The Big Island offers a wealth of unique experiences and places to see not available anywhere else. Seeing the volcano, black sand beach, or the sunset from the Mauna Kea summit is on many visitors’ list of activities; however, they can take a lot of time, driving, and preparation, leaving you tired and exhausted at the end of the day. On the other hand, suppose you are not into all-day journeys and lots of driving but want to explore the island beyond the resorts. In that case, some interesting sites on the Kohala Coast will make for a fun, easy, and enjoyable trip any day of your Hawaiian vacation. Kawaihae is one such place outside the resort corridor and is worth visiting.
The historic harbor town of Kawaihae is a port community on the northwest side of the Island of Hawaiʻi, located just a few minutes’ drive from the Kohala Coast resorts. It includes a fuel depot, shipping terminal, and military landing site. Outside of the man-made break wall is a popular surf spot, the Pua Kailima o Kawaihae Cultural Surf Park.
Kawaihae features a few restaurants and art galleries. To the north of the harbor are the Kawaihae Canoe Club and boat ramp. You can grab a quiet lunch or a cocktail at Seafood Bar and Grill, which serves the freshest local seafood in a casual, comfortable, and fun atmosphere. They have the best tiki bar on the island, and their tropical cocktails are extraordinary.
While you are there, stop by the Hale I’a Da Fish House. The shop doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it is the best place to buy fresh seafood on the island. Located right across from the harbor, the store offers “caught that day” fresh fish, super friendly staff, great poke, and reasonable prices.
Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site
You cannot miss this site when going down towards the Kawaihae Harbor. Sitting on the top of the hill and overlooking the bay, this ancient temple is one of the most important historical sites on the Islands of Hawaii and is definitely a must-see.
From the moment you arrive at Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, you quickly realize the significance of this unique place. The great temple of Kamehameha the Great, Pu’ukohola Heiau, rises majestically above the turquoise waters of the Pacific, a silent testament to the most renowned king of Hawai’i. This site is where the history-makers of Hawai’i lived and where their history comes to life. It is interesting to note that Kamehameha I and his warriors built this temple by passing water-worn rocks from Pololu Valley over 20 plus miles. Amazingly, the temple was completed in one year using only manual labor and a “human chain” to pass the rocks.
Start from the visitor center, then walk the paved trails towards the temple and the offering tower. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to go inside, as the temple is considered sacred and used for Hawaiian religious ceremonies to this day by Hawaiians only.
Down below at the Pelekane Bay are the submerged ruins of a Hale o Kapuni Heiau (temple) that was once dedicated to sharks. Throughout the year, black-tipped reef sharks come into the bay, and the best time to see them is usually in the early morning. During the winter months, humpback whales are a very common sight, and you can sometimes spot spinner dolphins frolicking in the ocean as well.
Spencer Beach Park
Next to the heiau is the Spencer Beach Park, a quiet white sand beach backed by tree-shaded lawns and picnic tables and equipped with showers, restrooms, and a parking lot. A long shallow reef directly offshore and the extensive harbor landfill to the north provide good protection from the prevailing winds and offshore waves. Swimming, snorkeling, and skin diving opportunities are excellent. Hazardous conditions ordinarily occur only during severe storms. The protected beach and the facilities provided at the park have made it a very popular site, especially for families with little children. It can get crowded on holidays and weekends; however, weekdays are relatively quiet with just a few people around. It is a great place to have a picnic, watch the sunset, or both.
Being so conveniently located from the resorts, Kawaihae offers a unique opportunity to experience the island’s history, nature, and flavors without exhausting driving and need for preparation. So please put it on your list next time you visit the Big Island.
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We hope to see you soon – a hui hou!