Kekaha Kai State Park
BEACH | 11.5 MI FROM P19
The search for a perfect beach day is over.
A barren, desolate land. A hot, dry shore. These are some of the translations of Kekaha Kai State Park. Maybe not quite what you think when you imagine the words Hawaiian vacation. But look deeper. Hike longer. Don’t be so quick to write off a park with three beaches only about twenty minutes north of the Kona airport as uninteresting. That’s what most people do. But you’re not most people, you’re a traveler. Sipping mai tais is great — and you’ll do your share of that — but you also want to see what this dry, seemingly empty landscape offers. It’s got history, destruction and, well, it’s got options.
The park itself borders the north edge of one of Hualālai’s latest eruptions in 1801. A massive torrent of lava ripped through farms, fishing ponds, and several villages filling a deep bay. The coast was remade as lava destroyed anything in its wake. At that point, the Hawaiians didn’t yet have a written language, so what we know of the eruption was passed down through the moʻolelo, the Hawaiian oral tradition of myths and legends, and was only written down a couple of decades later.
King Kamehameha stepped up to appease the volcano Goddess Pele with offerings during this eruption. You’ve heard his name before because he’s responsible for unifying the islands and creating the Kingdom of Hawaii. His actions during this flow gave him clout before he went on to dominate the other island. Plenty of wild boars had been thrown onto the molten rock, but nothing happened. It wasn’t enough. Finally, King Kamehameha gave a sacrifice of his own and cut off a lock of his hair to throw onto the flow. The hair and head are sacred to Hawaiians, and within days, Pele ceased the eruption. The three beaches north of this eruption are now some of the best on the island.
Maniniʻōwali (Kua Bay)
If anyone tells you to go to Maniniʻōwali beach then yes, you should trust their recommendation, but no one actually calls it that. It’s known as Kua Bay, a sliver of a beach with a shock of white on black — fresh lava turning into crunched up coral sand. Go early to snag a parking spot at the end of the paved road, especially on weekends. This beach is the most popular of the three in the park. It’s easy to guess why; the hint was the paved part.
Turn toward the ocean directly across the road from the West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery and drive to the small parking lot from Highway 19. You’ll find flush toilets, showers, and lifeguards on duty. It’s about a three-quarter-mile white sand beach framed by black lava rock. Perfect access to turquoise waters for swimming, kayaking, and snorkeling with a reef that extends along the shoreline to protect the bay.
Enough of this paved road business, there are other options here for people craving a bit more of an adventure. If you’ve got a 4x4 or a vehicle with high clearance, then between mile markers 88 and 89 off Highway 19 you’ll find the road to Mahaiʻula. Though calling it a “road” might be a bit of an exaggeration. If you’ve got a lower vehicle, or are worried about voiding your rental warranty with dings along the underside of your car, don’t despair; you can park by Queen Kaʻahumanu Highway and hike all the way in. It’ll take you about 30 minutes to walk the mile-and-a-half.
If you’re driving in, park in the lot and then walk five minutes to get to Mahaiʻula. The beauty of these beaches is that they’re so incredibly close to Kona, with sandy shores and even patches of shade, yet not super popular because of the rough road in. This is your “beach day” beach. Lay out your picnic spread and pretend you’re on a deserted island. On a beach like this, it’s not too much of a stretch.
If you’re looking for that extra adventure, then you’re almost there. From the parking lot by Mahaiʻula, take the path north over rough lava rock to get to Makalawena. It’s about a mile walk to perhaps the best beach in Hawaii — not too busy and usually safe for swimming when the waters are calm. Bring everything you need for a beach day including an umbrella as there’s little shade. And just when you think it can’t get any better, check out the Queen’s Bath, a natural brackish pool behind the beach. The basin’s natural freshwater spring mixes with salt water from the ocean. Pop in to wash off after your ocean dip, or just soak in your own private pool. If you’ve driven in, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get back out before the gate closes at 7:00 pm.