Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mauna Kea: Big Island's Best Swimming Beach

Fine white imported sand gently slopes into the warm sea on this protected crescent beach.  Easily the best swimming beach on the island of Hawai'i.  (Kua Bay on a calm day is number two).  Apart from the tourists who pay over $400 a night to stay at the Mauna Kea Resort, few people know about this public access paradise. 

It's tucked between two more famous beaches (Hapuna and Spenser) on the Kohala Coast, about 40 minutes north of Kailua-Kona.  The reason this beach is not a famous is that there is limited parking, about 30 spots, located inside the grounds of a fancy resort.  You have to drive through a guard shack and the pretty Mauna Kea golf course to the end of a hotel road to get here.  

Take the public access trial a short way to one of the most ideal swimming spots in Hawai'i.  The small bay is protected by rocks so it is calm with no surf.  The sand is fine, white powder - no lava, no pebbles - perfect. No surf means clear water and good snorkeling conditions too. 

The Mauna Kea Hotel is an expensive, beautiful resort with impressive accommodations. A screwdriver from the bar will set you back $12. The hot tub is turned up super hot at night.

Bring a beach umbrella, a few beach chairs, a blanket or sheet, and your picnic lunch. This is one of the most awesome beaches I've been to. 

The ugly: unfortunately it's 40 minutes from Kailua-Kona and sometimes a little too windy.  Kids will love it here though. The crowd consists of older, mostly rich caucasian folk.  It is best to arrive before 10am to claim a coveted parking pass. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Fun Kona Destinations: Kamakana Playground (Higashihara Park)

Kamakana playground is a fun destination for kids in the Kailua-Kona area on the Big Island. The playground is located south of Kailua town on the right side of the highway before the town of Captain Cook.  I bring my three year old and one 1/2 year old here about once a week.  

With plenty of slides, swings, and play equipment, Kamakana is never too crowded.  There is a cute toddler area for the little ones and a larger park for bigger kids.  Unique and artsy heritage-themed details like colorful tribal carvings on park walls, a replica hawaiian canoe, and picnic tables shaped like the islands make this place special.

    The park is not only for kids.  There are tennis courts, and adult picnic areas down the hill from the playground.  The ocean is visible through the trees - a nice backdrop when pushing kids on the swings.

My kids always leave kicking and screaming.  Have fun!

The playground is located in the Captain Cook/Kealakekua area at Higashihara Park. 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Best Kona Beaches: Kiholo Bay

The most fun thing to do in Hawaii is hang out at the beach.  One of the most accessible beaches in the Kona region is family-oriented Kiholo Bay.  The bay is large with plenty of sandy beach access, protected salt water pools, and small fresh water swimming holes.  Excellent fishing and diving.  Sea turtles abound, curiously floating in the shallow water and munching on the reef.

Free camping spots line the beach - but a 4WD truck is necessary to get to them and the camping here is pretty much for locals only.  Trucks can drive along the beach and park.  To get a camping spot for the weekend, you must show up Thursday afternoon or early Friday morning.

To get to Kiholo from Kona, travel north past the airport.  After Kekaha Kai State Park, look for a gravel road to the left marked by a "barber pole."  There are no signs.  The road is accessible to cars.  Travel the road toward the beach.  When the road splits, either go straight and park by the portable toilets (only enough parking for about 5 vehicles) or veer left and park by the octagonal building and other portable toilets.  After you park, walk either south or north along the beach.  The main bay is to the north.  However, there is good swimming just to the south at the pebble covered, black sandy beach.  There is no reef here to climb over, and the water gets deep fast.  Make sure to swim out a few feet past the shore breakers.  I've seen tourists just stand in the shallow water right where the waves are breaking.  Don't do this or you will get pounded by water.  Duh.  

The sun radiates off the black sand and creates hot conditions - bring sunblock and slippers (flip flops).  You have to wear flip flops or shoes to follow the shore to the north as the sand is super hot and composed of large pebbles which hurt bare feet.  Bring a beach blanket - there are plenty of sandy areas to discover.  But pack light - the walk is too far to carry a beach chair, for example.

This is a good beach for people people who like the water and those who don't.  While the scenery is not necessarily lush (scrubby bushes and lots of lava flow) - there is plenty to look at and discover while strolling/exploring.  The ocean is clean and clear.  There are few people here (after you walk past the camping families).    

From the portable toilets, walk north along the shore.  After you pass all the camp spots, go around a few curves and a walk past a fancy small resort.  Soon you will arrive at a freshwater pool/cave sunken into rocks in the trees to your right.  A wooden ladder leads into the cool, clear water.  You can jump in and swim under the lava rock to another section of the pool - a big crack, open to the air and light.

