Aloha! Welcome to Kona Beach Villa

We wouldn't blame you if you spent all your time snorkeling at Kahaluu Beach. But there's a lot more to Big Island including swimming with dolphins in their natural habitat, discovering beautiful secluded beaches, and experiencing the warmth and glow of a live active volcano. Here are some of our recommendations to help you with your itinerary planning. You'll also find some great suggestions on the website.

Kahaluu is the arguably the best snorkeling spot on Big Island and by extension, one of the best snorkeling spots in all of Hawaii, so it goes without saying you'll probably be spending a lot of time here. We recommend snorkeling in the mornings, when crowds are smaller and water visibility is best. Wednesdays is when cruise ships dock to Kona, so expect to see larger crowds on these days.

The next best snorkeling spots on the island are Kealakekua Bay (Captain Cook) and Two Step. Kealakekua is a bit more difficult to reach so is best accessed through a licensed boat operator (see our note about Hang Loose in the Dolphin Swim section) but rewards those who come here with fantastic snorkeling and virtually no crowds. Two Step is famed for its steep drop off to one side creating an otherworldly snorkeling experience. Here's a very nice link that gives the most detailed info on snorkeling spots around Kona:

Dolphin Swim
74 Kealakehe Pkwy.
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

(808) 345-4262

Our #1 recommended activity which consistently draws praise from guests. Imagine swimming & snorkeling alongside dozens (and often hundreds) of wild spinner and bottlenose dolphins in their NATURAL habitat (this is NOT your resort style Dolphin encounter where the dolphins are kept in captivity). Interact and swim alongside these magnificent creatures as they gracefully swim, jump, and spin through air and sea amidst the company of humans in the deep blue Pacific Ocean. The picture above was taken by a friend of ours who said the Dolphin Swim was the most memorable experience she's done in her 15+ trips to Hawaii. After recently trying the Dolphin Swim for ourselves, we definitely would rank it atop our list of must-do activities while on Big Island.

Since we had such a great time on our own Dolphin Swim, we asked the owner/operator of the boat we used (Simon of Hang Loose) if he would offer up some discounts directly for our guests to take part in this awesome experience. Here's the special pricing he's offering for the Dolphin Swim (along with some other activities) if you call him direct and tell him Hee & James sent you:

Simon Velaj, Owner/Operator
Hang Loose Boat Tours
mobile: (808) 345-4262

Special Pricing for Friends of Hee & James:
4-hour Kealakekua & Dolphin Swim Combo $90
3-hour Dolphin Swim & Reef Snorkel $75
Manta Ray Snorkel $75
Whale Watch $65

We want to assure you we get no kickbacks from Simon. We just want our guests to enjoy their time in Kona, and it looks like the Dolphin Swim should be on all guest itineraries. There are many operators you can choose from for a Dolphin Swim, so feel free to shop around and study the reviews. For reference, here is what others (TripAdvisor, Yelp) have said about Simon and Hang Loose.

If you have the time and budget for the Dolphin Swim, try it out and let us know how it goes! Don't forget the Dramamine.

Manta Ray Night Dive & Snorkel
via Hang Loose Boat Tours
74 Kealakehe Pkwy.
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

The Kona Coast is by far the best place to experience these amazing creatures. Enjoy a sunset cruise along the Big Island’s Kona Coast to areas frequented by the manta rays, usually in Garden Eel Cove or right in front of the Sheraton Kona Resort. Spotlights are used to attract mantas which feed off the illuminated plankton. Scuba divers on the ocean floor and snorkelers on the surface are treated to an amazing show as these giant mantas glide gracefully through the waters, often getting just inches away. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see giant manta rays feeding and gliding gracefully under the boat’s shining lights.

If you'll just be opting for the manta ray snorkel, we have arranged for special pricing with Simon Velaj, owner/operator of Hang Loose Boat Tours. Call Simon up direct at (808) 345-4262 to get the Manta Ray Snorkel and Kona Sunset cruise for only $75; this special pricing is even cheaper than what you'll find on the Hawaii Discount website. The entire trip takes about 2.5 hours. Be sure to bring a waterproof camera and don't forget the Dramamine!

Manini'owali Beach (Kua Bay)
GPS: 19.809942, -156.006594

Kua Bay sports the most amazing turquoise blue waters you'll find on Big Island, and is also one of Big Island's best swimming beaches. Access to Kua Bay used to require a 4WD vehicle, but recent improvements have made getting there much easier now. Look for the turnout just south of mile marker 88 on Highway 19 to Kua Bay Access Rd. The road will dead end in a circle where you can offload your beach gear. Here is also where you'll find the outdoor showers and restrooms. Bring plenty of sunscreen and water. There are no lifeguards here, so be mindful of the surf conditions.

