Located just to the north of Kona International Airport, Kekaha Kai State Park draws locals and tourists who want hiking trails and white sand beaches. This state park’s various sections include three beaches and a cinder cone volcano to enjoy during your trip, but to take in everything, you may want to schedule several days to visit.
Once known as Kona Coast, the park changed its name to Kekaha Kai, which comes from Hawaiian for “the shoreline.” While its meaning may seem dull, the beaches at this state park are some of the best on the island featuring brilliant white sands and native wildlife.
The park itself has two official entrances. However, only the entrance to Maniniowali Beach (Kua Bay) is paved. The other entrance leads down a very rough road to Mahaiula Beach. Take this road in a 4WD vehicle if you have one. If you drive a car, travel to Maniniowali Beach and hike to the other locations in the park. To reach the volcano and third beach, Makalawena, you need to take the hiking trails as neither has road access. None of the beaches have lifeguards or potable water available. Use caution in the water and know your limits when swimming.
Despite the remoteness and rugged surroundings, the beaches themselves offer visitors swimming and surfing along pristine shores. Among the three, Kua Bay has the best swimming while
Connecting the three beaches in the park is a portion of the historic Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail. You can walk 4.5 miles of this trail from the northernmost beach, Maniniowali, to the southernmost, Mahaiula. This trail is the only way to see all three beaches because the land inland from Makalawena Beach is privately owned.
The Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail is not the only walking trail in the area. Other trails take you to the top of Puu Kuili and the interior areas of the state park. Follow the trails, bring plenty of water and sunscreen, and wear sturdy hiking shoes to enjoy any of these trails or for walking between beaches.
Don’t miss the following beaches and other points of interest within this state park:
Maniniowali Beach (Kua Bay)
Maniniowali Beach, also called Kua Bay, is the most accessible and popular of the three beaches in Kekaha Kai State Park. Located at the north end via the only paved entrance to the park, this beach features white sands, restrooms, showers, and picnic tables. However, there is no drinking water available. As a local favorite that gets crowded on weekends, go on a weekday and arrive early in the morning to enjoy a swim away from the crowds and enjoy cooler conditions. Then hike to the other two beaches during the late morning or afternoon.
While not a beach, you should schedule a trip to the summit of the old cinder cone volcano Puu Kuili. Though only 342 feet above sea level, it still offers an outstanding view of the entire Kekaha Kai State Park. You can reach this volcano on foot from either Makalawena Beach or Kua Bay.
Makalawena Beach is a secret, remote spot that not many people reach. When visiting, you’ll need to hike here from either Maniniowali or Mahaiula. Pack light and wear sturdy hiking shoes. Upon arrival, if you want to swim, the northern end of this beach is better due to its more protected bay. Don’t go inland from the beach because the land is not part of the state park and is privately owned.
You can drive with a 4WD vehicle to this southernmost beach at Kekaha Kai State Park. However, if you plan to hike the historic trail or drive a car, park at the more accessible Maniniowali Beach and walk down to Mahaiula. Like its more accessible northern counterpart, Mahaiula Beach also has restrooms and picnic areas but no access to drinking water. Here, you can snorkel and swim when the waters are calm. Sunbathing, people watching, bodyboarding are other popular activities at this beach. You can also simply enjoy the shade of the palm trees and watch sea turtles and monk seals that also appreciate the remoteness of the location.
The three beaches at Kekaha Kai State Park offer something for everyone including bodyboarding, swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, and hiking. Don’t miss a trip to any of the three white sand beaches at this state park when you visit the western portion of the Big Island.
-The hikes around Kekaha Kai State Park can be long, hot, and dry. Bring water with you and wear sunscreen and good hiking shoes.
-Only Maniniowali Beach has paved access where you can safely drive a rental. The other three require hiking in or 4WD access over rough roads.
-Make a detour just south of Mahaiula Beach at the southern end of the state park to visit Makolea Black Sand Beach. Here you can take pictures of the novel black sand and monk seals that frequent this small beach, but it is not an ideal swimming spot.
-Keep your distance from sea turtles, monk seals, and other wildlife that share these beaches with people.