From swimming with sea turtles to witnessing an erupting volcano, our expert author guides you to your best Big Island experience.
- Detailed maps throughout
- Exact prices, directions, opening hours,and other practical information
- Candid reviews of hotels and restaurants,plus sights, shopping, and nightlife
- Insider tips from local expert authors
About the Author
A resident of the Big Island, Jeanette Foster has skied the slopes of Mauna Kea––during a Fourth of July ski meet, no less––and gone scuba diving with manta rays off the Kona Coast. A prolific writer widely published in travel, sports, and adventure magazines, she’s also a contributing editor to Hawaii magazine and the editor of Zagat’s Survey to Hawaii’s Top Restaurants. In addition to this guide, Jeanette is the author of Frommer’s Maui, Frommer’s Hawaii from $80 a Day, and Frommer’s Honolulu, Waikiki & Oahu.
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Frommer's Portable Big Island of Hawaii
By Jeanette Foster
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-3880-2
Chapter OneFun in the Surf & Sun
This is why you've come to Hawaii-the sun, the sand, and the surf. In this chapter, we'll tell you about the best beaches, from where to soak up the rays to where to plunge beneath the waves for a fish's-eye view of the underwater world. We've covered a range of ocean activities on the Big Island, as well as our favorite places and outfitters for these marine adventures. Also in this chapter are things to do on dry land, including the best spots for hiking and camping and the greatest golf courses.
Too young geologically to have many great beaches, the Big Island instead has an odd collection of unusual ones: brand-new black-sand beaches, green-sand beaches, salt-and-pepper beaches, and even a rare (for this island) white-sand beach.
THE KONA COAST KAHALUU BEACH PARK **
This is the most popular beach on the Kona Coast; these reef-protected lagoons attract 1,000 people a day almost year-round. Kahaluu is the best all-around beach on Alii Drive, with coconut trees lining a narrow salt-and-pepper sand shore that gently slopes to turquoise pools. The schools of brilliantly colored tropical fish that weave in and out of the well-established reef make this a great place to snorkel. It's also an ideal spot for children and beginning snorkelers to get their fins wet; the water is so shallow that you can just standup if you feel uncomfortable. Be careful in winter, though: The placid waters become turbulent, and there's a rip current when high surf rolls in; look for the lifeguard warnings.
Kahaluu isn't the biggest beach on the island, but it's one of the best equipped, with off-road parking, beach-gear rentals, a covered pavilion, and a food concession. It gets crowded, so come early to stake out a spot.
KEKAHA KAI STATE PARK (KONA COAST STATE PARK) *
You'll glimpse this beach as your plane makes its final approach to Kona Airport. It's about 2 miles north of the airport on Queen Kaahumanu Highway; turn left at a sign pointing improbably down a bumpy road (drive slowly and watch out for potholes). At the end, you'll find 5 miles of shoreline with a half-dozen long, curving beaches and a big cove on Mahaiula Bay, as well as archaeological and historical sites. The series of well-protected coves is excellent for swimming, and there's great snorkeling and diving offshore; the big winter waves attract surfers.
Facilities include restrooms, picnic tables, and barbecue pits; you'll have to bring your own drinking water. The beach is open daily from 8am to 8pm (the closing is strictly enforced).
WHITE SANDS BEACH *
Don't blink as you cruise Alii Drive, or you'll miss White Sands Beach. This small, white-sand pocket beach about 4 1/2 miles south of Kailua-Kona-very unusual on this lava-rock coast-is sometimes called Disappearing Beach because it does just that, especially at high tide or during storms. It vanished completely when Hurricane Iniki hit in 1991, but it's now back in place. (At least it was the last time we looked.) On calm days, the water is perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Locals use the elementary waves to teach their children how to surf and boogie board. In winter, the waves swell to expert levels, attracting both surfers and spectators. Facilities include restrooms, showers, lifeguards, and a small parking lot.
THE KOHALA COAST HAPUNA BEACH ***
Just off Queen Kaahumanu Highway, south of the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, lies this crescent of gold sand-big, wide, and a half mile long. In summer, when the beach is widest, the ocean calmest, and the crowds biggest, this is the island's best beach for swimming, snorkeling, and bodysurfing. But beware of Hapuna in winter, when its thundering waves, strong rip currents, and lack of lifeguards can be dangerous. Facilities include A-frame cabins for camping, pavilions, restrooms, showers, and plenty of parking.
KAUNAOA BEACH (MAUNA KEA BEACH) ***
For nearly 40 years, this gold-sand beach at the foot of Westin Mauna Kea Beach Hotel has been the top vacation spot among America's corporate chiefs. Everyone calls it Mauna Kea Beach, but its real name is Hawaiian for "native dodder," a lacy, yellow-orange vine that once thrived on the shore. A coconut grove sweeps around this golden crescent, where the water is calm and protected by two black-lava points. The sandy bottom slopes gently into the bay, which often fills with schools of tropical fish, green sea turtles, and manta rays. Swimming is excellent year-round, except in rare winter storms. Snorkelers prefer the rocky points, where fish thrive in the surge. Facilities include restrooms, showers, and ample parking, but there are no lifeguards.
