Kekaha Kai (Kona Coast) State Park encompasses three beautiful beaches strung along the harsh-but-beautiful lava-rock coast of the North Kona District. The southernmost of this trio, Mahaiula is a beautiful stretch of sand and rocky shore offering picnicking, swimming, and a jumping-off point for coastal hikes.
You’ll find the turnoff for Mahaiula Beach along Highway 19 between mile markers 90 and 91. The access road is a rough one, but passenger vehicles can usually handle it if they’re driven slowly and carefully. The surrounding scenery is pretty striking, with barren young lava flowing from Hualalai Volcano to either side and the Pacific on the horizon. You’ll creep your way along this rutted track about 1.5 miles to the parking area for the beach.
A gated dirt road leads northeast through the lava field. Walk it 10 minutes or so to reach Mahaiula Beach. Its white sands front the crystalline aquamarine waters of Mahaiula Bay: delicious to look at, contrasting sharply as they do with the beach and the Hualalai lava rock. The northern part of the beachfront is the sandier side, with some shade (a premium on this dry, open seacoast). The southern part is rockier. It includes picnic tables and grills, the only facilities you’ll find here.
Deeply set with offshore shelves, Mahaiula Bay is usually fairly calm and safe for swimming. But you should certainly exercise plenty of caution here. For one thing, no lifeguards watch over this secluded beachfront. The shoreface drops off fairly steeply, which can take an unawares swimmer by surprise. And in heavy surf, the bay can be dangerously rough and current-roiled.
Much of the time, however, its placid waters are family-friendly, inviting not only for swimming but also snorkeling. It’s not uncommon to see green sea turtles in Mahaiula Bay. (On occasion, you might even see a Hawaiian monk seal hauled out on the beach here.)
You might also spot some planes coming in for a landing at Kona International Airport not far south of the state park.
If you have the time—plus sun protection, sturdy shoes, and plenty of water—you ought to consider a hike northward to the center of the Kekaha Kai State Park beaches. A 20- or 30-minute trek through a lava field brings you to the gleaming sands and dunes of Makalawena Beach along Puu Alii Bay. This most removed of the park’s main beaches are gorgeous and uncrowded, with snorkeling and body-boarding opportunities when conditions allow.
It’s also possible to conduct a longer hike northward through the park’s backcountry to reach the northern beach of Maniniowali on Kua Bay. Tackling this 4.5-mile hike gives you the option of summiting a cinder cone—342-foot-tall Puu Kuili—for a knockout view of the North Kona-Kohala coastline.
Mahaiula Beach gives you a wonderful taste of the remote beauty and sweeping land/seascapes of Kekaha Kai State Park.
Keep an eye peeled for the feral goats that often clamber about the lava fields inland of Mahaiula Beach.