Austere at first glance, Big Island conceals many treasures! In this article we propose you to discover the coast, from the north of Kona to Waiku. What if we told you that some of the most beautiful beaches of Big Island, or even Hawaii are located in this area north of Kona?
In this article we will review the different parks, points of interest and walks that you will find along the coast, gradually going up the coast from Kona. On the program, turtles, heavenly beaches and beautiful panoramas!
1Turtles and Hawaiian culture near Kona
The Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park
The historical park of Kaloko-Honokōhau is located between the marina and the airport of Kona. In addition to its historical aspect, which allows you to learn more about the habitats of the first Hawaiians and how they distributed the land parcels, it is an ideal place to see sea turtles, which are very numerous to venture on the sandy coasts of the park.
The park stretches for nearly 2.5 km along the coast and provides access to the long beach of Honokōhau from where it is very easy to see turtles feeding on algae or resting. It is one of the best places on Big Island to see turtles.
Even if you only spend a short time around Kona, the Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park is interesting and easy to include in a program because it is easily accessible from the airport. Enough to occupy 1 or 2 hours before taking a flight at the airport for example, especially since the turtles are easily visible from the south entrance of the park which requires little walking time.
For more information, we advise you to read our dedicated article: See the turtles and learn about Hawaiian culture at the Kaloko-Honokōhau Park
2White sand and turquoise water at Kekaha Kai State Park
The Kekaha Kai State Park probably hides the most beautiful beaches of Big Island! This park, whose name is not very well known, is located north of Kona, a little after the airport. The access is free and authorized every day between 8:00 am and 7:00 pm.
The park is divided into two distinct parts. The southern zone serves the beaches of Mahai'ula Beach, Makalawena Beach and Ka'Elehuluhulu Beach and the northern zone provides access to Manini'owali Beach (Kua Bay).
Mahai'ula beach is a beautiful white sand beach relatively uncrowded due to its access a little complex via a road that has turned into a track over the years. And that's good because this postcard beach keeps all its charm! With its coconut trees, it is one of the most beautiful beaches of the island.
To find out how to get there, visit our dedicated article: Kekaha Kai State Park: hidden beaches, white sand and turquoise water
Round trip of 3,5 km - 1h00 - Easy
This is our favorite beach on Big Island! Makalawena Beach is a little jewel that will delight nature lovers! Here we find a wild and immaculate beach that few people come to discover because of its difficult access.
In addition to the white sand and crystal clear waters, you won't find a parasol on the beach! Snorkeling can also be interesting here, but beware of the waves and the current.
For full details on the Makalawena Beach access hike, please see our dedicated article: Kekaha Kai State Park: hidden beaches, white sand and turquoise water
Dare we say it, this last beach in the southern sector of the park is not very beautiful or interesting for swimming. The place is rather to be privileged to make a picnic thanks to the many tables and barbecues available here.
Manini'owali Beach (Kua Bay)
Manini'owali Beach also called Kua Bay is another nice beach with its clear sand dotted with black rocks. The advantage here is that access is very easy thanks to an adjoining car park and the bathing is supervised. This is why it makes it an ideal place to spend some time with the family. But expect to find a lot of people here on the weekends.
Snorkeling can be interesting if the bottom is not cloudy, but be careful because the waves can be important here, as the beach is not protected by a reef.
Manini'owali Beach is also a very good spot to see the sunset.
3Pleasant and family-friendly beaches in Kukio Bay
Kukio Bay is a wide and pleasant bay lined with sandy beaches where hotels and residences have come to settle. The area is therefore subject to limited and controlled access, but be aware that no beach in Hawaii is private! This is therefore the opportunity to go there to discover the 2 beautiful beaches of the bay.
The first beach in the area is Kikaua Beach (sometimes called Kilauea Beach). Here the rocks form a small dike, creating a calm, shallow lagoon isolated from the tumult of the waves. The place is therefore perfect for a swim with the children.
The bathing area is bounded by a small semi-circular beach. The area all around is planted with many palm trees and other trees that provide shade at the back of the beach, perfect for a few hours.
Toilets and showers are located at the beach level. Swimming is not supervised.
