Big Island: Places to Explore

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Kona Coast

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South of Kailua-Kona, Highway 11 hugs splendid coastlines, leaving busy streets behind. A detour along the winding narrow roads in the mountains above takes you straight to the heart of coffee country where lush plantations and jaw-dropping views offer a taste of what Hawaii was like before the resorts took over. Tour one of the coffee farms to find out what the big deal is about Kona coffee, and snag a free sample while you're at it.

A half-hour on the highway from Kailua-Kona will lead you to beautiful Kealakekua Bay, where Captain James Cook arrived in 1778, changing the Islands forever. Hawaiian spinner dolphins frolic in the bay, now a marine preserve nestled alongside high green cliffs more reminiscent of popular images of Ireland than posters of Hawaii. Snorkeling is superb here, as it is a protected marine reserve, so you may want to bring your gear and spend an hour or so exploring the coral reefs. This is also a nice kayaking spot; the bay is normally extremely calm. One of our favorite ways to spend a morning is to throw some snorkel gear in a kayak, paddle across the bay, go for a swim and a snorkel, and paddle back, dodging dolphins along the way.

South Kona and Kealakekua Bay

The winding road above Kealakekua Bay is home to a quaint little painted church, as well as several reasonably priced bed-and-breakfasts with great views. The communities surrounding the bay (Kainaliu and Captain Cook) are brimming with local and transplanted artists, making them great places to stop for a meal, some unique gifts, or an afternoon stroll.

After a morning of swimming and kayaking, grab your morning coffee for free on a coffee farm tour, then head to one of the great cafés in nearby Kainaliu to refuel (we like the Aloha Angel Cafe in the Aloha Theater for breakfast, and Cafe Nasturtium for lunch).

North Kona

North of Kona International Airport, along Highway 19, brightly colored bougainvillea stand out in relief against miles of black-lava fields stretching from the mountain to the sea. Most of the lava flows are from the last eruptions of Mt. Hualalai, in 1800 and 1801. You will no doubt notice the miles of white-coral graffiti in the fields. This has been going on for decades, and locals still get a kick out of it, as do tourists. The first thing everyone asks is "where do the white rocks come from?" and the answer is this: they're bits of coral and they come from the ocean. If you want to write a message in the lava, you've got to use the coral that's already out there. This means that no one's message lasts for long, but that's all part of the fun. Some local couples even have a tradition of writing their names in the same spot on the lava fields every year on their anniversary.

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