The leeward west coast areas of the Big Island are protected for the most part from the northeast trade winds, making for ideal, near-shore kayaking conditions. There are miles and miles of uncrowded Kona and Kohala coastline to explore, presenting close-up views of stark, raw, lava-rock shores and cliffs; lava-tube sea caves; pristine, secluded coves; and deserted beaches.

Ocean kayakers can get close to shore—where the commercial snorkel and dive cruise boats can't reach. This opens up all sorts of possibilities for adventure, such as near-shore snorkeling among the expansive coral reefs and lava rock formations that teem with colorful tropical fish and Hawaiian green sea turtles. You can pull ashore at a quiet cove for a picnic and a plunge into turquoise waters. With a good coastal map and some advice from the kayak vendor, you might paddle by ancient battlegrounds, burial sites, bathing ponds for Hawaiian royalty, or old villages.

Kayaking can be enjoyed via a guided tour or on a self-guided paddling excursion. Either way, the kayak outfitter can brief you on recommended routes, safety, and how to help preserve and protect Hawaii's ocean resources and coral reef system.

Whether you're a beginning or experienced kayaker, choose appropriate location and conditions for your excursion.

Ask the outfitter about local conditions and hazards, such as tides, currents, and advisories.

Beginners should practice getting into and out of the kayak and capsizing (called a huli, the Hawaiian word for "flip") in shallow water.

Before departing, secure the kayak's hatches to prevent water intake.

Use a line to attach the paddle to the kayak to avoid losing it.

Always use a life vest or jacket, and wear a rash guard and plenty of sunblock.

Carry appropriate amounts of water and food.

Don't kayak alone. Create a float plan; tell someone where you're going and when you will return.

Best Spots

Hilo Bay. This is a favorite kayak spot. The best place to put in is at Reeds Bay Beach Park. Parking is plentiful and free at the bayfront. Most afternoons you'll share the bay with local paddling clubs. Stay inside the breakwater unless the ocean is calm (or you're feeling unusually adventurous). Conditions range from extremely calm to quite choppy. Banyan Way and Banyan Dr., 1 mile from downtown Hilo.

Kailua Bay and Kamakahonu Beach. The small, sandy beach that fronts the Courtyard King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel is a nice place to rent or launch kayaks. You can unload in the cul-de-sac and park in nearby free lots. The water here is especially calm and the surroundings are historic and scenic. Alii Dr., next to Kailua Pier, Kailua-Kona.

Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park. The excellent snorkeling and likelihood of seeing dolphins (morning is best) make Kealakekua Bay one of the most popular kayaking spots on the Big Island. An ocean conservation district, the bay is usually calm and tranquil. (Use caution and common sense during surf advisories.) Tall coral pinnacles and clear visibility surrounding the monument also make for stupendous snorkeling. Because of new regulations, only a few operators have permits to lead kayak tours in the park. Napoopoo Rd and Manini Bch. Rd., Captain Cook www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/hawaii.

Oneo Bay. Right downtown, this is usually a placid place to kayak. It's fairly easy to get to. If you can't find parking along the road, there's a free lot across the street from the library and farmers’ market. Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona.

Equipment, Lessons, and Tours

There are several rental outfitters on Highway 11 between Kainaliu and Captain Cook, but only a few are specially permitted to lead kayak trips in Kealakekua Bay.

Aloha Kayak Co.. This outfitter is one of the few permitted to guide tours to the stunningly beautiful Kealakekua Bay, leaving from Napoopoo, including about 1½ hours at the Captain Cook Monument. The 3½-hour morning and afternoon tours include snacks and drinks, while the five-hour tour includes lunch. Local guides discuss the area's cultural, historical, and natural significance. You may see dolphins, but you must observe them from a distance only, as this is a protected marine reserve. Keauhou Bay tours are also available, including a two-hour evening manta ray tour. All tour prices range between $75 and $129. Kayak rentals are $35 for a single, $60 for a double, and $85 for a triple. Stand-up paddleboard lessons at Keauhou Bay cost $75. Their new gallery, located on Napoopoo Road near the bay, showcases history and offers beach rentals and supplies, T-shirts, retail, and shave ice. 79-7248 Mamalahoa Hwy., across from Teshima's Restaurant, Honalo, HI, 96750. 808/322–2868 or. www.alohakayak.com.

Aloha Living Services. Island-born Jonathon Ditto specializes in kayaking on the Kohala Coast, including Puako, and in teaching respectful, eco-friendly symbiosis with this pristine area. Private guided tours are available, and he also rents kayaks, boogie boards, stand-up paddleboards, snorkel gear, and road and mountain bikes. Free delivery. 61-3636 Kawaihae Rd., Waimea (Hawaii County), HI, 96743. 808/430–0991. www.alohalivingservices.com. Rentals from $25.

Kona Boys. On the highway above Kealakekua Bay, this full-service, environmentally conscious outfitter handles kayaks, body boards, surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, and snorkeling gear. Single-seat and double kayaks are offered. Surfing and stand-up paddling lessons are available for private or group instruction. Tours such as their Morning Magic and Midday Meander include two half-day guided kayaking and snorkeling trips with gear, lunch, snacks, and beverages. Kona Boys also run a beach shack fronting the King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel and are happy to give advice on the changing regulations regarding South Kona bay usage. The town location offers Hawaiian outrigger canoe rides, SUP lessons, and rentals of beach mats, chairs, and other gear. 79-7539 Mamalahoa Hwy., Kealakekua, HI, 96750. 808/328–1234 or 808/329–2345. www.konaboys.com. Tours from $119; kayaks from $75; surf/paddle lessons from $99. 75–5660 Palani Rd., Kailua-Kona, 96740.

Ocean Safari's Kayak Adventures. On the guided 3½-hour morning sea-cave tour that begins in Keauhou Bay, you can visit lava-tube sea caves along the coast, then swim ashore for a snack. The kayaks will already be on the beach, so you won't have to hassle with transporting them. The cost is $85.53 per person. A two-hour, dolphin-spotting tour costs $52.43 per person. Kayak daily rental rates are $25 for singles and $40 for doubles. Stand-up boards are $25 for two hours. If you want a lesson, it's $84.53 including the board (two-person minimum). End of Kamehameha III Rd., next to Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740. 808/326–4699. www.oceansafariskayaks.com.

Pineapple Park. Affiliated with a hostel with locations in Hilo, Kona, and Mountain View, Pineapple Park's Kealakekua location rents kayaks for $50 for a single and $65 for a double. The rental price includes paddles, life jackets, bags to keep all your gear dry, and harnesses to strap the kayak to your car. 81-6363 Mamalahoa Hwy., Kealakekua, HI, 96750. 808/323–2224 or 877/800–3800. www.pineapple-park.com.


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