South Shore Tour
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, South Point and Green Sand Beach, Honaunau Bay and Place of Refuge, Captain Cook Monument (recommended for a separate day), Kona
depending on your plans, about 9-12 hours
Volcano - Kona, no stops: 2.5 hours
Volcano – South Point: 1 hr
Green Sand Beach Hike: 3hrs
Captain Cook Monument: 2-3hrs
Volcano - Kona: about 97 miles (~ 156km), 2.5 hrs, no stops
Volcano – South Point: 50 miles (~ 80km), 1 hr, no stops
South Point – Green Sand Beach: 5 miles/ 8km (roundtrip)
What to bring:
sturdy shoes, sunscreen and rash shirt,
water and food, camera and underwater camera
Coming from Hilo: Take HWY 19 South towards the airport and make a right onto HWY 11. Behind Volcano and the National Park drive South towards Punaluu.
Getting here from Puna: Take HWY 130 and make a left onto HWY 11 West towards Volcano. Behind Volcano and the National Park drive South towards Punaluu.
From Kona/Waikoloa: Reverse the tour and start with Kona. Later follow Alii Drive and further along Mamalahoa Road and make a left at its end to get onto HWY 11.
Driving up the shore from Volcano you have beautiful views over the ocean and Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. If you are here in winter or during cold weather you might even see snow on the peaks.
1st stop: Punalu’u Black Sand Beach behind milemarker 55
If you are looking for the perfect beach setting with sea turtles you have to visit Punalu’u. The setting is incredibly scenic with high palm trees and a pond framing the bay. Here you have the chance to observe sea turtles, which are usually lining the shore or sunbath on the beach. Furthermore, the beach is perfect to relax in the fine sand or to go swimming. Just be aware of the cold stream running here and look after the sea turtles that usually come in groups.
2nd stop: South Point and Green Sand Beach
Behind Na’alehu and milemarker 70 turn left onto the 8 miles long South Point Road that brings you to the southernmost point of the US. On your way you will pass an old and abandoned wind farm that lost the competition against the newer one next door. Photographers amongst you might find a new motif here since the flaking turbines within the green hills next to some cows form an extraordinary atmosphere.
With every mile you are driving it is getting windier and you should secure everything that can fly away as soon you get out of the car. At the fork stay right and ignore the sign to the visitor center. At the end you reach the platform where fishermen launch their boats.
Be careful not to fall into one of the holes in front of the platforms. Ancient Hawaiians carved them because the rough sea would have destroyed their canoes in a minute. Instead they dropped thick rods down the holes and wrapped them around their canoes to keep them tied and away from the cliff while fishing. The ocean around South Point offers a lot of fish varieties and is still popular with local fishermen and residents.
If you go to the left and pass the light beacon you are at the actual South Point. The path along the shore finally gets you to Green Sand Beach. If you do not have a 4WD you have to hike there since the road is too rough for a common rental car. By the way – although all car rentals carry SUV’s, most of them do not have a 4WD! So make sure you know what kind of SUV you are driving. The distance to Green Sand Beach is 2.5 miles per direction and takes hikers about 2 hrs each.
In front of Green Sand Beach you have to climb down a partially collapsed cinder cone. Make sure you climb over the lowest or the middle part of the cone. Stay away from the highest section since it is very unstable.
The green sand comes from olivine, a silicate mineral in the lava. As soon as the olivine is exposed to water its sediments are turned into green sand. So far there is enough cinder cone left that carries enough olivine but geologists say that this source will die out soon and the beach is going to look like any other beach.
3rd stop: Honaunau Bay and Place of Refuge
Back on HWY 11 driving North make a left onto HWY 160 (Ke Ala o Keawe Road) and stay left until you reach Honaunau Bay and Pu’uhonua o Honaunau after 3 miles, which is also known as Place of Refuge.
During the time of the Hawaiian chiefs and the kapu system, residents breaking the kapu laws where usually penalized with death through a club, fire, spear or strangulation. Breaking laws was easy since people from the lower class weren’t allowed to share same streets with the upper class, coming close to a chief, interrupt him or even dare to eat together with the other gender.
If a lawbreaker was lucky enough to avoid the penalty the only place to make up for his damage were the places of refuge. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau belonged to these places and gave lawbreakers asylum. In return they had to go through several rituals that were preset by priests. After finishing the rituals the lawbreakers were free again, able to return home, and to continue living with their families.
