If it’s time to get away from the office and you’re looking for a Hawai‘i staycation, the Kohala Coast on Hawai‘i Island (the Big Island) is an exceptional choice. Best known for its white beaches and luxurious resorts, the Kohala Coast is viewed as the Big Island’s top destination for tourists, and a popular haven from the daily grind for residents.
If you travel a little further north, Kohala has a rugged, adventurous side waiting for those who are up to the challenge. Our Big Island real estate team has scoped out the best of both worlds to provide you with some excellent weekend getaway options.
Starting at the southern end, the Kohala Coast begins just north of the Kona International Airport on Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway. If you’re looking for relaxation and pampering, South Kohala is the place for you. Most major beaches on this stretch of the Big Island have an accompanying resort full of shops, spas, and restaurants. A great guide for your road trip is the Best Hawai‘i Road Map. It’s free and includes a visual guide to popular places to stop all across the Big Island. It’s available at many shops along the coastal road.
The first stop and one of my favorite beaches is at Kua Bay, which can be found in Kekaha Kai State Park. The white sand beach has a partnership right now with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and Kealakehe High School that allows culinary students to sell poke bowls, shave ice, and tacos right by the ocean. When you’re done swimming and eating, take a short hike up the twin cinder cones that overlook the bay. The path starts near the edge of the parking lot and the view from the top is the ideal locale to catch an end-of-day sunset. Looking to stay overnight? The luxurious Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is right up the road from Kua Bay.
The next major stop on the coast is Waikoloa Beach Resort. The nearby Kings’ Shops and Queens’ Marketplace, as well as several world-class golf courses, offer plenty of entertainment and activities for the whole family. As one of the most luxurious areas along the Kohala Coast, the three major resorts at Waikoloa offer everything a family could ask for – restaurants, bars, pools, jacuzzis, fancy hotel suites, spas, and even a dolphin encounter. Looking for a beach near the resort with a happy hour? Anaeho‘omalu Bay, also known as A-Bay, stretches out in a crescent with a few walking paths to access it. Oceanfront drinks can be had at the popular and well-established Lava Lava Beach Club.
History buffs can check out the fishponds and the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve, located just a little further north at Mauna Lani Drive. Here you can view ancient Hawaiian carvings and learn about how Native Hawaiians skillfully managed their natural resources and maintained these glassy, freshwater ponds. The Mauna Lani area also boasts a hotel, golf, and more shops to while away an afternoon.
The last great white sand beach on the Kohala Coast is Hapuna. It is accessible via state park access or the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. Hapuna is one of the more built-out beaches on the coast – with paved parking, pavilions, restrooms, showers, and picnic areas. At its recreation area, the Division of State Parks runs Three Frogs Cafe, a small concession stand, and provide rentals of frequently forgotten necessities like boogie boards and beach chairs. If you want a more rustic overnight stay, you can reserve one of the 4-person, A-frame beach cabanas starting at just $30/night.
Other notable stops in South Kohala are Mauna Kea Beach, with the beautiful and historic Mauna Kea Beach Hotel perched on it, the Pu‘ukohola Heiau for history buffs, secluded Puako Beach Drive, Kiholo Bay or Makalawena beach for hikers. For an aerial view of this unique topography and landscape, check out the Kohala Coast helicopter tours.
Getting back on the road, the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway will bring you to its endpoint at Kawaihae Harbor. To continue exploring the coast, take Akoni Pule Highway (also named 270). As you head north, the elevation climbs and old lava fields turn into long grass, pastures, and pine trees. On a clear day, you can see Maui from the road and there are plenty of scenic lookouts to stop and take pictures. You’ll pass pockets of towns, pastures, and ranch houses.
At the junction of 270 and Hawi Road, Kohala Village Inn & HUB pops into view. Not just an inn and restaurant, the community-based HUB also offers group educational programs, live concerts, eco-tours, and a variety of hang-out spots. Located in the small town called Hawi, the HUB is smack in the middle of one of Kohala’s towns with coffee shops, food options, and galleries within walking distance. There’s even a farmers’ market across the street that pops up twice a week.
Looking for adventure? Check out Flumin’ Kohala headquarters located across the street. They provide guided, 3-hour kayak tours through the old flumes and fresh water system of Kohala. For those that love ruins and going off-the-beaten-path, this tour is ideal since the area is kapu (prohibited) to everyone except Flumin’ Kohala guests.
If you return to 270 and continue to the northern part of the island, you’ll find a small town named Kapa‘au and one of its main attractions is the original King Kamehameha statue that sits in front of the North Kohala Civic Center. The story goes that this was the original King Kamehameha statue ordered in 1878 and shipped from Italy, but the shipwrecked near the Falkland Islands and the statute was lost at sea. After a second statue was ordered, the first was recovered by some Falkland Islanders and sold. It eventually found its way back where it belonged, in Kapa‘au, near King Kamehameha’s actual birthplace.
Follow 270 all the way to the end and you’ll come to the beautifully deep and dark Pololu Valley. Connected to Waipio Valley via a system of trails, these jagged cliffs are an idyllic lookout spot located at the very top of the island. Here the wind is strong and constant. The parking lot, located at the top of the valley, is small and cramped, but the view of rugged Hawai‘i is amazing. The road isn’t paved, so the only way to the rocky and gorgeous black sand beach is a hike down the many switchbacks of the trail. A descent down two switchbacks will provide panoramic views untainted by human contact. It’s great exercise in a mostly secluded location and the reward of climbing down will be well worth the effort.