Kona is the first place I visited nearly 25 years ago and I still love Kona. It's a little bit like Sausalito or Carmel with all the shops and restaurants on the main street. There is a very slow pace and you can see folks walking along holding hands as they view the large Hawaiian church from the 1800s and the old Hawaiian summer palace. The pier is in the center of town and boat trips start from there, although fishing trips begin at Honokohau Harbor. Alii Drive continues 6 miles south to the golf course in Keauhou. Along this main drive there are dozens of condos, three hotels, and three beaches.
Up on the Kohala Coast there are luxury hotels like the Mauna Lani, the Orchid, and the venerable Mauna Kea, recently remodeled after the earthquake. Amid the never ending lava landscape are long white sand beaches like Hapuna Beach. There is also the Waikoloa Resort area and the Hilton Waikoloa with its train and slow boats to get to your room or various pools, restaurants, and shops. Vacationers can interact with the resident dolphins each day in a special dolphin experience. This resort area has many condos which appeal to golfers as there are several top golf courses in the region.
Snorkeling and scuba diving fans have 27 dive sites to visit on the Kona Coast. One easy snorkeling spot in the Kona area is Kahaluu Beach Park with black and white sand from pulverized lava and coral. You can easily snorkel here in about 6 foot deep water and see many varieties of tropical fish and green sea turtles. About 30 minutes south of Kona you can travel to Place of Refuge, the site of an old abandoned Hawaiian village. Adjacent to the park is a wonderful snorkel and dive site. Go down the little road slowly past the local fishing village. Turn in and park near the lava flats. Take your gear and settle out on the lava. Enter in the water at the 12 o'clock spot off the natural lava steps. Swim to your right out of the boat traffic lane. You will be swimming with dozens of varieties of fish, from tangs, goat fish, parrot fish, turtles, and even a black tip shark on the outside edge of the bay. Bring water; no facilities.
An all day adventure is a trip to the volcano. Kilauea volcano is still shooting out lava and steam and some noxious smells. There is an 11 mile Crater Rim Drive to observe the volcano and the Jagger Museum to visit. Several hikes abound in the area, some more vigorous than others. One fairly easy hike is through the Thurston Lava Tube and into the rain forest. It's quite a contrast between desolate lava fields to the lush rain forest. If you drive directly to the volcano without many stops, it is a 2 hour drive. Since the elevation is 8,000 feet a windbreaker or a sweatshirt is a good idea.
Should you try to drive around the island in one day? My advice is to do this on two separate days, going in one direction from Kona the first day and the opposite direction a few days later. There is so much to see on the Big Island it takes time to savor the experience. On the east coast Waipio Valley overlook is spectacular. If you wish to drop into old Hawaii without modern conveniences you have to go down to the valley in a 4 wheel drive vehicle. A quarter mile from the overlook is a nice store where you can find native Hawaiian crafts and an ice cream cone. Nearby is the town of Honokaa with its down home feeling and antique stores. Driving a steep hill toward the coast are two places I like to visit. One is the Nut Factory and the second is a wood factory, where you can purchase unique gifts.
After stopping for a malasa, traveling along the east Hamakua coast is a series of twists and turns and finally a cut off to Akaka Falls. It is a nice short hike through the dense vegetation to the falls which spill 435 feet. Continuing on you will reach Hilo which has Rainbow Falls and is 45 minutes from the volcano. Along this road there are many tropical nurseries, most of which welcome a visit. Bring your Cutter's for the wet coast and its hungry mosquitoes.
One little friend from the islands is the gecko, s small lizard which eats mosquitoes, flies, spiders and brings good luck. Geckos have "suction cup" feet so they can run up walls and even ceilings. You may hear them uttering chirps, clicks, and barks. Please don't harm the geckos when you see them in your condos!
Kona is perhaps best known for the Ironman Triathlon which occurs each October. Over 40,000 people crowd into Kona for this event. I've had the pleasure of helping several Ironmen and Ironwomen find accommodations over the years and they are special people. On just one day they swim 2.4 miles from the pier, then jump on their bikes and travel 112 miles to Hawi and back, and then run a marathon! All in one day! My best Ironwoman is a young mother from Sacramento and my most memorable Ironmen is a Richmond, VA native who got engaged on the finish line.
Places to stay on the Big Island:
Kona Makai, located one mile from Kona, has one and two bedroom air conditioned condos with full kitchens. A popular spot for scuba divers with easy shoreline access to three dives.
Sea Village, half mile from town, with pool and spa right on the sea wall. Gardenview, oceanview, and oceanfront condos with the waves hitting the oceanfront condos.
Kahaluu Bay Villas is across the road from the best snorkeling in the Kona area.
Kona Alii on the edge of town and walking distance to restaurants and shopping and the pier.
Kona Coast Resort in the Keauhou area near the golf course, has three pools, jogging paths, volleyball, tennis, and many activities.
Many lovely houses, most with their own swimming pool and oceanview. Some homes at higher elevations offer a sweeping view of the entire coastline.
WAIKOLOA: This upscale end destination resort area offers luxury hotels and condos. The Hilton Waikoloa is famous for its dolphin pond and riding to your hotel room by boat or train.
The Shores at Waikoloa and the Vista are luxury condos across the street from the hotels and are private, well landscaped, and the insides are well appointed and spacious.
KOHALA COAST: Several luxury hotels are along the coast from the new Four Seasons to that grand old gal the Mauna Kea, which recently underwent a major renovation. Also included are The Orchid and the Hapuna Prince.
Ask for your favorite location. Dream Hawaii reserves condos at 35 different properties, all at discount prices.
IMPORTANT HINTS: What's important to remember? It's your sunscreen, number 15. Hawaii is close to the Equator and you can burn in 40 minutes. The second thing to remember in Hawaii is to keep drinking fluids. If you are outdoors, drink one glass of water or juice every hour!
Wonder about packing? Pack cotton shorts or cotton dresses, clothing that breathe. Most of the day you'll be in a swimsuit, so you don't need much.