How to get to Kikaua Beach
As the beach is located at the end of a private residential area and protected by a fence, you will have to go to the security desk in order to be issued a pass to access the beach.
To obtain the pass, drive to the security station and indicate to the guard your wish to go to the beach. He will then give you a pass with instructions on how to get to the beach.
Please note that a limited number of passes are distributed in order to avoid saturation of the car park. This beach being very popular, you could be refused access if the car park is full (well, it is half full because on our return the "full" sign was in place while the car park was only half full).
Once your pass is on the dashboard, turn back to the previous crossroads and enter the housing estate, the access to which is closed by a barrier. Ring the bell on the intercom and the guard will open the gate for you directly.
Then drive down the road which is lined with cameras, following the signs to the car park. A short walk of about 200 meters in full sunshine through a lava field will follow before reaching Kikaua Beach.
Don't forget to return the pass on your way out.
Kukio Bay Beach
Kukio Bay beach is a very beautiful and long sandy beach bordering the majority of Kukio Bay. This beach is quite narrow in places at high tide and has a very pleasant wilderness aspect and is very little frequented.
We only met 2 families when we went there in the middle of the day, a very pleasant moment!
Note that there is practically no shade on the beach as the shrubs are quite low. Only one picnic table is available near the beginning of the beach. Swimming is not supervised.
How to get to Kukio Bay Beach
Here again, access to the private subdivision is to be requested from the guard whose hut is located directly on the access road.
If the car park is not full he will provide you with a pass. Then you have to continue by branching immediately on the road that goes on the left (contrary to the access indicated by the GPS), the guard will take care of it! Go down following the arrows and park in the car park where you will find a shower and toilets.
The beach is 100m from the car park, at the end of a well-maintained road.
4Climbing the Pu'u Wa'awa'a Cinder Cone
The Ascent of the Pu'u Wa'awa'a Cinder Cone
Round trip of 10,8km - 3h00 - Medium
If you have some time ahead of you and want to stretch your legs to cool off a bit, it might be interesting to climb to the top of Pu'u Wa'awa'a Cinder Cone which is located in the State Park of the same name.
A 10.8 km round-trip hike (a loop is also possible) climbs to the top of the former ash cone, which is now partially wooded. At the top, you will discover a panorama of the foothills of Hualālai to the south, Mauna Kea to the east and Kohala to the north as well as the coast of Kona to the far north of the island.
For more information on how to get to and hike to the Pu'u Wa'awa'a Cinder Cone, please see our dedicated article: Climbing the Pu'u Wa'awa'a Cinder Cone for a breath of fresh air
5Kiholo Bay, the astonishing bay with turquoise water
Roundtrip of 4km - 1h30 - Easy
Kiholo Bay is a magnificent bay where the water takes on a bright turquoise hue as it meets the underwater lava under the sun's rays.
The bay is relatively unknown and can be discovered on foot at the end of a relatively quick and easy hiking trail. Several points of interest can be discovered along the way, such as a clear water spring or an old fishpond. The area is also frequented by turtles which are very easy to see in the water.
To learn more about Kiholo Bay and the access trails, visit our dedicated article: Kiholo Bay: the amazing Big Island Bay
6Beaches, resorts and dolphins at Waikōloa.
Waikōloa is a residential area and a large luxury resort area located northwest of Big Island. It is home to some of the largest and most chic resorts on the island such as the huge Hilton complex which has recreated a lagoon that can accommodate turtles and dolphins.
ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach and Waikōloa Beach
'Anaehoʻomalu Beach and Waikōloa Beach are two successive beaches south of Waikōloa, forming a long strip of sand that stretches along the Kuualii Fishpond, a former fishing pond now transformed into a natural reserve.
'Anaehoʻomalu Beach is very pleasant with its large palm trees, but it is said that there were many more before a storm a few years ago, especially on the long sandbank where only isolated palm trees are found.
We liked this beach very practical for a little swim because it is equipped with large and clean sanitary facilities for changing and a hot shower! In addition, there is a large car park just before the Lava Lava Beach Club where you can go for a drink if you wish.