It's refreshing to jump in on your way back, after a hot walk along the beach.  After Keanalele water hole, continue North.  Pass a couple interesting big houses and a charming, chaotic surf shanty.  You will see the rest of the bay after a few curves of beach - have fun exploring.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Best Kona Destinations: Place of Refuge

The Place of Refuge is a fun, family-friendly destination on the Big Island near Kailua-Kona.  It is a beautiful, historical spot that visitors of all ages will enjoy.  Plan to spend about an hour and a half here exploring the old Royal Grounds and heiau.  The Refuge is also a National Park known by the Hawaiian name of "Pu'uhonua o Honaunau."  The entrance fee is $5 (per vehicle).

This ancient place has an aura of peacefulness and magic.  The refuge was a sacred area where law violators could flee to obtain sanctuary from pursuers.  Many women and children, kapu breakers, and men too feeble to fight in war sought shelter here from certain death.  The grounds are gorgeous, with graceful palm trees, fish ponds, impressive carvings, reconstructed buildings, and an impressive lava wall.  

Bring your camera - there are a lot of photo opportunities here.  I recommend visiting in the morning when the air is cooler and the light is good for pictures.  To learn more, visit the national park's website at:

There is a rocky beach within walking distance of the entrance to the park called Two-Step.  This is not a sandy beach, but it's good for snorkeling.  If you want to swim, go south to Hookena Beach Park or just a couple miles north to Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park.

Directions from Kailua-Kona:  Take Queen K/Mamalahoa Hwy 11 south to Napoopoo Road.  This road is easy to miss - look for a sign that says Kealakekua Bay.  The road snakes down to the beach.  When you get to the bottom of the hill, there will be a fork in the road, go right towards the ocean.  When you get to the ocean at the dead end, turn left onto the 160 hwy (a one-lane dirt road).  Travel this little road for a couple miles and the Refuge will be clearly marked by a sign on your right.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Big Island - Best Hawaiian Island for Families

Vacationers flying to Hawaii are often surprised to learn that their plane lands in Honolulu (on the island of Oahu) and not the Big Island of Hawaii.  We Mainlanders call the whole island chain "Hawaii," not distinguishing between the different islands - even though each island is uniquely different in culture, size, and experience.   I used to live in Honolulu, a busy city of like a million people spread out into different districts.  I feel sorry for the thousands of overworked tourists who spend their hard-earned money to fly over to Honolulu seeking relaxation and uncrowded beaches and end up befuddled in this busy city.

Don't get me wrong - Oahu is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  But chances are, if you're a tourist, you got sucked into staying at a Waikiki hotel with no idea what to do or where to go.  You'll end up unhappy, stuck on the strip, dining at TGI Fridays with the other unfortunate suckers.  Plus, Waikiki has a party atmosphere - good for showing off your new breast implants - but definitely not relaxing or kid-friendly.  If you are flying to Hawaii with your girlfriends to hook up with some guys and have a one night stand, then Waikiki is for you.  But if you are flying to Hawaii with your hubby and kids because you want a relaxing week away from your job and envision yourself sitting on a deserted beach with a glass of wine, do NOT stay in Waikiki.  It's like the Miami Beach of the Hawaiian islands.

I recommend flying from Honolulu to Big Island if you envision yourself swimming in the ocean or barbequeing with your family at the beach.  (If you do stay on Oahu, stay on North Shore and get a good local guidebook that tells you where all the good hikes are - the hiking on Oahu is incredible).

Big Island is way more family-friendly than Oahu.  Fly into the Kona airport (not the Hilo airport).  Hilo is the rainiest city in the U.S., while Kona (and Kohola, both on the west side of the island) get only like 10 inches of rain a year.  One caveat - this side of the island is covered with lava and not as "tropical paradise" as you first expect.  Don't let this throw you - the beaches here are AMAZING and astonishingly beautiful.  If you crave a "rainforesty" hike, you can always drive 2 hours across the island to Hilo (where the rain creates plenty of rainforests and breathtaking waterfalls and cool caves).

I recommend staying on the island for at least two weeks.  The actual island of Hawaii is bigger than all the other islands in this chain put together and there is plenty of stuff to do here.  If you have just one week and relaxation is your goal, rent a room at a resort on the Kohala coast.  This way, you will be guaranteed to have a beautiful white sand beach within steps of your room.  If you stay in the town of Kailua-Kona (where I live), you will find lava rock beaches that are not accessible to non-swimmers.  If you do stay in Kailua, bring some felt-bottom reef shoes.  The only problem with staying in Kohala (a region not an actual town) is that you will be too far north to drive to Volcano National Park and back in one day.

