A Feast For the Eyes: Driving the Kona Coast

By Karen Rose
Photo:  Sean Clover.

Kaloko-Honokohau State Park. Photo: Sean Clover.

Pack your camera, fill your gas tank and explore the Big Island’s Gold Coast. From South Point to Pololu Valley, prepare for one of most scenic drives you’ll ever experience.

Looking to rent a car? Special rental discounts are available for Hawaii.com members. Check rental car rates here.

Driving Kona Coast:  Start in the Kau District

green sand beach papakolea beach south point

Photo: Hawaii.com member Enrico F.

Starting at the southernmost tip of the Big Island is the area commonly known as ‘South Point.’ This is the southernmost location in the United States and home to the lovely, quaint town of Naʻalehu. Stop at the famous Punaluʻu Bakery, which sits on a four acre tropical estate and serves up Hawaiian Sweetbread, malasadas, Kaʻu Coffee and other tasty treats. To burn off those delicious calories, check out Punaluʻu Beach, famous for it’s black lava sand, or for the more adventurous, hike out to Papakolea, the Green Sand Beach. But be sure to bring your hiking shoes and some water, as the terrain gets rather challenging.

Driving Kona Coast:  Spend Some Time in South Kona

city of refuge puuhonua o honaunau

Photo: Hawaii.com member Crista M.

Continuing north towards South Kona, drive through charming villages and pass the small coffee farms the region is famous for. As the air becomes cooler, you’ll see signs just off the old highway for coffee tastings and farm tours. It’s also where you can visit Puʻuhonua o Honauanau National Park and drive through the small town of Captain Cook, home to the famous ‘Coffee Shack’ restaurant, known for its unparalleled views of Kealakekua Bay. You’ll also see the towns of Kealakekua and Old Town Kainaliu, home of the Aloha Theatre, which still produces live community theatre.

Driving Kona Coast:  Noteworthy Places in North Kona

honu at manini beach

Photo: Hawaii.com member Sabrina S.

Keep driving north into North Kona and cruise up Aliʻi Drive past the famous tourist beaches of Kahaluʻu and Magic Sands. Next, pass through Kailua Village where you can stop and tour Huliheʻe Palace, Kona’s only royal residence. Visit Mokuaikaua Church, the first Christian church in Hawaiʻi, built in 1838 out of lava rock and koa wood. Further along, you’ll find Kalokoo-Honokohau, an ancient place open for exploration.  Just past the airport is home to some of the most expensive resorts – and best beaches – on the Big Island. All beaches have public access; so feel free to explore these lovely oases.

Driving Kona Coast:  Gems of South Kohala

Photo:  Mauna Lani Golf.

Photo: Mauna Lani Golf.

Venturing north into South Kohala is a golfer’s paradise. South Kohala boasts some of the most scenic golf courses in the world. The Hilton Waikoloa is a fun stop for families with small children to ride through the canals on little boats or take the monorail through the resort complex. Just north of the resorts is Kawaihae Harbor. Outside the harbor is Puʻukohola Heiau, a restored ancient Hawaiian temple that is worth a look around. After the heiau tour, stop at the harbor for some delicious Hawaiian shave ice!

Driving Kona Coast:  End Your Journey in Scenic, Historical North Kohala

pololu valley big island hawaii

Photo: Hawaii.com member Bernice N.

Heading north from Kawaihae, take Route 270 up the scenic coastline through the little towns of Kapaʻau and Hawi. You’ll pass several major historic sites, including Lapakahi State Historical Park, a historic fishing village where visitors can take an educational tour and see cultural demonstrations. During the winter months, keep your eye out for Humpback whales, as they tend to come very close to shore. Past Lapakahi is Moʻokini Heiau and the birthplace of Kamehameha the Great. This area is sacred to Hawaiians, so please be respectful when visiting. Next, visit the lovely artist town of Hawi and browse the quaint shops. The next town you’ll come to is Kapaʻau, known for it’s grand statue of King Kamehameha, which stands in front of the courthouse. Stay on Route 270 until it ends—you won’t be disappointed. The breathtaking views of Pololu Valley are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Take a deep breath and take it all in!

Don’t forget – special rental car discounts are available for Hawaii.com members. Check rental car rates here.

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