Who needs a guide book when you have seasoned explorers who live here! I have been on fire in taking visiting family members and friends around the island while they have been staying nearby. For the past three weeks, my husband and I have played tour guide and taken the knowledge we have gained from living here for the past year exploring the nooks and crannies of this island and shared it with our friends. Why just let them enjoy our favorite places when I can also share this information with you, my readers!? So, let’s start with #10 and end up at the BEST place you HAVE to experience while you are here. Ready?
#10-Volcanoes National Park-Most people would put this closer to the top as we have the only live volcano you can visit safely on the islands. It’s a VERY long drive from Kona and basically takes 11 hours to fully enjoy the trip down and back. I suggest this trip if you can spend the night in Hilo..or have some very patient friends who don’t mind desperately trying to stay awake while they drive the long dark road home back while you snooze peacefully in the back seat. (Update on Dec 2016-the lava is flowing into the ocean now, but it’s a hike to see it. Boat or helicopter would work!)
#9-Makelewena Beach. This is further down the list simply because it is so hard to get here. The beach is BEAUTIFUL and since hardly anyone is there, you may only see 10 people on the entire beach. The swimming is perfect, with some reefs for snorkeling and my kids just love the little bays they have to play in. You need a 4WD to get there from either of the two access roads, but we made it with our van on the easier road that leads to the State Beach. You can park your car and walk about 20 minutes to the beach across the lava. Like I said,,it ain’t easy, but it sure is worth the effort.
#8- Two Step-This is the bay right next to the Place of Refuge at Honaunau. (The picture shows Kealekekua Bay, which is right nearby) We take our friends who have at least SOME experience with snorkeling. The entry and exit from the water is a bit of a challenge, but the swimming, snorkeling and fish are EXCEPTIONAL. The coral is 20 feet down, so tourists can not ruin it by stepping on it, so the reefs are AMAZING and pristine. That means you can not stand up and readjust your mask or get a lay of the land like you can do at Snorkel Beach in Kona. You can see vast arrays of tropical fish here and if you come in the morning, the dolphins are usually in the bay, as well. We have had friends FREAK OUT when the 20 foot water gradually descends to 50 feet and all you see is deep blue. If you are scared of deep water, just don’t go out to the middle, stay around the edges and you will be entertained for as long as you can swim.
#7 Cheap Pupus and Drinks at Huggo’s On the Rocks. At least for one night of everyone’s trip, we have to hit Huggo’s on the Rocks. The happy hour menu which goes from 3-5 lets you enjoy some specials and sets you up to watch the sun set with your feet in the sand. Great for that picture with your friends that you post to Facebook and make people jealous.
#6-Pololulu Look Out and Valley hike-Another GORGEOUS view and fun hike down to see the island’s stunning beauty. Located about 15 minutes out of Hawi, the trip down to the valley should be given most of the day to fully enjoy. If you can get here in the later part of the day and stay until sunset, you will not be disappointed. A photographer’s dream. (Also there is a sense of “sacred” there. Go to meditate!)
#5-Waipio Valley-Another all day adventure, and a place only accessible by 4WD. The beauty of the taro fields with the mountains as the backdrop will be etched in your memory for a very long time. We take our friends through the back end of the valley and drive through rivers to see the taro fields. We usually see the wild horses on the beach or on the road and the wildness and serenity of this valley are unmatched anywhere else on the island. The waves can be unpredictable and the terrain UNDER the waves is especially unpredictable. The river that feeds into the ocean has a way of changing the landscape around the entry point into the ocean, so go in carefully. I had the time of my life one time here body surfing and wish it was like that every time.
#4-Green Sand Beach-We just love this place. It takes a 4WD to get here and the road is an adventure unto itself. However, for the adventurous traveler, the climb down, the feeling of being on the only green sand beach in the islands and the waves crashing against the walls of the small bay is fantastic. We are experienced swimmers and body surfers and have quite a time here sometimes. Don’t go in if the waves are up and you feel unsafe. We have entertained a few friends who decided to sit it out and just watch us enjoy ourselves in the waves.
#3-The Four Seasons Resort at Hualalai. My guests were VERY impressed with the elegance, landscaping, pools and views from this resort. I love this place because the beach is NEVER crowded, so even if you are hanging at this swanky property, everyone is in the pool, not at the white sand beach or the little protected bay in front of the hotel. You can grab a beer here for $7 and just lounge and people watch and enjoy the sun and view. (You can also easily order a $20 glass of chard here, as well!) I would suggest checking out the fresh/salt water lagoon which has all kinds of tropical fish. Dining here is exceptional and this is where celebrities often come to get away from it all. Sunset from the chairs on the beach..amazing.
#2-Mauna Kea Resort beach view. The bay is gorgeous and the view from the lobby and terrace are stunning. I could lounge here all day enjoying the view. You can get tasty cocktails at the beach bar and go swimming here as a non-guest. You have to tell the guard at the gate you want to visit the beach and they will give you a guest pass if there are any left. If not, pay for valet, walk through the property and go swimming anyway. Great place to lounge and if you like to hike a bit, follow the trail on the far south of the beach and it takes you to Hapuna Beach!
#1-Kua Bay. Since I wrote this post originally, TripAdvisor has named it one of the most beautiful beaches in America. I would have to agree. LOTS of fine white sand, BLUE water, plenty of room to put your towel down, sets of waves that challenge body surfers, but kids can play in the surf, too. Bathrooms and showers are available, but no lifeguard. Easy access from the highway, parking without a guard scrutinizing you, and best of all, the whales are coming back for the season and this is a great place of on shore whale watching. (Last March I was diving under the waves and hovering at about five feet under the water and I could hear the whales singing. HEAVEN!)