ANAEHOOMALU BAY (A-BAY) **
This popular gold-sand beach (called "A-Bay" by locals), fringed by a grove of palms and backed by royal fish ponds, is one of Hawaii's most beautiful. It fronts the Marriott Waikoloa Beach Resort and is enjoyed by guests and locals alike (it's a little busier in summer but doesn't ever get truly crowded). The beach slopes gently from shallow to deep water; swimming, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and windsurfing are all excellent here. Equipment rental and snorkeling, scuba, and windsurfing instruction are available at the north end of the beach. At the far edge of the bay is a rare turtle cleaning station, where snorkelers and divers can watch endangered green sea turtles line up, waiting their turn to have small fish clean them. Facilities include restrooms, showers, picnic tables, and plenty of parking.
HILO LELEIWI BEACH PARK *
Hilo's beaches may be few, but Leleiwi is one of Hawaii's most beautiful. This unusual cove of palm-fringed black-lava tide pools fed by freshwater springs and rippled by gentle waves is a photographer's delight-and the perfect place to take a plunge. In winter, big waves can splash these ponds, but the shallow pools are generally free of currents and ideal for families with children, especially in the protected inlets at the center of the park. Leleiwi often attracts endangered sea turtles, making this one of Hawaii's most popular snorkeling spots. The beach is 4 miles out of town on Kalanianaole Avenue. Facilities include restrooms, showers, lifeguards, picnic pavilions, and paved walkways. There's also a marine-life facility here.
SOUTH POINT GREEN SAND BEACH (PAPAKOLEA BEACH) *
Hawaii's famous green-sand beach is located at the base of Puu o Mahana, an old cinder cone spilling into the sea. The place has its problems: It's difficult to reach; the open bay is often rough; there are no facilities, fresh water, or shade from the relentless sun; and howling winds scour the point. Nevertheless, each year the unusual emerald-green sands attract thousands of oglers, who follow a well-worn four-wheel-drive-only road for 2 1/2 miles to the top of a cliff, which you have to climb down to reach the beach. The "sand" is actually crushed olivine, a green semiprecious mineral found in eruptive rocks and meteorites. If the surf 's up, just check out the beach from the cliff's edge; if the water's calm, it's generally safe to swim and dive.
To get to Green Sand Beach from the boat ramp at South Point, follow the four-wheel-drive trail; even if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you may want to walk, because the trail is very, very bad in parts. Make sure you have appropriate closed-toed footwear: tennis shoes or hiking boots. The beginning of the trail is lava. After the first 10 to 15 minutes of walking, the lava disappears and the trail begins to cross pastureland. After about 30 to 40 minutes more, you'll see an eroded cinder cone by the water; continue to the edge, and there lie the green sands below.
The best way to reach the beach is to go over the edge from the cinder cone. (It looks like walking around the south side of the cone would be easier, but it's not.) From the cinder cone, go over the overhang of the rock, and you'll see a trail.
Going down to the beach is very difficult and treacherous, as you'll be able to see from the top. And don't forget that you'll have to climb back up. Look before you start; if you have any hesitation, don't go down (you get a pretty good view from the top, anyway).
Warning: When you get to the beach, watch the waves for about 15 minutes and make sure they don't break over the entire beach. If you walk on the beach, always keep one eye on the ocean and stick close to the rock wall. There can be strong rip currents here, and it's imperative to avoid them. Allow a minimum of 2 to 3 hours for this entire excursion.
If you want to rent beach toys, like snorkel gear or boogie boards, the beach concessions at all the big resorts, as well as tour desks and dive shops, offer equipment rentals and sometimes lessons for beginners. The cheapest places to get great rental equipment are Snorkel Bob's, in the parking lot of Huggo's Restaurant at 75-5831 Kahakai Rd., at Alii Drive, Kailua-Kona (808/329-0770; snorkelbob.com), and Planet Ocean Watersports, 200 Kaneolehua Ave. (800/265-6819 or 808/935-7277; hawaiidive.com).
For fishing charters, see "Sportfishing: The Hunt for Granders," later in this chapter.
Body Glove Cruises * The Body Glove, a 55-foot trimaran that carries up to 100 passengers, runs an adventurous sail-snorkel-dive cruise at a reasonable price. You'll be greeted with fresh Kona coffee, fruit, and breakfast pastries; you'll then sail north of Kailua to Pawai Bay, a marine preserve where you can snorkel, scuba dive, swim, or just hang out on the deck for a couple of hours. After a buffet deli lunch spread, you might want to take the plunge off the boat's water slide or diving board before heading back to Kailua Pier. The boat departs daily from the pier at 9am and returns at 1:30pm. The only thing you need to bring is a towel; snorkeling equipment (and scuba equipment, if you choose to dive) is provided. Money-saving tip: The afternoon trip is $32 cheaper for adults.
Kailua Pier. * 800/551-8911 or 808/326-7122. bodyglovehawaii.com. Morning cruise $84 adults, $46 children 6-12, free for children under 5; afternoon cruise $52 adults, $32 children 6-12, free for children under 5; additional $40 for certified scuba divers with own equipment ($50 without own equipment) and $60 additional for introductory scuba; whale-watching with Greenpeace Hawaii (Dec-Apr) $52 adults, $32 children 6-12, free for children under 5.
