I prefer to stay on the east side of the big island, due to its slower pace and lack of large resorts. But I also like to look around. One day we did a circle drive, starting in Kea’au and taking Highway 200, or the Saddle Road, that runs between Mauna Loa (elevation 13,680’) and Mauna Kea (elevation 13,803’) heading west. Legend says that the two mountains were sisters and their arguments took place in the area between the mountains. It takes about one hour and forty five minutes to drive from the east coast to the west coast on this road. We headed to the Waikoloa area on the Kohala Coast and a black sand beach we had visited on our trip in 2017. The beach is unmarked, with just a pull out off Highway 19. There is a rough trail through black lava to the beach, a good fifteen minute walk requiring tough shoes (don’t try this in flip flops).
We have found many cowries on this beach, where at times we were the only occupants. I found several small cowries, but Tucker got the best one of all. The name of this “secret beach” is Ke-awa-iki.
After beach-combing and wading in the waves, we had a very good lunch at what one guide book called the best beach bar on this coast, Lava Lava Beach Club. No reservations, first come first served. We stood in line at 12:30 and waited for the 1 pm opening. It was a pleasant place to wait, and the lunch was good. The fish tacos were great, but $25. I liked the vintage style graphics on the t-shirts so bought one here.
Heading further south on 19 you pass the Kona International Airport and drive through Kailua-Kona. We walked along the waterfront of the Kailua-Kona area where King Kamehameha’s Hulihe’e Palace still stands. There is a definite 1970s vibe in this area, as opposed to the more upscale newer resorts further north in the Kohala Coast area.
Just a bit further south on Hwy 11 is the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau (Place of Refuge) National Historical Park. We arrived late in the day and walked through the area almost completely empty of people. We had hoped to see turtles in the lagoon, but only saw fish.
To complete our circle route, we continued south on Highway 11 towards Ka Lae (South Point), the southernmost point in the United States. Key West likes to claim that title, but it is the southernmost point in the continental US, while the tip of Hawaii is the southernmost point in the entire US.
Highway 11 turns eastward and then northward again, heading into Hilo. This was my first drive around the southern tip and I found it very beautiful. The narrow two lane road winds through coffee farms and small settlements. It is a very serene setting, and we vowed to make another day trip to take a closer look.
That closer look came just two days later. We headed south out of Kea’au on Highway 11, passing through the Volcano National Park. We stopped at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. It is known for sea turtles and the beautiful sand. When we first arrived there weren’t many people and we saw quite a few turtles feeding in the shallows. There was a turtle nesting area blocked off, and a sign warning tourists not to take the black sand. The sand is very fine, shiny black, and very beautiful. As the people started to arrive, we headed further south.
We had no agenda for the day and pulled over at a market that looked interesting in the small town of Na’alehu. It was a local market with just a few vendors, some selling food, some selling local honey or coffee, and a few handmade items. I bought a necklace made of velvet seeds called hua wele weka, and we had fish tacos for lunch in the shade of a large tree while listening to a live band. The fish tacos were quite good, and only $12. The band was also pretty good, mostly grey haired, playing blues, west coast swing and some Tom Petty and Dire Straits. It was a good stop.
Continuing further south, we took the turn off onto South Point Road. This leads to the southernmost point, and to a green sand beach. Our thought was to hike down to the green sand beach, but when we saw the crowd of cars in the parking area, we changed our minds.
Instead we headed over to the cliffs at the southernmost point. There was a smaller crowd, some fishing, and a few young guys jumping into the very clear blue water that seemed quite far below. They called themselves cliff divers, but the diving was feet first. Of course, you could buy a “Hawaii Cliff Divers Club” t-shirt out of the back of a guy’s pick up. It is always windy here, as you can see from the trees and the wind turbine power generators.
We passed an honor fruit stand on the South Point Road.
For my birthday dinner, we ate at the Kilauea Lodge in Volcano Village. It may be 75 to 80 degrees in Hilo, but when the sun goes down and the showers start, it dropped to 58 F up at the Lodge at 3,000’ elevation. They had a fire going in the large fireplace which made it very cozy. Any establishment that has a sign posted to be mindful of the old resident cat is a great place in my book.
Your trip sounded very interesting, cool and fun!
On our list someday soon:)