TOP THINGS TO KNOW
- Stay at Kona Alii - you can book this through AirBnB
- Snorkel at Kealakekua Bay
- Hike to Pololu Valley and beyond
- Visit Honokohau Marina, take dirt/volcanic trail to to watch the Sea Turtles and enjoy the beach there
- Shop at Evelyn Boutique on Alii Drive for highly curated second hand pieces
First off, head to the bookstore and get yourself Hawaii the Big Island Revealed by Andrew Doughty. It truly is the best guidebook out there and opens up every beach, cove, snorkel spot, tour, hike, activity, and more, plus goes into detail about what you can expect at each spot. The author weaves in historical components and gives helpful tips to not piss off the locals haha.
I've been coming to Kona most of my life as my grandparents wintered here for 40+ years and had the island dialed in by the time I started coming to "check on them." Back when Alii Drive was a dirt road, and you could leave your car at the airport for six months unlocked. Perhaps my favorite story/event from childhood is when my dad had to leave Juneau to go look for my Grandfather who suffered from PTSD and was bipolar, an after effect of being a WWII vet. He had gone manic, living naked in the woods of the Big Island raising hell with the local cops. The locals knew him well so they often helped conceal him from the police for running amok with his junk hanging out. During this phase of his life he had developed a passion for yoga and personal health and wellbeing which played out well for him with the amount of times he used his flexibility to slide out the back windows of patrol cars. The stories are a little unclear to me how he escaped jail so many times. He was never violent, just taunted the police to the point where they couldn't have him out in public diminishing their reputation. My Grandma was along for the ride and continued playing her tennis matches while my Grandfather was MIA and my dad tasked with the job of trying to capture him. Eventually he was lured in, medicated, and relentlessly clothed.
Aside from his wild side, he also was involved with the local Veterans here on the Big Island. My most favorite way to remember him is by heading down to Honokohau Marina. There's 100 or so palm trees planted along the drive, he and other vets planted them back in the 80's? Today we refer to it as Grandpa's Beach because if you stay right, there's a foot trail that takes you out to a beach. Green Sea Turtles bathe all day making it impossible not to see any. Walking down the beach there's shade offered by trees, decent snorkeling, and is never crowded. Except this year, not sure what happened, but all the sudden it seems as though that beach has been discovered and the crowds have started moving in. Although on weekdays you can have most of the place to yourself.
This go around I used the Guidebook mentioned above to seek out new places I hadn't been before. Including Kealakekua Bay near Captain Cook Monument. There's a few ways to get there, you can swim, kayak, hike, or boat. And omg I would LOVE to go back! Truly the best snorkeling I've come across in a LONG time if not ever! Highly recommend making it a point to go there once or twice if you can swing it. The reefs are 10-20ft deep, lots of biodiversity, and the history of the cliffs are insane! The Alii (Hawaiian Royals) upon death would have their bones fired and cleaned, wrapped, and then sent with a volunteer to be repelled down to hide their remains in one of the many caves along the face of the cliffs. When the volunteer had finished, the rope would be cut and he would fall to his death in order to conceal the bones' location. Pretty brutal but definitely the best way to keep a secret considering the Hawaiians believed in possessing the power of the deceased through their bones.
Another great spot is Pololu Valley. A beautiful drive to the end of Highway 270 brings you to an amazing lookout on the North Side of the Island. There, you can hike down 500ft to the shoreline where it's often too violent to swim, but gorgeous enough to want to stay and play. Be sure to swing into Gill's Lanai for some damn good fish tacos! Probably my favorite meal of the trip and is about halfway from Kona to Pololu. You'll also drive by King Kamehameha the Great's statue near the Civic Center in Kapa'au, take a break there and read about him and his brith place. He truly was an incredible King, living to have known Captain Cook and Captain Vancouver, what a life!
Over all the years my Grandparents came to Kona, they never purchased a home here, instead renting different condos around Alii Drive. Each time I visited was in a different place. My favorite, and one I try and stay in every time is the Kona Alii, great view, usually a good price, close to everything, has parking, a pool, and is great for families. I book this through AirBnb :)
Anyway, cheers to laid back island time. Nothing better than escaping winter on an Alaskan default trip to the Big Island.
Aloha and mahalo!