Kristina Connover for U.S.A. Today on travel tips for Kailua Kona, Hawaii. One bucket item to add is a snorkel or manta ray tour for an experience you’ll never forget!
Kona, the dry, leeward side of the Big Island of Hawaii, is a district that reaches toward the Kohala Gold Coast resorts to the north, the Kona coffee country to the south and the upcountry, artsy town of Holualoa to the east. Visitors to this sunny coast will encounter charming villages, scenic coastal drives, splendid snorkeling areas, easy surfing spots and plenty of historical sites.
Research the timing and itinerary of your trip well in advance of your arrival. The high season in Kona runs from November through March, a time of year that brings clear weather; drier, more comfortable conditions; and the annual migration of humpback whales. Airfares can vary widely, but you will generally find the shoulder seasons of spring and fall to offer the most affordable rates. The most expensive fares occur during the Christmas through New Year’s periods, and any time school is out of session.
Stay at a variety of locations, from mid-range resorts such as the Outrigger Keauhou Beach to the affordable and quaint Kona Tiki Hotel located oceanfront on Ali’i Drive. Private vacation home rentals are another popular option, providing guests with kitchens that help save money on dining out. For those who prefer the great outdoors, three-day camping via permit is available at Ho’okena Beach Park in South Kona.
Explore the Kona side via a rental car, which is essential due to the very limited public transportation serving the island. Take a trip to Kekaha State Park just north of the airport and enjoy the white sand beaches and peaceful bays abounding with sea turtles in a classic, tropical picture-postcard setting. Drive about 15 miles south to see the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, or place of refuge, and one of the three national parks on the island. At Kahalu’u Beach Park on Ali’i Drive, you’ll find concessions and easy access to premier snorkeling.
Tour a genuine coffee farm, one of 500 that dot the volcanically rich upcountry of south Kona. For more than a century, the Kona coffee belt, about a mile wide and 16 miles long, has been producing the only coffee grown in the United States. Stop at one of the many estates, cafes, restaurants and roadside stands along the way for tours or a free taste of this delicious, gourmet brew.
Enjoy the intangible “Aloha Spirit” that abounds in Hawaii but especially in Kona. It is a warm, friendly, welcoming attitude making visitors feel at home. As Duke Kahanamoku, the legendary surf icon and ambassador of aloha described it: “In Hawaii we greet friends, loved ones and strangers with Aloha, which means love. Aloha is the key word to the universal spirit of real hospitality….”