A great way to spend a day if you’re staying at one of the resorts in the Kohala region of Hawaii Island, the Big Island, is to take a driving tour of the Kona Coast. Along the way, you’ll see some great scenery and we’ll make a few stops that you’ll really enjoy. This Google map will help you plan your trip and show you where the stops along the way are located.
Chances are that if you’ve stayed at one of the many great resorts that extend along the entire Kohala Coast, you’ve arrived at Kona International Airport, rented your car, headed to the airport exit and made a left turn on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Hwy (H-19) for the drive north to your resort.
A surprising number of visitors never explore what lies to the right of that airport turn, along the island’s Kona Coast.
We’ll begin our daytrip at that airport exit since we can’t know at which resort you’re staying further north or if you’re actually staying in Kailua-Kona itself.
1. From Kailua-Kona to Honaunau With Stops Along the Way Back
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The most efficient way to make this drive is to explore the sites at the furthest distance first and end the drive in Kailua-Kona town where you can shop, explore the sites and have a dinner at one of the town’s excellent restaurants.
The drive to our first stop takes us straight south along the main highway. Of course, being Hawaii, the road will change name three times along the way and change highway numbers once. What is first called the Queen Ka’ahumanu Hwy (H-19) will turn into the Kuakini Highway (H-11) and then the Mamalahoa Highway (H-11). Just keep heading south from the airport for about 27 miles. It should take you 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic.
Keep your eyes peeled for City of Refuge Road (see map). When you reach it make a right turn. It’s a difficult turn, so take it slow. You’ll be heading northwest. In a little over a mile, you’ll see a sign for Painted Church Road. This is our first stop.
2. The Painted Church
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The Saint Benedict Roman Catholic Church, or better known as The Painted Church, is an active church and is listed in the Hawaii State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places. The doors are left open during the day.
In 1899 Father John Velghe arrived from Belgium. Together with the congregation, the church was dismantled and moved up the mountain to its present location. Father Velghe then painted the interior of the church with the numbers of biblical scenes and scenes portraying the lives of various saints. They were all done with ordinary house-paint. These paintings aided him in his pastoral duties since many of the Hawaiians were unable to read.
This is just a brief stop, but one worth the visit. Be sure to leave a small donation in the box at the door.
3. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
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Our next stop is about 4.5 miles or 13 minutes away. Head west on City of Refuge Road and you’ll see signs for Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.
Ancient Hawaiians lived under a very strict set of sacred laws that even their ali’i or royalty were obligated to obey. In most instances, the punishment for breaking one of these laws, or kapu, was death.
The only means to escape was to reach what was called the Pu’uhonua, or place of refuge. These places of refuge were scattered across the islands. Once you arrived here, you were safe from any punishment.
The Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is the largest of the surviving places of refuge. It is maintained by the National Park Service and there is a small fee to enter the Park.
Leave yourself at least an hour to explore the grounds. You will learn much about ancient Hawaiian culture, religion and architecture.
4. Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park
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As you exit the National Historical Park, bear left and head northwest along City of Refuge Road hugging the coast. After about 3.2 miles or 9-10 minutes, you’ll continue straight onto Puuhonua Road which descends down to sea level at Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park.
With a good set of binoculars or a good zoom lens on your camera, you can look across the bay and see the Captain Cook Monument. It was at the location on the Big Island that Captain James Cook, first landed on this island in 1778. Cook was the first British explorer to make contact with the Hawaiian people. The Hawaiians believed that he was their god Lono. It was here that Cook died in a fight with the Hawaiians in 1779 when he returned to the island.
This is a good place to rest and perhaps have a bite to eat if you have brought a picnic lunch with you.
5. Kona Coffee Living History Farm
As you exit the park you’ll be heading inland and higher in elevation. Make a left onto Lower Napoopoo Road and continue up this winding road for about 4.5 miles until you reach the intersection with Highway 11. Make a right turn. You will have been on this portion of the highway earlier in the day when you headed south. You’re going to go less than 1/2 mile. Your destination will be on the right, the Kona Coffee Living History Farm.
The Kona Region of Hawaii Island is best known as the home of Kona Coffee, considered by many to be the best coffee in the world. Scattered throughout this region are hundreds of coffee farms of various sizes. Many are still operated by the descendants of the original Japanese settlers who first grew coffee in this area in the late 1800’s.
The Kona Coffee Living History Farm is an excellent place to learn about the history of Kona Coffee and the people who grow it. See their website for admission prices, hours and tour schedule.
6. Greenwell Farms
Now that you have learned a bit about the history of Kona Coffee, it’s time to visit an actual coffee farm. As you exit the Kona Coffee Living History Farm make a left on Highway 11 and drive a little over 2 miles back towards Kailua-Kona. Watch for signs for your destination which will be on the left, Greenwell Farms.
Greenwell Farms is one of the largest of the Kona Coffee farms. Not only will you have the chance to sample various coffee products. In addition, you can take a free walking tour of the farm which will take you right into the coffee fields. You’ll also see how coffee is harvested and roasted. Tours run continuously from 8:30 a.m. through 4:00 p.m., Monday through Sunday.
7. Kahaluu Beach Park
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By this point, it’s like mid to late afternoon. There is just one more brief stop before you get to your final destination. That is Kahaluu Beach Park in the Keauhou area of the Kona Coast.
As you exit Greenwell Farms make a left on Highway 11 and head north. After about 6.5 miles, make a left onto Kamehameha III Road. The signs will be directing you to Keahou. After about a mile and a half make a right onto Ali’i Drive. In about 1/2 mile you will see a lovely bay and beach park on your left. This is Kahaluu Beach Park. It’s next to the now-closed Keauhou Beach Resort.
The resort was closed in the fall of 2012. Kamehameha Schools, which owns the resort, plans to demolish the resort, restore the site to its original, historic land plan and use the property for cultural and educational purposes.
Depending on the state of the demolition, you may be able to walk to the recently restored Hapaialii and Keeku Heiau.
From the beach park, you can often see surfers in Kahaluu Bay and you may even be able to see one of the many Hawaiian green sea turtles or honu which frequent the area.
8. Kailua Village
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As you leave Kahaluu Beach Park, continue down Ali’i Drive for about 5 miles and you’ll be right in the heart of historic Kailua Village. Kailua Village is often referred to as Kailua-Kona in order to differentiate it from Kailua Town on the island of Oahu.
Kailua-Kona has lots of great shopping as well as plenty of great restaurants. By the time you get there, it will likely be time for dinner, so stay in town and eat! Huggo’s has wonderful views of the bay, especially at sunset. They also have some of the best food on the island.
This will have been a busy day and we’ve only touched upon a few of the many places to see and things to do along the Big Island’s Kona Coast.
Remember to view the large Google map and step-by-step directions to the sites we have discussed.