If you are busy there is even a "drop-off" area just in front of the beach access, next to a kind of refuge for more or less wild cats.
Like all the beaches on the west coast, the location is also perfect for watching the sunset.
How to access ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach and Waikōloa Beach
From Waikōloa Beach Drive, turn left on Ku'uali'i Place at the small shopping mall. Park in the large parking lot just before arriving at the Lava Lava which is at the end of the road (the road ahead is reserved for the customers but you can still drive up to the beach drop-off).
ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach can be reached in 3 minutes on foot from the car park. To get to Waikōloa Beach you just have to walk along the sandbank until you reach the hotel's deckchairs (the Marriott).
See the coast and the lagoon with the turtles and dolphins at the Hilton
One of the curiosities of the area is to go for a walk at the Hilton of Waikōloa which has specially arranged a lagoon that is "natural" so that turtles and dolphins can come "freely". I deliberately put quotation marks because we were quite shocked to see that there is no freedom for dolphins... hence our rating a bit severe, but I'll tell you about it later.
Since the shores of Hawaii are public, the beach and lagoon of the Hilton are free of charge. The place is rather pleasant, it should be noted, well located on the seaside with a nice view of the ocean and the nearby resorts.
You'll pass the huge Hilton swimming pools and you might even be tempted to sit on one of the deckchairs, but the rules are clear and precise that the pool and lagoon areas are reserved for hotel guests only.
We finally arrive in front of the beginning of the lagoon which is reserved for dolphins. This is where we were shocked because we thought we were in a dolphinarium where dolphins are grouped together in closed pools. They serve as a tourist attraction for wealthy customers who can come and pet them and feed them. Dolphins are not free!!!
If you want to see dolphins on Big Island, don't do it at the Hilton, but instead take an animal-friendly deep-sea excursion (again, beware of some companies that chase dolphins). We can recommend the services of Kona Ocean Adventures that we were able to test in 2019. You will find all the information at this link: Swimming with dolphins in Hawaii: an excursion not to be missed!
This is followed by the rest of the lagoon with its natural-looking bottom, but over-exploitation by the many beachgoers and snorkellers makes it an unattractive area that looks more like a large paddling pool.
Of course we saw many turtles from the shore, but this false natural atmosphere was painful for us. There are so many wild and easily accessible places where it is possible to see turtles in the wild...
Nevertheless the walk can be nice for the viewpoints on the coast and get an idea of the atmosphere in these extravagant resorts.
Note that you have the right to visit the coast free of charge wherever you are in the archipelago (except certain military zones). This is the law! There are no private beaches in Hawaii, so you have the right to settle down even on a beach with deckchairs.
How to get to the Hilton lagoon
You'll have to park first. For this there are two free car parks (the hotel car park is not free and expensive). The first car park is located on the right, just before the entrance to the Hilton's large car park and has about 15 spaces. The second, much less known, is located by taking the road on the left (Naupaka Place) before arriving at the large car park.
From the car parks, a path leads to the Shoreline (seaside), just follow the signs. On the way you pass through a preservation area where small ponds have been formed by a lava flow.
The trail then leads to the ocean where the panorama is nice. All that remains is to climb the few steps that take us into the large resort.
To get back to the car park you can turn back or make a loop through the hotel lobby.
49 - Black Sand Beach
Black Sand Beach is the last beach in the south zone of Waikōloa, it also bears the number 49 referring to an old numbering of the island's beaches. This small black sand beach will be appreciated by those who are looking for a bit of calm in a pleasant environment.
Located in the heart of a chic and protected residential area, you will have to ask for access to the beach to the guard of the subdivision. Sanitary facilities are accessible near the car park and a shower is installed on the beach. Swimming is not supervised.
If you wish to go for a walk, you can take the path that starts on the left at the car park and crosses a lava field and then continues along the coast.
How to get to Black Sand Beach
49 - Black Sand Beach is accessed from Honokaope Place. Once at the guard station, tell the guard that you wish to access the beach and if there is still parking space available, he will give you a small pass to place on your dashboard.