Captain Beans' Cruises Captain Beans' runs Kona's most popular dinner sails on a 150-foot catamaran, which can accommodate about 290 passengers. The 2-hour cruise includes dinner, cocktails, dancing, and Hawaiian entertainment.
Kailua Pier. * 800/831-5541 or 808/329-2955. robertshawaii.com. $52 per person; you must be 21 to board the boat.
Captain Dan McSweeney's Year-Round Whale-Watching Adventures *** Hawaii's most impressive visitors-45-foot humpback whales-return to the waters off Kona every winter. Captain Dan McSweeney, a whale researcher for more than 25 years, is always here to greet them, as well as other whales who spend the warmer months in Hawaiian waters. Because Captain Dan works daily with the whales, he has no problem finding them. Frequently, he drops an underwater microphone into the water so you can listen to their songs. If the whales aren't singing, he may use his underwater video camera to show you what's going on. In humpback season-roughly from December to April-Dan makes two 3-hour trips daily. From July 1 to December 20, he schedules one morning trip on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday to look for pilot, sperm, false killer, melon-headed, pygmy killer, and beaked whales. Captain Dan guarantees a sighting, or he'll take you out again for free. There are no cruises in May and June; that's when he goes whale-watching in Alaska.
Honokohau Harbor. * 888/WHALE6 or 808/322-0028. ilovewhales.com. $55 adults, $5 children under 11.
Captain Zodiac If you'd prefer to take a snorkel cruise to Kealakekua Bay in a small boat, go in Captain Zodiac's 16-passenger, 24-foot inflatable rubber life raft. The boat takes you on a wild ride 14 miles down the Kona Coast to Kealakekua, where you'll spend about an hour snorkeling in the bay and then enjoy snacks and beverages at the picnic snorkel site. Trips are twice daily, from 8am to 12:15pm and from 12:45 to 5pm. Warning: Pregnant women and those with bad backs should avoid this often-bumpy ride.
Gentry's Marina, Honokohau Harbor. * 808/329-3199. captainzodiac.com. $78 adults, $63 children 3-12.
Fair Wind Snorkeling and Diving Adventures **** One of the best ways to snorkel Kealakekua Bay, the marine-life preserve that's one of the best snorkel spots in Hawaii, is on Fair Wind's half-day sail-and-snorkel cruise to Kealakekua. The company's 60-foot catamaran holds up to 100 passengers. The morning cruise, which leaves from Keauhou Bay at 9am and returns at 1:30pm, includes breakfast, lunch, snorkel gear, and lessons; it goes for $87 for adults and $50 for children ages 4 to 12 (free for 3 and under). The afternoon cruise is a little shorter and a little cheaper: It runs from 2 to 5:30pm and includes snacks, sailing, and snorkeling at a cost of $55 for adults, $35 for kids 4 to 12.
Fair Wind also has daily 3- and 4-hour Inflatable Raft snorkel cruises from Kailua Pier, aboard a 28-foot hard-bottom Ridged Inflatable boat. The trip includes stops at two snorkel sites (Kealakekua Marine Preserve and Honaunua), snacks, and a historical/ cultural tour on the return (including stops to look in sea caves and lava tubes). Only 14 people are booked at a time. The cost for the morning cruise is $73 for adults and $60 for children ages 6 to 12 (you must be 6 or older to go); the afternoon cruise is $55 for adults, $45 for children 6 to 12.
78-7130 Kaleiopapa St., Kailua-Kona. 800/677-9461 or 808/322-2788.fairwind. com. $55-$87 adults, $35-$60 children (prices vary depending on cruise).
Kamanu Charters ** This sleek catamaran, 36 feet long and 22 feet wide, provides a laid-back sail-snorkel cruise from Honokohau Harbor to Pawai Bay. The 3 1/2-hour trip includes a tropical lunch (deli sandwiches, chips, fresh island fruit, and beverages), snorkeling gear, and personalized instruction for first-time snorkelers. The Kamanu sails Monday through Saturday (weather permitting) at 9am and 1:30pm; it can hold up to 24 people.
Honokohau Harbor. * 800/348-3091 or 808/329-2021. kamanu.com. $65 adults, $45 children under 12.
Excerpted from Frommer's Portable Big Island of Hawaii by Jeanette Foster Excerpted by permission.
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Table of ContentsList of Maps.
1. Planning Your Trip to the Big Island.
2. For International Visitors (Jeanette Foster).
3. Getting to Know the Big Island (Jeanette Foster).
4. Accommodations (Jeanette Foster).
5. Dining (Jocelyn Fujii).
6. Fun in the Surf & Sun: Beaches & Active Pursuits (Jeanette Foster).
7. Exploring the Island: Sightseeing, Shopping & Nightlife (Jeanette Foster).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As a first time tourist, I found this guidebook lacking mid- priced restaurants. Hilo was hardly covered and shined right on. It was also missing maps. If it was up to me, I'd call it a rough draft.