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Big Island - Kona Scenic Tour

Kona means many things to many people. In the Hawaiian language, kona means leeward, and also refers to a rollicking little town on the coast, which is properly known as Kailua-Kona. But, in as a vacation area kona refers to the Kona Coast of the Big Island. It is an area with diverse characteristics such as:

Big Island Canoe
  • A sun splashed stretch of bays and beach resorts, which includes the previously mentioned fishing village of Kailua-Kona
  • Ancient places of worship known as heiaus
  • Tropical upland rainforests next to plantations which produce coffee, macadamia nuts, papayas, and bananas

Geographically, Kona is split into two parts: North and South Kona. Let's start with the North.

Big Island Boat

North Kona's main town is Kailua-Kona, a lively fishing village whose harbor is busy with the bustle of commercial fishermen, charter boats, and tourists happily partying away. Despite all the activity, Kailua-Kona still maintains its charm. On Ali'i Drive, which skirts the waterfront, there are many quaint shops, restaurants, and hotels, with historical spots nearby. Hulihe'e Palace was built in 1838, and served as a summer residence for Hawaiian royalty, especially King David Kalakaua.

It houses many unusual pieces of koa furniture and other artifacts. Tours provide a fascinating insight into the life of the royals in the 18th century. The Mokuaikaua Church, across the street from the palace, was constructed in 1837, and it enjoys landmark status, as the oldest church in the islands.

Ahuena Heiau, directly in front of the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel, is one of the few heiau that have been restored with replicas of thatched temple structures and carved images. It was here that Kamehameha the Great retired after years of warfare to lead a peaceful life devoted to statesmanship.

Big Island Sunset

The town comes especially alive during two major annual sporting events. Summertime is when the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament takes place, and fishermen engage in sportsmanlike rivalry. The Ironman Triathalon takes place every October, where contestants engage in an arduous competition which includes swimming, bicycle racing, and a marathon run.

Other parts of North Kona are the regions where coffee is king, in particular, the settlements of Holualoa, Honalo, and Kainaliu stand out. Another popular spot is Holualoa Village, which is an arts and crafts center, just a short distance north of Kailua-Kona. Southward is a place definitely worth your attention: Magic Sands Beach, which is also known as Disappearing Sands Beach, since it comes and goes with the waves in winter.

Bodysurfing and swimming are best in the sandy summer. At Kahalu'u you can feed reef-fish by hand, and there's great snorkeling there, too. Next stop is Keauhou, which is a lovely sea resort, and then Kealakekua Bay, a favorite location for diving, swimming and snorkeling. It is also the place where the intrepid explorer, Captain James Cook, met his maker in 1779.

Big Island Tiki

It is therefore no surprise that the center of activity in South Kona is the little town of Captain Cook, which sits on the bay. Here, one can find a monument to that fabled British captain. This area is also a place where the Hawaiian gods sojourned. The 19th century American explorer, Charles Wilkes, wrote that, It was believed that a god slid down a cliff here, leaving an imprint, and that the gods often slid here, in order to cross the bay quickly. Here, Hawaiians paid homage to the gods with a number of heiau. Hikiau Heiau has been nicely restored, and Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is a must-see attraction and a fascinating educational experience. It is sometimes called the City of Refuge, referring to its role in ancient times as a safe haven for criminals, prisoners-of-war, and breakers of the strict laws of kapu (taboo or forbidden). Priests purified the lawbreakers and allowed them to live here. Within the 180-acre park is the restored temple complex of Hale O Keawe Heiau, originally built in 1650, surrounded by carved wooden images of Hawaiian gods.

Southward, the road veers away from the coast. The dry seaside gives way to sultry rainforest. At this point, you might want to turn off to a small fishing village called Miloli'i. There's a beach nearby, too. Back on the highway, you'll go further south until you get to the South Point Road. This thoroughfare will take you to South Point, also known as Ka Lae. It's the southernmost point in the islands, and in the U.S.A., for that matter. Returning to the highway, you'll be departing from Kona, and heading into the sparsely populated Ka'u District.

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