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau is well preserved and features Hawaiian houses, heiaus (temples), a mausoeleum with the bones of several chiefs, and petropglyphs.
Besides, next to the Place of Refuge you have the beautiful Honaunau Bay with excellent conditions for snorkeling and scuba diving. Flat lava rocks are spread in the water where you can rest or sunbath but still can watch the colorful fish in the clear waters. Furthermore, there is a high chance to watch spinner dolphins that often come to the bay to take care of their young.
The only downside of Honaunau is that you either have to park on the street or within the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park where you have to pay an admission of $5 per car.
4th stop: Captain Cook Monument/ Kealakekua Bay
When you follow 160 further North you end up at Kealakekua Bay. If you walk to the ocean you will see a white monument at the far left. This is the place where Captain Cook was buried after he died in a riot with the Hawaiians and the chief in 1779.
Most tourists visit the monument by renting a kayak from one of the locals that manage the parking lot and boat launch at the bay. The prices vary from $50-80 for a double kayak and less for single kayaks.
Since the surf takes up during afternoon it’s recommended to paddle out in the morning when the sea is calmer and the water clearer. Per direction it will take you about 30 minutes. On your way you have a high chance to cross a swarm of dolphins since the bay is popular with them. The kayak renters usually wait from 7am for customers. I recommend checking out prices first during your tour from/to Volcano and returning another day after negotiating and reserving kayaks with one of the renters.
The area around the monument offers outstanding snorkeling conditions. Just make sure you are not getting to close to the cliffs since rocks are falling down from time to time. Before doing the kayak tour apply for and print out a permit for landing in advance. Sometimes an official is hiking down the cliffs and start asking for permits. If you don’t have one you might end up paying a fine of $30. Here is the link where you can apply: http://hawaiistateparks.org/parks/brochure_pdfs/hsp_kaawaloa_vessel_landing_permit.pdf
Please note that they usually only process 10 permits per day to prevent the area from being overrun.
Alternatively you can hike down a former road that goes off at the corner of HWY 11 and Napoopoo Road. The roundtrip is 4-miles (~ 6.4.km) and you have to overcome a 1,300 ft (~400m) steep descent. You also can book a boat tour from Kona. There are operators that offer tours twice a day. As mentioned above go for a tour in the morning, since the sea is calm and the water clearer than in the afternoon. The tours range between $100 and $155 depending on the tours’ amenities and duration.
5th stop: Kona
From Captain Cook Monument follow Napoopoo Road passing an Old Coffee Mill and make a left onto route 160 to get back to HWY 11. Follow the HWY until Kealakekua and make a left into Halekii Street. Continue up to the street’s end and make a right onto the newly built Mamalahoa Bypass Road. This one leads you along the shore to Alii Drive and Kona.
Along Alii Drive you pass several beaches and many resorts lining the shore. If you want to snorkel or surf you should stop at Kahalu’u Beach Park. The area is easy to access and the most fishlife awaits you in the middle section or further offshore. It might be packed; nevertheless, you will find a spot for yourself since most of the snorkelers stay close to the beach.
In front of the lovely little church to your right you see a surf spot. If you like to try surfing, Kona Surf School at the other side of the street offers lessons and also rents equipment.
Following Alii Drive you come closer to Kona’s center with several small shopping centers and restaurants. If you want to explore the area with its historical buildings, like Hulihee Palace and Mokuaikaua Church park between Hulalai Road and Lilikana Lane. If street parking along Alii Drive is full you find some parking lots behind the buildings to your right.
The area is very touristy but the Hulihee Palace and the church are beautiful must-sees. The palace is the former vacation home of the Hawaiian royals and was turned into a museum in the late 1920’s. Link to the museum: http://daughtersofhawaii.org/
The church is the oldest on the Hawaiian Islands and was built in 1820. Since the first structures didn’t survive several fires in the first years the new structure was erected in the 1830s with lava rocks from a former heiau.
Kona is known as annual venue of the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon. The event starts every year in October next to the pier with swimming. Later the bike comes into play and the route goes along HWY 19 North to Hawi and back. The final running discipline goes again along HWY 19 up to Kona airport, and then down to Keauhou at the end of Alii Drive before the contestants finish at the pier. The average time needed for the triathlon is 12 hours.
Depending if you just did a day tour along the shore or continue to the North you will find some nice recommendations where to spend the evening in the restaurant section or where to watch the sunset under “Beaches”.