paddle board here. This is on the southern end of the Kona area.
I stumbled upon this nature trail in the Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area called Maka’eo Walking Path and loved the variety of flowers and plants along the way of this easy path. It’s by Kailua Beach and there’s also a skate park and playground nearby. There’s a huge (free) parking lot as well.
Much of the shopping in Kona is clustered together just off Hawaii Belt Road and you’ll find a few different shopping malls and a string of restaurants along Ali’i Drive. I had to stop in for lunch at one of my old favorites, Kona Brewing Company, and the pizza and beer hit the spot. Although I usually love local farmer’s markets, I decided to skip the Kona Farmer’s Market after I read several reviews about low turnout of items for sale after covid. However, I discovered a new place, a local running store, Big Island Running Company. It’s small inside, like many local running stores are, but they had a decent selection of unique items, like the running hat I bought with their logo on it, “Run Big” with a graphic of the island of Hawaii.
As much as I enjoyed my time in Kona on this vacation, I was glad I chose to spread my wings and explore other areas of the Big Island and stay in Waimea. Kona is perhaps a tad more central to exploring the island than Waimea, but not by much and I’ll happily drive a little more in exchange for less crowded and less expensive.
Have you been to Kona on the Big Island? What was your experience like? Is this on your bucket list?