Kona is filled with expansive views, incredible diving, and a host of cultural history. Here’s 5 picks from a resident expert:
The Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii is one of less than a handful of locations worldwide where one can enjoy an open ocean encounter with manta rays. Several companies offer year-round nightly experiences where divers and snorkelers enter the water while giant lights are placed on the ocean floor to attract these marine creatures. Mantas feast by gliding and somersaulting through the plankton rich water while swimming within inches of participants. The harmless creatures gather at several spots along the Kona Coast including waters off the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa and just north of the Honokohau Harbor.
Located about 45 minutes from the Hilo airport and 2 hours from the Kona Airport at Keahole, the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is by far the most popular thing to do on the Big Island. Activities include nature walks, hiking, camping and even dining. Don’t miss a visit to the Halemaumau Overlook, the cultural home of the Pele the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire. This is the place to go for amazing views of the glow from the reoccurring lava lake inside the crater!
One of the more scenic and enjoyable ways to explore the Big Island is by taking a cruise along the Kohala Mountain Road. The road climbs up over the crest and descends into the plantation towns of Kapaau and Hawi where one can browse the shops and visit the King Kamehameha statue. Continue to the end of the road and enjoy the view from the Pololu Valley Lookout. Return via Akoni Pule Highway for a full loop drive.
For a uniquely Hawaiian vacation experience, try the journey south of Sheraton Kona at Keauhou Bay to explore Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, where you’ll be transported back to ancient Hawaiian culture. The National Historic Park sits along the Big Islands western coastline and encompasses the royal grounds for the ruling chiefs of the area and the land that used to be a city of refuge for ancient Hawaiian lawbreakers. What does that mean? Ancient Hawaiian culture followed a kapu or law system that governed the way of life, gender roles, politics, religion and other areas of the Hawaiian lifestyle. If you broke a kapu – even unintentionally – it often meant immediate death. But, if you were able to reach the nearest Pu’uhonua before your pursuers you would be saved from your sentence. At Pu’uhonua o Honaunau you’ll see a collection of beautiful replicas of ancient Hawaiian hale (houses), ki’i (carved wooden statues) and smaller artifacts used in daily life. You can even sit down and play konane (Hawaiian style checkers) and try to imagine what life was like in ancient times. But really, just by walking through the area, you’ll feel the mana (spiritual power) and the sense of place of these sacred grounds. It’s certainly an experience worth doing when you’re on the Big Island.
Waipio Valley is considered the most sacred valleys in Hawaii and is well known for its deep history and sheer beauty. Home of kings and kahuna, fishermen and warriors, the valley has a rich history of war, famine, tsunamis and more. Today the valley is home to several taro farmers and lifetime residents who access the valley via one of the steepest roads in the country. Car rental companies prohibit access to the valley floor, but those wanting to experience Waipio can do so on horseback on any one of the many tours offered by Naalapa Stables. The scenic overlook is also a popular spot for a quick photo stop during a longer day of exploring the Hamakua Coast.
Best time to visit the Volcanoes park to enjoy the eruption is in the late afternoon or evening. Those entering the park after 5pm can save on the $15 per car entrance fee.
Depending on who is joining, here’s our recommondations: