Kekaha Kai State Park (formerly Kona Coast State Park) is a scenic stretch of shoreline that extends 4.5 miles (7.2 km) from Mahai’ula Bay to Kua Bay, including three of the best Hawaii Big Island beaches.
Ke kaha kai literally means "the shoreline" in Hawaiian, and ala kaha kai means "shoreline trail". Kekaha Kai State Park is a combination of pristine sandy beaches with both rugged and scenic hiking along the Ala Kahakai National Historical Trail, including Mahai’ula Beach (south), Makalawena Beach (central), and Maniniowali Beach (north).
Mahai'ula Beach is a sandy beach with good swimming and plenty of room to play in the sand or explore the area around the beach. Picnic tables are available and plentiful trees sitting on the dune above the beach offer good shade.
The short hike north from Mahai'ula Bay toward Makalawena Beach crosses an a'a lava field that is very exposed, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen. Makalawena is quite simply one of the most blissful tropical beach experiences to be found, anywhere. The sand is soft and the offshore views are unparalleled.
There is a natural wetlands area behind Makalawena Beach known as ‘Opae’ula Pond. An old fishing village once stood on this site but was destroyed in a tsunami in 1946. From Makalawena, the trail continues north.
Continuing north from Makalawena Beach another mile or so, hikers are faced with a fork in the road: turn right and you'll return to the highway, or veer left to continue toward Kua Bay. An optional side hike to the top of the 342-foot high Pu'u Ku'ili cinder cone offers great coastline views (in the background of the image below). From the top you can see the road leading into Kua Bay below you. Manini'owali Beach at Kua Bay is another great Big Island beach with excellent swimming. Restrooms, outdoor showers and picnic tables are available.
Easiest access to Kua Bay is about 12 miles (19 km) north of Kona between the 88 and 89 mile markers, immediately across Highway 19 from the West Hawaii Veteran's Cemetery. The road is paved all the way to the beach parking area.
Driving to Mahai’ula isn't quite as straightforward. There is a road that leads most of the way to the shoreline, but it is old and rough. Use caution and take your time. Look for the road heading toward the ocean from Highway 19 between the 90 and 91 mile markers. Refer to the Makalawena Beach page for an alternate hiking route.
There are bathrooms and showers at Kua Bay/Maniniowali Beach. There are also restrooms at the end of the lava road near Mahai'ula Beach. The rest of the area is wonderfully wild, undeveloped and at times wickedly hot. Kekaha Kai State Park is open daily from 9am to 7pm except Wednesday when the park is closed for facilities cleaning and maintenance.
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