Kiholo Bay is one of those magical, stunningly scenic Big Island hikes and one of the more unique stretches of coastline in Hawaii. Numerous interesting features make it one of our favorite places to explore. Rarely crowded, we particularly appreciate its soothing energy.
You will enjoy the exquisite scenery in and around this gorgeous bay. The smooth, obsidian-like pahoehoe lava surrounding Kiholo Bay contrasts with the brilliant turquoise water in the lagoon and the deeper blue of the open ocean. Palm trees dot the landscape like sentries standing watch over an ancient settlement.
Kiholo was once a thriving fishing village, residence of Hawaiian chiefs and home to one of the largest fishponds in Kona, Wainanali'i Pond. The rocks around the Wainanali'i lagoon are the remnants of the man-made fishpond that was wiped out by the 1859 Mauna Loa eruption. To preserve its historical significance, this area is now part of the Kiholo State Park Reserve.
Rather than a sandy beach, the shore here is more or less crushed lava gravel intermixed with bits of coral and shells. We particularly enjoy this easy hike at low tide, when it’s possible to walk along the large expanses of smooth pahoehoe lava that are submerged when the tide is high.
Toward the south end of Kiholo Bay, only a few hundred yards from the end of the road is Queen’s Bath, a beautiful spring-fed freshwater pool inside a lava tube. If you should choose to take a dip, please help to preserve the purity of the water in Queen’s Bath by ensuring you have first rinsed off any sunscreen and body oils.
As you approach the north end of the bay, you will likely begin to notice two of the more outstanding features of the bay: the stunning water color, and the green sea turtles.
When the sun is shining and the sky is clear, the water in the lagoon is the color of such brilliant turquoise that your mind will tell you it can’t be real, yet it is. The ocean appears blue because of the absorption and scattering of light. When sunlight hits the ocean, most colors are absorbed, whereas the shorter blue and violet wavelengths are reflected back. The deeper the water, the less light is reflected back, and the darker the water appears. At Kiholo Bay, large quantities of phytoplankton (algae) in the shallow water further alter the scattered light, creating the dramatic turquoise color.
Sea turtles abound here. They are frequently seen swimming about the lagoon, munching on sea grass and limu (algae) along the rocks or just gliding freely through the water. On occasion you may see them resting on shore; please don’t disturb.
If you swim you will notice a distinct temperature change in the water, caused by intrusions of colder spring water mixing with the warmer ocean water. This also accounts for the relative obscurity of the water as the springs stir the silt, for while vividly blue/green, it is not clear like the open ocean.
Access is on a dirt road between the 82 and 83 mile markers on Highway 19. Follow the road one mile toward the ocean, continuing straight where the road forks to the left. At the end of the road, park and continue straight until you reach the shore, then walk north (right) along the beach.
Alternatively, it’s possible to walk from the highway along a shorter trail that leads to the north end of the bay. Pick up the trail just south of the 81 mile marker on Highway 19 and walk for about 20 minutes across the barren and exposed pahoehoe lava flow.