Makalawena Beach
GPS: 19.79118, -156.029

Kua Bay can get busy during the holidays and weekends. For a more secluded beach, you may want to try nearby Makalawena Beach and its remote cove, white sand, and tranquil waves. From Highway 19, turn towards the ocean between mile markers 90 and 91 (look for the Kekaha Kai State Park sign). Follow the unpaved road (4WD is not necessary) till it ends where you'll see other parked cars. From this parking spot, you'll need to carry all your gear for another 20-30 minutes to the beach. Walk North and through the gate. Follow the path towards the trees, through some lava fields until you arrive at the sand dunes. From the sand dunes, break towards the ocean for Makalawena Beach. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen. Here is a map showing the hike from the parking spot to Makalawena Beach.

Honaunau Bay (Two Step)
84-5571 Honaunau Beach Rd.
Captain Cook, HI 96704

If you find the shallow water snorkeling at Kahaluu Beach too tame, head on over to Honaunau Bay (aka Two Step). The location and orientation of Honaunau Bay helps to hide it from coastal swells, enabling sunlight to reach to depths that foster lively corrals full of tropical fish. Two large lava rock flats serve as the launching point into Two Step. On the left (South) side are shallower waters (~10-25 feet) where turtles frequently chill.

On the right (North) side, the water depth slowly drops to ~30 feet, followed by a dramatic second drop to well over 100 feet. These water depths are the reason Two Step draws skin divers, scuba divers, and snorkelers alike. Because of these deep waters, spinner dolphins often love to come to Honaunau Bay to rest and can be frequently seen in the mornings. There are porta-potties and picnic tables but no formal parking lot, so get here early (best by 9am) for a spot. Like Kahaluu, you'll have best water visibility in the morning.

Once you're done snorkeling, pay a visit to the nearby Place of Refuge.

Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau (Place of Refuge) National Historical Park
1871 Trail
Captain Cook, HI 96704

(808) 328-2326

This 182-acre national historic park was once the home of royal Hawaiians and a place of refuge for ancient Hawaiian lawbreakers. Before the Kapu (sacred laws) system was abolished in the early 19th century, breaking of kapu would normally mean death. The kapu-breaker's only chance for survival would be to evade his pursuers and make it to a puuhonua (a sacred place of refuge). Once inside the puuhonua, an absolution ceremony would take place to allow the kapu-breaker to return to society.

Take a self-guided walking tour and explore the grounds. Learn the ancient art of canoe making and how ancient Hawaiians lived. Be sure to see the Great Wall, standing 10-feet high and 17-feet thick! Check out the Hale o Keawe Heiau, a sacred temple that housed the bones of 23 alii (chiefs), now guarded by fierce Ki'i statues. Beautifully restored, Pu'uhonua O Honaunau is still considered a sacred site so please be respectful while visiting.

The palace grounds and temples are wonderfully scenic and make for great photos, so be sure to bring a camera. Plan a whole day aside to visit Pu'uhonua O Honaunau in tandem with adjacent Honaunau Bay (Two Step). Place of Refuge opens daily from 7am - sunset. Parking is $5, but is free after 5pm...perfect for catching sunset.

Mauka Meadows Coffee Farm
75-5476 Mamalahoa Hwy.
Holualoa, HI 96725

(808) 322-3636

Kona has no shortage of coffee plantations you can visit to enjoy some great Kona coffee. But what sets Mauka Meadows apart from the rest is the ambience and beauty of its setting. Aside from offering some of the best Kona peabody coffee on Big Island, the plantation offers stunning views of the Kona coastline, complete with a scenic garden and infinity pool that makes for an idyllic way to spend the afternoon. Be sure to bring your camera!

Royal Kona Resort
75-5852 Ali'i Dr.
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

(808) 329-3111

No Hawaiian experience is complete without attending a luau. Just a few minutes up the street from our condo is the Voyagers of the Pacific Luau. You'll get to see the pua'a (pig) unearthed from the Imu (underground oven), enjoy a splendid all-you-can-eat Hawaiian-style buffet (with full bar), and enjoy a dynamically entertaining Polynesian show, all set amidst the spectacular ocean backdrop at the Royal Kona Resort.

There are several luaus around the island, so feel free compare and research. Check out the Hawaii Discounts page for best pricing.

