The Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area is a nice beach park located just on the outskirts of Kailua-Kona. The long stretch of beach is comprised of patchy sand with numerous interesting tide pools.
Originally built in the 1940’s, the old airport was closed when the much larger Kona International Airport (KOA) was completed in 1970. For several years drag races were held on the old landing strip prior to converting the area into a park in 1976. Today the beach park is part of the Kona Airport State Recreation Area.
Old Kona Airport Beach is a nice place to hang out if you just want a quiet escape from the crowds, provided it’s not a weekend when many locals fill the pavilions for picnics and beach parties. Find a picnic table in the shade along one of the wide-open stretches of sand, relax on the beach right next to the water, or wade through the endless tide pools.
The park is open daily from 7am to 8pm. This beach is definitely one of the better Kona beaches to enjoy a Big Island sunset.
For an interesting diversion, start at the northernmost point of the Old Airport Beach and follow the shoreline north along the lava coast. After about 20 minutes you will reach Pawai Bay. But what we enjoy most is the coastline along the way, dotted with small lava tunnels and sub-surface caverns that create spouting horns and dramatic hissing vents. The effect is best at low tide.
Pawai Bay is a fascinating Big Island snorkeling spot with brilliant water clarity, interesting little caves and sea arches, and plenty of sea life. Only more advanced snorkelers should attempt to swim here. Use extreme caution and be advised that the water in and around the bay tends to surge.
The snorkeling is best within about 30-40 feet (9-12 meters) of shore. Beyond that the reef descends to around 60 feet and is more suitable for diving. This protected marine sanctuary is populated by hundreds of species of tropical fish, green sea turtles and moray eels. Be wary of the rocky shoreline when the water is surging and swim clear of the channel leading into the bay.
At the southern-most point of the Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area is another delightful sandy beach with a bounty of tide pools called Keiki Ponds. You can walk along the shoreline south of the Old Airport Beach, or start behind the Kona Community Aquatic Center on Kuakini Highway. From the back parking lot, walk to the southwest corner of the soccer fields and follow the shoreline access signs (down several stone steps and across a private residential street onto the beach). It's very peaceful with tide pools and ponds, a great place to cool off or watch the surf crash on the outer rocks.
The water depth ranges from ankle deep to nearly shoulder depth in places. The lava rocks create a barrier protecting the ponds from waves, but at high surf waves can top the barrier and fill the pools in a matter of seconds, so be alert. Kids can explore for hours, searching for hermit crabs and other critters. The water is calm enough for even the toddlers. There are no bathrooms, showers, or drinking fountains in this area.
Old Airport Beach Park is very easy to find. Just follow Kuakini Highway north past the Kona Aquatic Center, turn left immediately after Makala Boulevard and continue to the old airport landing strip. Park in any suitable spot behind the beach and begin exploring. Facilities at this Big Island Hawaii beach include picnic tables, sheltered pavilions, restrooms and outdoor showers.
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