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Hawaii (Big) Island
Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
This beach hugs the coast adjacent to the runway that served as Kona's airport until 1970. The old terminal building is now a public pavilion. The long shoreline is flat and spotted with rocks; calm waters make for good snorkeling. The sand is dotted with coral and generally clean. There is easy access to a few small coves of white sand with safe entry to the water and tide pools for children, while the shady areas are good for picnics or admiring the Kona "skyline," complete with a cruise ship or two. A well-cared-for walking and jogging trail on the other side of the runway is worth checking out for its landscape. Just north, an offshore surf break known as Old Airport is popular with local surfers. It's usually not crowded, but this area can be busy on weekends. Amenities: parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; sunsets; walking.
The shoreline is rocky with only a sliver of beach but don't let that deter you—this is a popular and historically significant park. Captain James Cook first landed in Hawaii here in 1778 to refurbish his ships. When he returned a year later, he was killed in a skirmish with Hawaiians, now marked by a monument on the north end of Kealakekua Bay. The area is surrounded by high green cliffs, creating calm conditions for superb swimming, snorkeling, and diving. You'll see a variety of marine life here, including colorful reef fish, corals, and, most likely, dolphins. The trails behind the shore, leading to Hikiau Heiau, are rocky but walkable. Parking is limited. Be aware of the off-limits area (in case of rockfalls) marked by orange buoys. Amenities: parking (no fee); toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming.
Snorkelers and divers will find excitement in the clear waters of this beach park. Long ago, when sugar was the economic staple of Kohala, this harbor was busy with boats waiting for overseas shipments. Now it's a great swimming hole and an underwater museum of sorts. Remnants of shipping machinery, train wheels and parts, and what looks like an old boat are easily visible in the clear water. There's no actual beach here, but a ladder off the old dock makes getting in the water easy. It's best to venture out only on tranquil days, when the water is calm. A popular place for locals, Mahukona gets busy on weekends. A camping area on the south side of the park has picnic tables and an old covered pavillion. A trail also leads to nearby Lapakahi State Park, about a ½-mi hike. Amenities: showers; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming.
You'll find plenty of sea life, from sea turtles to reef fish, at these beaches and protected inlets. Just east of Hilo, almost at the end of the road, these two adjacent parks make up one beautiful spot with a series of bays, inlets, lagoons, and pretty parks. This is one of the best snorkeling spots on this side of the island, as rocky outcrops provide shelter for schools of reef fish and you're almost sure to see turtles and dolphins. Local kids use the small black-sand pocket beach for body boarding. The shaded grassy areas are great for picnics. Be warned, this place is very crowded on the weekends. Amenities: lifeguards (weekends only); parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; walking.
This lovely beach is on the northernmost portion of the stretch of coastline that comprises Kekaha Kai State Park. A paved entrance, amenties, and parking lot making it very accessible, and, as a result, often crowded. This is one of the most beautiful bays you'll ever see—the water is crystal clear, deep aquamarine, and peaceful in summer. The beach comprises fine white sand that sits amid black lava with little shade—bring umbrellas as it can get hot. Rocky shores on either side protect the beach from winds in the afternoon. The gates close daily at 7 pm. The surf can get very rough in winter. Amenities: parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: surfing; swimming.
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