Hawaii’s West Kohala coast

Hawaii has lots of shore but not much beach. If you recall that the island is made of volcanoes, you can understand why sand is uncommon. It has to wash in from somewhere else, or form from the waves grinding up rock–a slow process. Usually a “beach” is rocky shore with a place to swim and snorkel. Some marked spots along the shore have parking areas, some have restrooms and picnic tables, and a few have patches of sand.

We are located at the northern tip of the Big Island in the center of the Kohala region. The west side of the island (leeward) is dry, and the east (windward) side gets most of the rain. In this post, I am going north to south along the west side of the island as I talk about our visits. There are so many places to stop and look at the shore that in almost a month, we haven’t gotten as far south as Kona. All the stops I mention here are in Kohala.

The beach at the end of Old Coast Guard Rd. is the closest to our house.

Old Coast Guard beach is all rocks.

There are similar rocky places along the coast marked “Shore Access.” Some, like Old Coast Guard beach, are merely a place where it is possible to clamber over rocks into the water. At Kapa’a Beach park, the next stop to the south, it’s not too difficult to get over the rocks and into the water, but slippery to get out.

At Mahukona Beach Park, the shore is rocky. This park has a large concrete slab and a ladder into the water; it’s my favorite snorkeling. There are lots of fish of different types and sizes. Amanda and Jim spotted an octopus and watched it change color from the dark of the rocks to the pale tan of the sand.

This is me snorkeling at Mahukona Beach Park
Partially devoured, but still big, shave ice.

There is a gap of several miles to Spencer Beach. We spent a day on the sand at Spencer Beach, snorkeling along the section of reef just offshore. We didn’t get to walking the path through the adjacent Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic site (traditional Hawaiian monuments from the era of King Kamehameha) until another day. Fortunately, just north of the beach is Kawaihae and the tiny strip mall with Anuenue Shave Ice and Ice Cream. It’s a tiny window with excellent ice cream (chocolate macnut anyone?), and shave ice of myriad flavors and colors. You can get a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the center of your shave ice, and a snowcap of sweetened condensed milk on top. It’s a huge shot of sugar–there are no small sizes.

In the resort area of Waikoloa we tried for a parking spot in the public access area for Mauna Kea beach. Mauna Kea is a sprawling resort, some say the best along this part of the coast. Though the resort is required to provide public access, it is allowed to limit the number of cars that can park, and a guard turns away visitors when no spaces are left. Perhaps we’ll try another day. Hapuna Beach Park is nearby and has a sandy beach along with rocks.

Still in the resort area, we found 49 Black Sand Beach, where the parking was free and the snorkeling was excellent. Amanda found us a sea turtle to watch as it browsed along the bottom, hanging on to coral with one flipper and pushing its head in among the formations to nibble on green things.

49 Black Sand Beach is the southernmost we’ve visited for swimming and snorkeling, on the day Amanda and Jim were leaving. We stopped at Snorkel Bob’s Mauna Lani store to return their rented gear, and got poke bowls for lunch from the Foodland opposite.

School of yellow tang, Kealakokua Bay, Hawaii (Wikimedia photo)

There are even more “beaches” all along the west coast of the Big Island, and we could spend a lot longer than a month visiting them. For now, we’re pretty happy to find a beach with good snorkeling an eight minute drive from our house. The photo at the top of this post shows a large group of yellow tang (fish) just under the surface at Mahukona Beach Park. The internet photo here shows yellow tang fish with an underwater camera.


Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

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