Kona and South Kohala

Kona is tourist central for Big Island.  The downtown area has all the kitschy beach and souvenir shops, chain restaurants and pasty-skinned visitors you could want.  We have a few places we like to eat:

Huggo’s On The Rocks: food is so-so, but the setting is great:  ocean front, outside eating with tables and chairs set in beach sand.  A lovely way to spend a couple of hours, especially at sunset.

Splashers:  not fancy, but good food and again, lovely view of Kailua Bay.

Fish Hoppers: a bit more pricey, but good food, lovely view.


Starting on Queen K. Highway (hwy11) heading south from the airport, you will see Kaloko-Honokohou National Monument. There is parking from the highway which takes you through the visitor center then trails through the desert down to the sea, but it can also be accessed through a gate at the bottom of the Honokohou Harbor parking lot (avoiding the desert part). There are ancient fishponds, turtles, heiau, turtles, interesting historical markers and…..did I mention turtles? One of the old fishponds is easy to snorkel in, though usually murkey…..but there are always turtles!


At Honokouhou Harbor watch fishing boats come and go, and try to spot the “catch” as it is offloaded– we’ve seen 400lb ahi (tuna) hoisted off. Casual lunch at The Harbor House overlooking the marina. From the harbor you take off for many of the snorkeling/manta ray/whale watching tours. If booking a manta ray swim, we recommend NOT getting on a boat with both snorkel and scuba groups….pick one or the other to avoid lots of waiting/logistic juggling….



Back on highway 11, head toward Kona, turn right on Palani and follow it till it curves and becomes Ali’i Drive.

Travel south down Ali’i Drive (slowly…….lots of foot and car traffic) and stop at the Farmer’s market, Mokuaihaua Church (the first Christian Church built on Hawaii) and Houlihe’e Palace:

Kailua Bay is home to boat tours, parasailing, submarine, swimming/snorkeling, cruise boats….lots of ways to spend your money, or just sit on the seawall and watch the action.

You’ll pass numerous white sandy beaches. Most of them are crowded. All the time. You will eventually come  to  Keauhou Bay.  It has good snorkeling and you can kayak out from the bay to see some great sea caves.

Continuing south toward Captain Cook, you’ll come across St. Benedict’s Painted Church overlooking Kealakekua Bay. Follow the road down (down….down…down……) past several coffee farms (with roadside cafes where you can sample….) to Kealakekua Bay. It was here that Captain Cook was killed by the Hawaiian warriors.  At first he was thought of as a god, but when they noted he bled and suffered pain like normal men, his fate was sealed.  Rent a kayak up the hill, bring it down to the wharf where the vendors will help you launch and enter it.   Here is the best snorkeling on Hawaii. Go early and you will often by joined by a pod of spinner dolphins as you paddle across the bay.  Currently only organized boat tours are allowed access to Captain Cook Monument: Book a snorkel boat tour:  Captain Zodiac is one operator, and they gave us a great 5 hour tour…..(don’t step on the big moray like I almost did….)


Pu’u Honua O Honaunau, Place of Refuge, is a national park where the ancient Hawaiian culture is preserved.

Tiki, Heiau (temples) and other structures are lovingly restored and maintained. Place of refuge was just that:  a Hawaiian who had broken some taboo, and was condemned to death had only (!) to swim across a shark infested bay and enter the temple grounds. If he survived that, the Kahuna (priest) was obligated to absolve him of all crimes, and the condemned was allowed to live.  No picnicking, bathing or snorkeling is allowed from within  the park….

Two Step

…..but just north of the park is a large, flat area of pahoehoe (smooth) lava, from which you can enter the bay (down 2 lava steps….get it?) for some great snorkeling. Given the history of the shark infested waters however…….

Sailfin Tang seen at Two-Step