Linda Sue II
Honokohau Small Boat Harbor (south side)
GPS: 19.6684, -156.0218


Come catch the fish of a lifetime in Kona, one of world's top deep sea fishing destinations. Five huge mountain masses protect the Kona coastline, enabling relatively calm sea conditions that allow for world class sportfishing year round. Just three miles straight out from harbor, water depths around Kona quickly reach over 6,000 feet deep! Many species of billfish roam the Kona coast along with monster tuna, mahi mahi (dorado), and ono (wahoo). Just recently, this 1,368 pound blue marlin was caught just off Kona in July 2015. If luck is on your side, you may just catch the fish of a lifetime!

There are many sportfishing boats to choose from and nearly all of them will launch from Honokohau Harbor. Check out the Discount Hawaii Big Island sportfishing page for both open party and charter deals. The cheapest option we found is to book directly with Jeff Heintz aboard the Linda Sue II, a 35' charter boat with a 2-man crew operating out of Honokohau Harbor. Call Jeff directly at (808) 987-4773 or check out his website.

Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company
61-3251 Maluokalani St, Waimea, HI 96743
(888) 643-6688

Learn how macadamia nuts are grown, harvested, and packaged at Hamakua Nut Company. Through the glass windows, you'll be able to see the assembly line and workers actually prepare this delightful staple that is as Hawaiian as pineapples are. Sample all the amazing varieties of both regular and flavored macadamia nuts before you buy. The four pound bags for $32 are a great deal for macadamia nut lovers.

On the way back, be sure to take the coastal scenic route along Highways 270, 250, 190, and 180 where you'll see rolling green hills and breathtaking landscapes overlooking Kailua-Kona.

Ka Lae (South Point)
GPS: 18.9111,-155.681111

South Point is the southernmost point of the Big Island of Hawaii and of the 50 United States. The strong currents in this area make South Point a popular fishing spot. Swimming is not recommended due to the strong currents here, but many tourists still find South Point and its cliff jump irrestible. To get to South Point, take the South Point Road exit on Highway 11 between mile markers 69 and 70. The eight mile drive along South Point Road will take you past the scenic Old Kamoa Wind Farm. Note the strong winds here which cause many of the wind blown trees to grow horizontally rather than straight up. South Point Road will eventually fork and split off into two. The fork to the right leads to Ka Lae (South Point) while the fork on the left leads to Papakolea Beach.

Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach)
GPS: 18.93605, -155.6465

Papakolea Beach (Green Sand Beach) is 1 of only 4 green sand beaches in the world, sitting at the edge of Puʻu Mahana, a cinder cone that erupted 50,000 years ago. The green sand here is a silicate deposit of Big Island lava called olivine. To get to Papakolea Beach, take the left fork where South Point Road splits until it ends. From here, it's a 30-minute hike to Papakolea Beach. You'll likely find locals offering 4WD rides for the last 30-min section ($15 round trip), and it's well worth the fee. Be wary of the strong currents at the beach. Be sure to bring plenty of water.

Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station
Mauna Kea Access Road
Hilo, HI 96720

(808) 961-2180

The journey to 4200m (14,000 feet) Mauna Kea delights with strange unearthly landscapes, amazing cloudscapes, breathtaking sunsets, and heavenly starscapes that will bring out the kid in all of us. Sitting atop Mauna Kea are the world's largest telescopes for optical, infrared, and submillimeter astronomy and while the observatories are are not open to the public, the Visitor Information Station (VIS) welcomes visitors with open arms. Learn about the fascinating work astronomers do here and stargaze at the heavens thru the many telescopes at the VIS.

Be prepared for the very cold weather here. If you plan on visiting the summit, be aware you will need a 4WD vehicle past the VIS. Be sure to check the Mauna Kea summit road conditions before heading out. Due to the huge elevation change (14,000 feet) in coming from Kona/Hilo, altitude sickness is a real possibility so be cognizant and acclimatize at the VIS before heading up to the summit.

Kīlauea Visitor Center
1 Crater Rim Drive
Volcano, HI 96785

(808) 985-6000

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is a fascinating world of active volcanism, biological diversity, and Hawaiian culture, past and present. Be sure to explore the summit of Kīlauea volcano via Crater Rim Drive; an 11-mile road that encircles the summit caldera, passes through desert, lush tropical rain forest, traverses the caldera floor, and provides access to well-marked scenic stops and short walks.

Lava flows, eruptions, and conditions are constantly changing at Volcano. As of November 2017, there are two active eruptions. The first vent at Halema'uma'u Crater is easily viewed from the Jaggar Museum overlook. The second eruption is the Pu'u 'Ō'ō vent located 10 miles east of the summit, on the remote east rift zone of Kīlauea. While this area is not accessible to the public, lava from here (episode 61g lava flow) is flowing into the ocean at Kamokuna. Check the official Volcano National Park website for the latest updates.