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The leeward west coast areas of the Big Island are protected for the most part from the northeast trade winds, making for ideal near-shore kayaking conditions. There are miles and miles of uncrowded Kona and Kohala coastline to explore, presenting close-up views of stark raw lava rock shores and cliffs, lava tube sea caves, pristine secluded coves, and deserted beaches.
Ocean kayakers can get in close to shore—where the commercial snorkel and dive cruise boats can't reach. This opens up all sorts of possibilities for adventure, such as near-shore snorkeling among the expansive coral reefs and lava rock formations that teem with colorful tropical fish, Hawaiian green sea turtles, and more. You can pull ashore at a quiet cove for a picnic and a plunge into turquoise waters. With a good coastal map and some advice from the kayak vendor, you can explore inland, where you might find ancient battlegrounds, burial sites, bathing ponds for Hawaiian royalty, or old villages.
Kayaking experiences can be enjoyed via a guided tour or on a self-guided paddling excursion. Either way, the kayak outfitter can brief you on recommended routes, manageable currents, and how you can help preserve and protect Hawaii's ocean resources and coral reef system.
Kailua Bay and Kamakahonu Beach. The small, sandy beach that fronts the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel is a perfect place to launch your kayak. Because the bay is protected by the harbor, the water here is especially calm and teeming with ocean life. It's easy to get to and great for all skill levels. Alii Dr., next to Kailua Pier, Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740.
Kealakekua Bay. The excellent snorkeling and the likelihood of seeing dolphins makes Kealakekua Bay one of the most popular kayak spots on the Big Island. The bay is usually calm, and the kayaking is not difficult—except during high surf. If you're there in the morning, you may very well see spinner dolphins. Depending on your strength and enthusiasm, you'll cross the bay in 30 to 60 minutes. You can snorkel from your kayak to the ancient canoe landing about 50 yards to the left of the Captain Cook Monument, but you need a special permit to land your canoe. Hawaii State Parks (www.hawaiistateparks.org/announcements) has information about obtaining a permit. The coral around the monument makes for fabulous snorkeling. Bottom of Napoopoo Rd., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96750.
Oneo Bay. Oneo Bay is usually quite a placid place to kayak. It's easy to get to and great for all skill levels. If you can't find parking along the road, there's a lot across the street near the farmers market. Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96740.
Hilo Bay. Hilo Bay is a favorite kayak spot, and the best place to put in is at Reeds Bay Beach Park. Most afternoons you can share the bay with local paddling clubs. Stay inside the breakwater unless the ocean is calm (or you're feeling unusually adventurous). Conditions range from extremely calm to quite choppy. Banyan Way and Banyan Dr., 1 mi from downtown Hilo, HI, 96720.
Equipment, Lessons and Tours
There are several rental outfitters on Highway 11 between mile markers 110 and 113. There's also one unofficial stand at the shore, at the house on the corner just across from the parking lot. After you've loaded your kayak onto the roof of your car, follow the 2-mi road down the rather steep hill to the parking lot below. There are usually local guys who will set up your kayak and get you into (and out of) the water; tips of between $5 and $10 are encouraged, expected, and appreciated.
Aloha Kayak Co.. This Honalo outfitter offers guided tours out of Keauhou Bay—a four-hour morning tour ($89 per person) and a 2½-hour afternoon version ($69 per person). Both include snacks and beverages. There's also an hour-long evening tour ($99 per person). Daily kayak rental rates are $35 for a single, $60 for a double, and $85 for a triple. 79-7248 Mamalahoa Hwy., Honalo, HI, 96750. PHONE: 808/322-2868 or 877/322-1444. www.alohakayak.com.
Kona Boys. On the highway above Kealakekua Bay, this full-service outfitter handles kayaks, body boards, surf boards, stand-up paddleboards, and snorkeling gear. Single-seat kayaks are $47 daily, while doubles are $67. If you want to learn surfiing and stand-up paddling, the prices are $75 per person for group instruction or $150 for private lessons. The Kona Boys also lead two different half-day guided kayaking and snorkeling trips ($159 per person, including lunch, snacks, and beverages). One skirts the Kona coastline, and the other explores Kamakahonu Cove and Pawai Bay. There's also a sunset kayak and snorkel tour for $125 per person. Overnight camping trips are available. The Kona Boys also run a beach shack next to Kailua Pier, behind the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. This location offers the same rental equipment as well as Hawaiian outrigger canoe rides and charters, a uniquely Hawaiian experience. 79-7539 Mamalahoa Hwy., Kealakekua, HI, 96750. PHONE: 808/328-1234. www.konaboys.com. 75-5660 Palani Rd., Kailua-Kona, 96740.
Ocean Safari's Kayak Adventures. On the guided 3½-hour morning sea-cave tour that begins in Keauhou Bay, you can visit lava-tube sea caves along the coast, then swim ashore for a snack. The kayaks will already be on the beach, so you won't have to hassle with transporting them. The cost is $64 per person. A two-hour dolphin-spotting tour leaves at 7 am on Tuesday. It's $35 per person. Kayak daily rental rates are $25 for singles and $40 for doubles. End of Kamehameha III Rd., Kailua-Kona, HI, 96745. PHONE: 808/326-4699. www.oceansafariskayaks.com.
Pineapple Park. Pineapple Park is actually a hostel with locations in Hilo, Kona, and Mountain View, but it's also one of the only outfitters for kayak rentals in Hilo. Kayaks are $38 for a single and $58 for a double, and the rental price includes oars, life jackets, bags to keep all your gear dry, and harnesses to strap your kayak to your car. There's a 10% discount if you book ahead. 860 Piilani St., Hilo, HI, 96720. PHONE: 808/323-2224 or 877/800-3800. pineapple-park.com.