Hawaii's Big Island Offers a Gigantic To-Do List
But there’s only one place to start: a 20-mile stretch of beaches and resorts on the Kohala Coast.
BIG TIME: Residents of Hawaii’s Big Island, birthplace of Kamehameha the Great, like to say their home boasts almost all of the earth’s natural environments, from deserts to rain forests to snowy mountaintops. There’s so much to do, they say, you can’t possibly stay just a few days. They’re right, of course. There’s no way to enjoy all of the island’s offerings in a single trip. So we say take it one step at a time.
BEACHY KEEN: The Kohala Coast is a good place to start. This 20-mile stretch along the island’s western coast sees fewer than 8 inches of rainfall annually, which makes it an ideal getaway for those who’ve grown weary of wintertime in Dallas. Upscale resorts dot the coast, including the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. A Kohala mainstay since 1965 and the coast’s first resort, Mauna Kea is situated on the crescent-shaped Kaunaoa Beach, a natural white sand beach that is arguably the hotel’s main attraction. The beach is open to the public, but parking passes are limited, so don’t worry about overcrowding. Reserve a recently renovated deluxe room with an ocean view, and you can take in Kaunaoa from two private lanais. During the renovation, three rooms became two, making for a more spacious living area, and the bathrooms now feature tubs from which you can see the sea.
GO PLAY: If you don’t mind getting to know Queen Kaahumanu Highway, the connector between the many hotels in the area, there are plenty of activities to be enjoyed at Kohala’s other resorts. Lava fields line the road, and coral graffiti offering messages such as “Mahalo John” and “JK + LR” provides reading material along the billboard-free stretch. About 10 miles from the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel lies Hilton Waikoloa Village, whose Dolphin Quest program allows you to frolic with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. For the requisite luau, venture out to The Fairmont Orchid for Gathering of the Kings. While you tuck into a Polynesian feast, dancers tell the story of the settling of the Pacific. You can also book a wide variety of water activities through Ocean Sports, a tour company that caters to Kohala Coast visitors. Think sunset cruises, whale-watching, and glass-bottom boat excursions.
ALOHA, KONA: If you continue to head south along Queen Kaahumanu, you’ll eventually hit Kailua-Kona, the main city on the island’s west coast. Besides being the starting point for the annual Ironman triathlon competition, Kona is also home to an open-air market and a bevy of tourist-friendly shops, casual eateries, and historical landmarks. After visiting such sites as Hulihee Palace, the former vacation home for Hawaiian royalty, and Mokuaikaua Church, Hawaii’s first Christian church, we’re pretty sure King Kamehameha would want you to leave history behind and head to Kona Canoe Club. There you can kick back with a pint of Longboard Island Lager from local beer-maker Kona Brewing Company and start planning your next big adventure on the Big Island.
One of the best meals of your trip can be found just steps from your room at Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar. Sure, Manta offers tasty and generously portioned dishes such as crispy seared opakapaka with a spicy pork dumpling and braised greens, but you have to save room for dessert. Lingering over an aged peaberry coffee and lilikoi souffle is the perfect way to watch the sun set over Kaunaoa Bay. The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is a 30-minute drive from Mauna Kea, but it’s worth it for dinner at Pahu i’a. The restaurant’s name is Hawaiian for aquarium, which is fitting for a place that overlooks the giant aquarium that is the Pacific Ocean. The wine list goes on for days, and signature dishes such as a miso sake-glazed Kona cod will make you happy you made the trek. The resort’s more casual Beach Tree Bar offers some great choices as well. If you opt for one of the brick-oven pizzas—the veggie and goat cheese pie gets high praise—and order a trio of ice cream cookie sandwiches for the table, you won’t be disappointed