Then follow the signs until you reach the small car park. The beach is a few dozen metres to the right. Remember to return the badge when you leave the car park.
7Water gardens, secret pond and petroglyphs at Mauna Lani
Located north of Waikōloa, Mauna Lani is another area of chic resorts. Between the luxurious residences and the countless golf greens are several historic sites, including a magnificent ecosystem of small ponds bordered by wild palm trees, which hide a small basin of fresh, crystal-clear water in their heart!
Kalahuipua'a Historic Park
The Kalahuipua'a Historic Park is an ancient lava flow that can be crossed thanks to a 400m pedestrian and paved path that allows us to discover several small lava caverns and tunnels.
Small signs will tell you more about the formation of these tunnels (Lava tubes).
The Kalahuipua'a Historic Park is easily accessible from a small public parking lot on Pauoa Road.
2.1 km Loop - 30 minutes - Easy
Here is one of the highlights of our stay on Big Island! The Kalahuipua'a Fishponds are small, natural, ancient fishing ponds bordering the ocean and lined with hundreds of small palm trees. The ponds range in colour from blue to green, which makes the place very photogenic in good weather.
The ponds follow one another down to the sea and there are several paths along them.
Within this subtle ecosystem is the Secret Pond, a small, clear, cool, freshwater pool hidden at the end of an unmarked dirt path. A small jewel in which it is possible to bathe.
After the relaxing break, don't hesitate to continue the walk on the path that winds between the ponds before going along the seaside.
To find out how to get to the Kalahuipua'a Fishponds and the Secret Pond, see our dedicated article: The mysterious ponds of Kalahuipua'a and their secret, in which we give you more information about this beautiful place to discover!
Mauna Lani Beach
Round trip of 2 km - 30 minutes - Easy
This small arched beach is only accessible after a short walk as the main access is reserved for members of Mauna Lani Beach Clud and its resort. But as in Hawaii all the beaches are public, it is possible to reach the beach by crossing the Kalahuipua'a Fishponds. The trail that goes around the Kalahuipua'a Fishponds passes right next to the beach.
You will find a shower and toilet facilities at the Kalahuipua'a Historic Park car park, the only public car park in the area.
Puakō Petroglyph Park
Round trip of 1.5 km - 30 minutes - Easy
The Puakō Petroglyph Park is located just north of Mauna Lani. This small park makes it easy to go and observe a good number of petroglyphs left by the first Hawaiians, most of which are in very good condition.
To discover them, you have to take a 750 meters path that allows you to reach the area where the drawings are preserved, which is located in the middle of a small forest. Along the way, other petroglyphs were brought in after being cut out of their original stones and scattered in several places along the path.
If you are interested in Hawaiian history, this place is well worth discovering due to the large number of petroglyphs to be seen on this short walk.
How to get to Puakō Petroglyph Park
The Puakō Petroglyph Park is located at the very end of the Holoholokai Beach Park Road. You can park at the beginning of the Beach Park parking lot where you will find sanitary facilities. Do not attempt to enter via Puako Beach Drive, as it is privately accessible.
Holoholokai Beach Park
This small beach park gives access to the ocean without being able to swim there because the coast is quite jagged at this place. We'll go to the Holoholokai Beach Park to contemplate the waves and why not the turtles, or settle down for a picnic.
How to get to the Holoholokai Beach Park
The Holoholokai Beach Park is located at the very end of the Holoholokai Beach Park Road, right next to Puakō Petroglyph Park. A parking lot with sanitary facilities and a few picnic tables await you at the end of the road. Don't try to get there via Puako Beach Drive, as it is privately accessible.
8Puako Bay and its reef
Following the ocean on Puako Beach Drive north of Mauna Lani Resort, you enter a small posh residential area (another one!) bordering a shallow reef frequented by turtles.
It can be interesting to come here to walk along the shoreline and walk along the water's edge in search of turtles. Snorkeling can also be interesting but it is best to do it at high tide, as the bottom is shallow towards the edge.
How to get to Puako Bay Reef
As the area is residential, it is ideal to park in the small parking lot located at the GPS point: 19.966122, -155.852363. You can then walk along the seafront going northwards to discover a succession of small sandy beaches, knowing that it is best to walk there at low tide. There are no amenities on site.
