Hawaii’s Ka’u Coast

Upon my arrival on the Big Island of Hawai’i, I spent three days exploring the Hamakua Coast, the Kohala Coast Kohala, and the Kona Coast before I transferred over to the east side of the Island near Hilo. Since I was most interested in hiking in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, I rented a VRBO near Volcano Village. I ended up in a little piece of paradise.

Amazing VRBO

Steve, the owner, lives on the second floor of his two story home, while renters take the first floor. He was out of town during my stay, but Shelby the housekeeper let me in while answering all my questions about the area, and his friend Ed house sat on the upper floor. I’m not really sure why he needed a house sitter, but so be it.

The house is newly constructed and in immaculate condition. The two bedroom with an open floor plan is carefully decorated. A small living room abuts a large kitchen with a breakfast nook. Both the front and back patio are covered, and the front has a view of a wonderful Koi Pond. The house has a very zen feel. There were days where I thought I shouldn’t leave, but I had too many places to see.

VRBO  In Volcano Village on the Big Island

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

My first day in Volcano Village, I backtracked toward Kona to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach located on the southeastern Ka’u Coast between Pahala and Naalehu. I turned off the main highway on to a winding backroad which I followed until I reached a large parking area with bathrooms and picnic tables.

The beach, lined with coconut trees, was just to the East. I visited in hopes to see the Green Sea Turtles. Unfortunately, none were resting in the roped off area where they come to bask in the sun. But that’s OK, it is still a pretty beach to stroll.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach in the Ka’u  Coast

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

From Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, I returned to the main highway, backtracking even further to an area near South Point Park, the southern most place in the USA, where I prepared to hike to Papakōlea Green Sand Beach.

About the Beach

Papakōlea Beach is located in a tuff ring, is one of only four green sand beaches in the world. The tuff ring consists of volcanic ash produced when magma interacts with ground water. In the volcanic ash is olivine, a mineral with a green tint. When the tuff ring partially collapsed and began eroding with the action of the sea water, the heavier olivine accumulated on the beach giving it its green color. While the tuff ring continues to erode, the beach will keep its green color, but eventually the mineral will be washed away and the beach will look like any other.

Hiking to the Beach

Papakōlea Green Sand Beach on the Ka’u Coast

I arrived at the parking lot with several locals waiting in their four-wheel drive vehicles to cart any tourist willing to pay $10 a person to the beach. Set on hiking, I followed the road that splits in various directions toward the shore. Almost to the bottom I turned left near the derelict cars. Dirt roads zig-zag across grassy plains.

Zigzagging roads to Papakōlea Green Sand Beach on the Ka’u  Coast
Pick a trail!

Seeing that the “trail” was a choice of many roads, I started to regret my decision to hike, as all I could think about was having dirt blown in my face as trucks passed. But fortunately, I started early enough, around 8:30, that a leisurely stroll with the coast line to my right, was enough to avoid the masses who soon followed. Though pleased to arrive first, admittedly, it felt little eerie wandering across the stark expanse alone.

In the end, enjoying the solitude and the picturesque view of the green beach from the high lava cliff was very much a reward. At first, I couldn’t figure out how to get down to the shore, as scrambling over the lava rocks looked treacherous. But then, along with a family of three who arrived fifteen minutes after me, we spotted a ladder above the crescent shaped beach. As soon as we walked along the cliff to the lookout directly above the beach, the first truck with a couple arrived. Suddenly six of us were descending the ladder to the tiny expanse of sand at once.

Ladder at Papakōlea  Green Sand Beach on the Ka’u  Coast
A steep slope continues down to beach from the bottom of the ladder

Catching a Ride

Though not an ideal way to experience the green sand beach, the best part of visiting the beach was my very first view from the road closest to the shore. The people driving didn’t even see this view as they were dropped off at the ladder. In fact, the sand looks greener from afar especially with the striking contrast of the black cliffs and blue ocean.

While hiking to the beach was worth it, hitching a ride back was also worth it. It beats a return trek in the beating sun and subtracts 2.8 miles off the 5.6 mile roundtrip. While the local teen, with ZERO personality, waited on the couple he brought to the beach, I told him if he wanted an extra $5 to pick me up on the way back. I only walked about 10 minutes before I ended up with a ride while hoards of tourists were just arriving.

Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center

Back at the parking lot in a flash, I left the Ka’u Coast and returned to Volcano Village and beyond to the Puna Coast to visit the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center…in my opinion, heaven on earth! OMG…I love macadamia nuts, and what better place to get free samples!

Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center

The Gift Shop

They serve twelve different flavors, and I sampled most of them! I like the dry roasted nuts with salt so much, that I have never risked buying any other flavor for fear of being disappointed. I was shocked to find both the Mango Chipotle and the Dark Chocolate Sea Salted Caramel flavors to be outstanding. The Dark Chocolate Sea Salted Caramel Macadamias are exclusively sold at the visitor center, and they have a hard time keeping it on the shelves. Oh so good!

Dark chocolate sea salted caramel macadamia nuts
BUY THESE!!

Self-guided Tour

This might have been the first factory I have ever visited where I spent more time in the gift shop rather than watching the machines on the factory floor. But I did that too. First I sat on their ice cream patio to watch the five-minute movie about processing macadamia nuts. Then I crossed the parking lot and took my self-guided tour along the outside windows looking in at thousands of tasty treats. If I worked on this factory floor, I’d be fired for testing the product!

Machines full of macadamia nuts

Processing Macadamia Nuts

The factory, located on land with an orchard of 250,000 macadamia nut trees, handles 8,000 pounds of nuts an hour. The nuts, which have to fall off the tree to contain the right amount of sugar, are picked up by machine and hand. They are sorted by sizes and sent to the cracking room where a machine breaks the extremely hard shell.

The undesirable nuts are rejected by machine and then by hand before they are sent to the oven to be dry roasted. The nuts are salted while still warm. I’d sure like to taste one hot off the shelf. And who knew, a recent study shows eating 1.5 ounces of macadamia nuts a day may lead to improved cholesterol. The only problem is, who can only eat an ounce in one sitting? I eat most of the six ounce can!

Hilo Bay Cafe

Miraculously, I still had room for lunch after visiting the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center, so I headed a few miles North to Hilo Bay Cafe which overlooks the water. Originally, I went for the view of the bay as restaurants in tourist books are sometimes better for the atmosphere than the food. But Hilo Bay Cafe’s food and service were both excellent. I highly recommend the brussels and mushrooms with a sprinkling of macadamia nut…outstanding!

Brussels and mushrooms at Hilo bay cafe

Lili’uokalani Park and Gardens

Next to Hilo Bay Cafe is Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens and Coconut Island. The 24 acre park, located on Banyan Drive, is said to include the largest Edo-style Japanese Gardens outside of Japan. I highly recommend a peaceful stroll through this shaded park complete with Japanese bridges crossing over ponds to pagodas.

Lili’uokalani Park and Gardens

After enjoying some garden zen, I ventured across Banyan Drive and the bridge to Coconut Island to check out the views of Hilo Harbor. Relaxing in the gardens coupled with exploring the Ka’u Coast was a nice way to end my first day staying in Volcano Village. ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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