An important partnership between the State of Hawaii and a local non-profit group, Hui Aloha Kiholo, protects and preserves the natural splendor and cultural heritage of Kiholo Bay. This large turquoise embayment in the North Kona District’s Kekaha zone dazzles the eye and soothes the soul. It’s also one of the best places on the Big Island to watch wild green sea turtles (honu).
Situated north of Kailua-Kona, this remote bay can be appreciated from above at a scenic overlook near milepost 82 on Highway 19. Just south of that, between mile markers 81 and 82, a dirt/gravel road descends to a parking area offering direct bay access. This semi-rough road is usually driveable by a passenger car taken slow.
If you don’t feel comfortable tackling the road the full way, there are pull-offs along it where you can park and then walk it to the trailhead. Or, just south of mile point 81, a jeep track offers an alternative route for hiking down (less than a half-hour walk).
From the parking area at the end of the unpaved road, you’re just a short walk north to the Kiholo bayfront. This is roughly the center of the bay, with opportunities to hike both west and east. Bear in mind that the access gate is locked nightly.
Phytoplankton and inputs from freshwater springs give Kiholo Bay its entrancing turquoise hue and somewhat cloudy character. This is the coastal, or makai, a portion of the ancient Hawaiian land division (ahupuaa) of Puuwaawaa. Pools and excavated fishponds here provided critical water and subsistence sources on this dry seacoast for its long-ago residents, which included Hawaiian royalty.
Today, the bay is protected within the Kiholo State Park Reserve and co-managed by the state and Hui Aloha Kiholo. Other organizations that have collaborated in efforts to protect this culturally and ecologically important bay include the Nature Conservancy and Conservation International.
West of the main Kiholo Bay access, you’ll find a black-sand beach and the preserve’s official campground set amid kiawe trees. This oceanfront camping is available by reservation and permit only on weekends. Watch for grazing sea turtles in the rock-edged pools along the shore.
Walking east along the bayfront, meanwhile, you’ll come to a flooded, roof-collapsed lava tube: Keanalele, also known in historical times as the Queen’s Bath. This signed anchialine pool—a brackish coastal pond—can be appreciated dryshod, but soaking is no longer permitted.
Continuing east, you’ll pass some private dwellings just inland (including the yellow Earl Bakken residence and the “Bali House”) and cross a footbridge over a canal. Beyond—about a mile’s walk from the parking area—you’ll reach the wonderful Wainanalii Lagoon.
This lagoon marks the remnants of an expansive fishpond constructed in the early 19th century under the directive of King Kamehameha I. Decades after its excavation—which included the installation of a broad, six-foot-tall rock wall to enclose it—the fishpond was destroyed in 1859 by a Mauna Loa lava flow. The Wainanalii Lagoon is what remains.
Its shallow waters are popular for soaking, and also well used by green sea turtles. You might also see the turtles hauled out on the rocks around the lagoon. (Indeed, you can see basking turtles along much of the Kiholo bayfront.) Don’t approach turtles in the water or on land.
With its almost unreal turquoise waters, black sands and black rocks, and winging-along honus, Kiholo Bay is an incredible place well worth a day’s exploration on the North Kona Coast.
Additional hiking opportunities can be had from the Kiholo Bay parking area beyond the points we’ve described here. Following the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail west of Kiholo Bay’s black-sand beach will bring you to Mano Point. Going northeast of Wainanalii Lagoon, meanwhile, takes you across lava fields to eventually reach Keawaiki Bay.