You will need a rental vehicle if you stay here.  Guidebooks will tell you to get a 4 wheel drive (like a jeep) but that's not necessary unless you plan to travel certain roads.  In my opinion, the biggest reason tourists don't have a good time is they try to do too much in too short a time.  The most fun thing to do here is to just hang out at the beach.  If you don't like the beach, go somewhere else.  The shopping is way better on Oahu.

If you want to enjoy yourself here - it's simple.  Bring sunscreen, two bathing suits, a snorkel and mask, reef shoes, and your debit card.  Don't bother with boogie boards, surf boards, or other expensive gear.  Trust me boogie boarding takes a couple weeks to become good at anyway.  There is a Target and a Walmart here so you don't really have to bring the snorkel with you.

Consult my other blogs for advice about the best beaches to swim and snorkel on Big Island.  (And please feel free to email me if you're here and have no idea where to go.  The best destinations are off of easy-to-miss, unmarked gravel roads that no one else will tell you about).  I sincerely want you and your kids to have a relaxing, good time here.  Have fun!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Best Kona Beach: Kua Bay ("Kehaka Kai")

If you visit Big Island and stay at a Kohala resort, you'll have a beautiful white sand beach within steps of your hotel room. But residing in Kailua-Kona is different. The good beaches in Kailua town are either hidden behind condo complexes or too crowded and touristy.  

Adventurous people willing to drive about 10 miles north will discover gorgeous beaches at Kehaka Kai (Kona State Park). There are two entrances into the Park via a southern road and a northern road.  The southern route is comprised of an unimproved and extremely rocky road.  The Northern road is paved and nice.  A car can make it over the south road, but it's slow going - like 5 mph - and takes at least 15 minutes to navigate. But all is well worth it when you see the beaches here.  In my opinion, the northern beach is the easily best swimming beach on the island.  It consists of gently sloping white sands leading to calm, crystal-clear blue water.

Southern Route: There's a trail-head before the bathrooms which will take you to the rest of the park and Makalawena ("Mak") beach. Plan on walking this trail unless you need a BBQ pit. If you're not barbecuing, park at the trail head or in the lot and walk to the trail head.

The park has picnic tables, trash cans, bathrooms, and lots of beach, trees, and sand. It's beautiful here and fun. There is plenty of shade throughout the day. Bring your snorkel and reef shoes - the fish here are big and colorful. Don't bring a boogie board unless you're going to Mak (and even then I wouldn't bother - the trial is long and most beaches have sharp reef). Go to Hapuna instead.

If you plan to walk the trail to Makalawena, some advice. Get to the Park between 9:30-10:30am before it gets too hot. The Mak Trail is through black lava, which makes for hot hiking conditions. The beach is not crowded - but after noon the tourists who lazed around for a fancy breakfast filter in.

Bring some food and plenty of water. Plan to spend 3 hours here.

Northern Route (Kua Bay): The entrance is unmarked from the highway and easy to miss.  From Kailua-Kona, head north past the airport.  Pass by the southern road to the park (i.e. the road w/the sign that says Kekaha Kai State Park).  Turn left when you see the West Hawai'i Veterans Memorial Cemetery (about mile marker 89).  There is a small sign that says Kehaka Kai at the beginning of the road (not visible from the highway).  The road is relatively short, new, and easy to travel.  The beach here is unbelievably beautiful and perfect for swimming.  This is my second favorite swimming beach on the island. There is a fun rock to jump off of into the ocean.  Bring a beach umbrella for shade.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tsunami Saturday

Loud sirens have been sounding every hour here on Alii Drive in Hawai'i. Everybody who lives within like 10 blocks of the beach is being evacuated due to the tsunami warning. We live on the ocean and have to pack up and get ready to evacuate. I can see the water from my house and the waves look no different than usual right now. But the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Chile this morning is apparently sending huge a wave that is supposed to reach here at about 11:15am (that's 1:15pm California time). All boats have been instructed to leave Hawaiian ports. I wonder where the cruise ships will go?

I already see trucks passing by the house loaded with stuff. Smart people are already taking their valuables to higher ground. All the beaches are closed, too. Even the tourist hotels, all on the beach, are being emptied. Evacuation buses are supposed to start running soon. I heard that gas stations are already crowded.

Everybody says the bays will be most affected. Hilo is in most danger, apparently, and the airport there is already closed down. The last tsunami to affect Hilo was also the result of a Chilean earthquake. That quake was a 9.5, the largest recorded earthquake in history. Waves in Hilo reached 35 feet and 138 people died. Luckily we live on the other side of the island. But I better start packing up becasue there are only a few routes up to higher ground. See ya.