Kailua-Kona: More than Beach Life
It’s nearly the end of our time in Hawaii, and since we felt a bit worried we might miss our flight (and with it, two connecting flights) , we decided to spend our last day in Kailua-Kona. I had done the beachfront strip a few days earlier and reported back that it’s all rather touristy, so what can you do?
First, the beach. At some point, you gotta swim in the Pacific. We found that the southern end of town has the nicer beaches – if you stick to town. Outside town, well… there are loads of wonderful beaches. We went to Magic Sands Beach and Kahaluu Bay. Magic Sands is not bad for sunbathing and swimming, and can get relatively busy, but has showers and is a nice low-key beach.
Kahaluu Bay is much longer, there is pretty much no sand, but this beach is good for swimming, snorkelling AND surfing – all at different parts of the beach.
But what else can you do in Kailua-Kona? After the beach, we actually hung out on our lanai a bit with a huge cut-up pineapple. And then, we went to Holualoa. Its only a few miles from Kailua, but well up in the hills. While you can get along Alii Drive (the seaside promenade) easily by public transport, for Holualoa you really need a car. So, off we went in search of famous Kona coffee. What we found was a laid-back small town with pretty wooden buildings, some of them old, a couple pretty cafes and lots of little craft shops, a ukulele workshop, and the odd coffee farm. Maybe we didn’t try hard enough to get on one of those coffee plantation tours, which DO exist, but after we spent about half an hour looking for Hula Daddy Kona Coffee (which gets good reviews both for their tour and their coffee), I gave up, we sat on a nice terrace under a tree in a small cafe, and I just went in one of the craft shops which sold coffee and got a pound of Buddha’s Cup (which also gets good reviews) .
We eventually wound up at the Visitor Entre of the Kona Blue Sky Plantation, where coffee was out for tasting – it was a rather low-key but friendly operation, and at the time of writing, they do tours Tuesdays to Fridays, but somehow, we were now a bit pushed for time, and approximately six hours left… although I love coffee (more the Italian kind coming out of an espresso machine) I never really warmed to Kona coffee and found the ones I tasted pretty acidic.
When you drive South from Holualoa, the small mountain highway eventually drops down and rejoins the main round-the Island Highway 11, but before you pass through Honalo – a cute little town, which has just charm but not much else in particular. There ism however, the excellent H. Kimura Fabric Store (79-7408 Mamalahoa Hwy, no website) – if you are looking for tiki fabric, this one has the biggest collection, and also Japanese prints en masse. Run by some friendly old ladies, I absolutely loved this place. Shopping heaven. I also remember a rather good charity/thrift store (Kings Daughter Ministry) with a ton of Aloha Gear (not cheap) and a nice music shop which sells, of course, ukuleles (Kiernan Music). And there’s the historic Aloha Theatre. Only trouble, we didn’t really find anywhere to sit with a drink – really not a touristy place, this one.
And then… the sun was still shining, we still had a few hours, so what is the lasting memory you want to take from Hawaii? For us, it was sun and some of that Aloha feeling. Another beach, perhaps? We settled for something really traditional: an ancient refuge, right by the sea: the Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, an ancient place of refuge that was well in action until the 19th Century. Compared to some other places of refuge, there are many reconstructions and plenty of protector statues here, giving the casual visitor an idea how these places actually looked, along with many signs and explanations. And the paths along the sea are just wonderful.
As the sun slowly went down, we drove back to Kailua, had dinner at the Big Island Grill (hailed one of the moderately priced eating establishments in town, certainly well off the beaten track, and at least, pretty fresh fish is served there although I did not find their cooking style terribly exciting and pretty lardy) and contemplated whether we could go to K Mart to buy more nuts, Kau coffee and veggie bacon bits.
The voice of sensibility won, so no more of my beloved exotic US Supermarket shopping, we rocked up at the airport three hours early which was a bit of a joke, because the airport is open air and there was really, really not much to do once you are in. And then… a long, cold overnight flight to Seattle, some hours in a cold, dark waiting lounge, another long flight to Amsterdam, and finally… home, back to snow, Christmas markets and mulled wine.