Note that the road ends in a dead end, the last section connecting it to the area of Mauna Lani Resort being a private road.
9Sand and turquoise water at Hapuna Beach State Park
Waialea - Beach 69
Waialea Beach, or Beach 69 is a very pretty beach rather wild which is located in the Hapuna Beach State Park not far from the famous Hapuna Beach. Here the water has a pretty blue-green color (especially at the northern end) which is highlighted towards the end of the morning when the sun is high enough.
This 400m long beach is bordered by large tortuous trees which gives it a lot of charm. It is thus very easy to put your towel there in the shade. And although the beach is quite crowded, it is long enough to find a quiet spot.
Snorkeling is also interesting in rocky areas if the water is not cloudy. We saw many fish towards the big rock in the middle.
Nevertheless, the disadvantage of Waialea Beach will be its paying parking at 5$ per day. In spite of that, to choose between Hapuna and Waialea, we largely preferred Waialea Beach!
How to get to Waialea Beach
Access is from the Old Puako Road from where a 150m path leads to the car park. Several pedestrian accesses are possible from the car park. Finally, hot showers and sanitary facilities are located right next to the car park. Some picnic tables are available near the access road but also on the beach in the shade of the trees.
It is said that this large beach has been voted "most beautiful beach in the USA" several times. It's not the first of Hawaii's beaches to compete for the title, but what is certain is that it is by far the most popular beach on Big Island.
Curiously, she finally left me wanting more... Certainly it is long and beautiful, the water is clear but it is cruelly lacking in charm. Here there are no coconut trees and therefore no shade on the beach. It remains finally quite similar to the beaches that we find in Maui near Kihei, the crowd in addition. Lastly the area being sandy, it does not make it suitable for snorkeling.
From my point of view I give it a small 3 stars for its postcard look, but if you are fond of large sandy beaches for a little lazing around, you should still like it.
How to get to Hapuna Beach
Popularity means big parking lot, so... paying. Along with Waialea, it's the only place on Big Island where you have to pay parking fees to get to the beach. It will cost you 5$ a day to come and put your towel on the warm sand of Hapuna beach. Unfortunately, there is not really any other place than the big parking lot to park.
At the end of the parking lot is a nice area with many picnic tables located in the shade of the trees. It's rather pleasant. The sanitary facilities are large with hot showers.
10The beaches of Mauna Kea in Waikui
We arrive at the last beaches of this article which are located between the district of "Mauna Kea" (not to be confused with the volcano) and the small town of Waikui which marks the beginning of the northern tip of Big Island.
Kaunaʻoa (Mauna Kea) Beach and Mau'umae Beach
Here are two beaches that we unfortunately couldn't try because we couldn't access them during our long stay in Big Island in 2019. Each time the guard diverted us indicating that the parking lot was already full, and he never wanted to let us pass even just to take a photo.
So from what I hear, the beach at Kaunaʻoa, also called Mauna Kea Beach, is very beautiful, but plan to get there very early, before 9:00 am.
The second beach of Mau'umae Beach is located a little later, with a little walk either from the private access that also leads to Mauna Kea Beach or by walking about 15 minutes from the Samuel M. Spencer Beach Park.
If you have had the opportunity to go there, feel free to share your experience in the comments!
Samuel M. Spencer Beach Park
This is the last beach of this article. The Samuel M. Spencer Beach Park provides access to a small sandy beach that can be pleasant if you disregard the Kawaihae harbour facilities that can be guessed in the distance. This beach has the advantage of not being too crowded.
This beach park has everything you need to spend some time there: showers, sanitary facilities, playground, picnic tables and a little shade on the sand. There is an adjoining campsite where you can spend the night.
How to get to Samuel M. Spencer Beach Park
Access to Samuel M. Spencer Beach Park is very easy by taking the Spencer Beach Park Road which leads to two parking lots located at each end of the park.
That brings us to the end of this article. You will have understood that there are really many places to discover in this western area of Big Island and that you will have to make choices during your stay!