Hawaii’s Kohala Coast

The Kohala Coast

After a full 12 hour day driving the Hamakua Coast from Kona yesterday, I opted for the closer Kohala Coast today. It still felt like a lot of driving, and if I had it to do over again, I’d probably just stay in Waikoloa Village at one of the resorts and relax a little more given my short time here. That said I have a problem with FOMO, fear of missing out, so I had to see everything!

Beach 69 and Hapuna Beach

In between Kona and Waikoloa Village which is north of Kona, there are many beach choices. Beach 69 and Hapuna Beach are both in the same area and require a $5 parking fee for non-resident visitors.

Beach 69, so named for the telephone pole numbered 69, is very small and tree-covered. I read it is not very popular among tourists, has good snorkeling, and attracts nudists. I visited this beach first as having a secluded beach hopefully to myself seemed appealing. I soon found, however, it was more like a patch of trees where grass couldn’t grow and instead of dirt, sand was below.

Beach 69 on the Kohala Coast

While Kona is very hot, and I normally welcomed some shade, this beach was too shady for me. It was like sitting in a forest. No wonder it is popular with nudists (didn’t see any). They are far less likely to get burned in inconvenient places. Anyway, I gathered up my towel and chair, hopped in my car, and drove about a 1/4 mile up the road to Hapuna Beach which is famous and entirely different from Beach 69.

The crescent shaped, white sand beach stretches about 1/2 mile. A hotel with beach chairs flanks the north portion of the beach while the south end is a little quieter. The limited shade is at a rocky point just south of the hotel. The long, sandy beach makes a for a great stroll and the relatively calm waters provide a wonderful place for swimming.

Hapuna Beach on the Kohala Coasr

Both beaches include bathroom and picnic areas, though the picnic spots at Hapuna Beach are larger and more developed. I beat the crowds and relaxed for about an hour before the mid-morning rush began. It would have been nice to stay longer, but I had other places to see, and being my second day in the tropics, I didn’t need to look like a cooked lobster quite yet.

Mauna Kea Resort

Continuing north on the Kohala Coast, I next stopped at the Mauna Kea Resort . Mauna Kea Resort is also famed for its nice beach. The resort hands out parking passes at the guard gate to the first forty people to show up each day. As such, public parking fills up by 8:30am, and generally doesn’t open up until 2pm when beach goers return their pass.

While I was too late to visit the Mauna Kea Beach, I asked about the smaller beach nearby, called Mau’umae. To my surprise only seven of the ten parking spaces had been taken, so the guard house gave me number eight while directing me to take the third right, pass the warehouse, and cross two bridges.

Soon I reached the small dirt parking lot, gathered my gear, and took a short path to the Ala Kahakai Trail where I turned left and walked a hundred yards to the quiet Mau’umae Beach. This beach is clearly favored by the locals who bring their dogs to play. Though not long enough for a good stroll, tucked in a bend on the Kohala Coast, the beach regularly features calm waters, even in the winter.

Mau’umae Beach on the Kohala Coast

If the parking lot is full at Mauna Kea Resort, Mau’umae Beach may also be accessed by parking at Spencer Beach Park and walking a 1/4 mile along the Ala Kahakai Trail. The Ala Kahakai Trail is a 15.4 mile loop that follows the coastline over ancient fishermen’s trail and Hawaiian Kingdom roads. Take in a little history with a short stroll.

Town of Hawi

After another nice rest on a beach, I carried on to the north point of the Kohala Coast where I found the Town of Hawi. This quaint town is likely best known as the bicycle turnaround for the annual IRONMAN World Championship that was held just before my arrival in mid-October. Once a busy hub for the sugar industry, now Hawi’s colorful downtown is home to galleries, cafes, and boutiques.

Town of Hawi

Scenic Drive South on 250 Toward Waimea

From Hawi, I skipped traveling farther north for the Pololu Valley Lookout as I felt like I covered a similar view the previous day at Waipi’o Valley. Instead I turned right, just at the end of town and soon joined Highway 250 going south for a scenic drive through rolling hills of horse ranches with occasional views of the coast.

The narrow road is best driven from north to south for better views. There are hardly any turnouts, so take advantage of the two or three on the west side of the road. I missed the first one which had room for about three cars because one car was parked in the middle, and with a pickup truck barreling down on me, and I didn’t want to slam on the brakes.

Scenic  drive on 250 in Hawaii

WM Keck Observatory Headquarters

The peaceful drive ends near Waimea. Anyone who is fascinated by the observatory and telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea, may stop in at the WM Keck Observatory Headquarters and ask the receptionist lots of questions. I stopped in just to ask about the protest and how long she expected the “sit in”, which is blocking the road to the summit, to last.

WM  Keck Observatory Headquarters

She didn’t know, but was happy to report at least scientists could access the peak from a back road after three months of being shut out. Tours definitely were not operating with the road being blocked by what I’d describe as a tent city, not a “sit in”. Though disappointing to visit the Big Island without the chance to stargaze on the top of Mauna Kea, I understand why the Hawaiians don’t want another telescope installed on their sacred land. Having said that, as a tourist, I was beginning to feel unwelcome in certain places.

Waikoloa Village

From Waimea, I headed west toward the Kohala Coast for my final stop of the day at Waikoloa Village. This resort village features multiple resorts, beaches, trails, offsite shopping and dining, golf and more. It provides convenient comfort with the freedom to roam…far less isolating than many resorts with all restaurants and activities on property. What a pleasant surprise!

I visited Waikaloa to check out the Anchialine Ponds Preservation Area which is a series of pools with shrimp, snails, small fish and the like. I was hopeful to spot a small, red shrimp that may only be found in Hawaii. It travels underground to the different ponds. I didn’t have any luck, but enjoyed strolling past the ponds to the coastal trail which is spectacular. With all the options at Waikoloa, I could have easily spent the whole day here!

Anchialine Ponds Preservation Area on the Kohala Coast
Waikoloa Beach Resort on the Kohala Coast

Jack’s Diving Locker

Because I scheduled a two-tank dive with Jack’s Diving Locker for the late afternoon and evening, I had to end my scenic tour of the Kohala Coast by 3 pm in time to get to the pier and embark on their boat.

Once onboard, we sat through one of the longest boat safety briefings I’ve ever heard. Though I suppose that is better than none at all which I’ve also experienced. But I digress. Now I was headed north on the Kohala Coast by boat back toward Waikoloa. Upon arrival at Garden Eel Reef, we went through a thorough dive briefing before we suited up for our first dive beneath the setting sun.

Eel at Garden Eel Reef on the Kohala Coast

We slowly passed over the bleached coral reef to see countless eels and a handful of fish. Toward the end of the dive, we spotted some sea lions and a manta that swam by. I took the manta sighting as a good sign for the famous night dive with the manta rays. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

The night dive which attracted TONS of divers and snorkelers didn’t live up to expectations this time around. Our flash light beams did not attract muck plankton, so we only saw a few visiting mantas. I’m told there were three which they know by their markings, but we never saw more than one at a time. I’ll just have to take my friends’ word for it that it is AMAZING, as many times the trip reports viewing over twenty!

The limited manta attendance coupled with some new gear and my mask continuously fogging sent me to the boat early. I had had enough for the day. Oh well, better luck next time. And who’s complaining? After all, I am on the Kohala Coast of Hawaii. ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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