Kona, which means “leeward” in Hawaiian, is the western side of the big island of Hawaii. Well known for snorkeling and sportfishing, the area also has a reputation for coffee production and is home to some of Hawaii’s most historical places. For those who like their paradise with only a hint of rain, the island’s mountains block the Kona area from the northeasterly trade winds, meaning that the Kona side sports sunshine about 300 days per year.
Kailua Kona is the hub of the Kona side of the big island. Kailua Kona hosts two international events each year, the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament and the Kahaluu Beach ParkIronman Triathlon World Championship. Kailua Kona is also where you’ll find a good portion of the history of Hawaii, as it was once the home to Hawaii’s royalty, before the island was annexed by the United States in the late 1800s. Alii Drive is the main access point and takes tourists to all of the major historical sites, and Kona International Airport is conveniently located just north of the town.
Located in Kailua Kona on the famous Alii Drive, the Hulihee Palace was at one time the summer home for Hawaiian royalty. Today it is a museum, displaying Victorian-era artifacts from the reign of King Kalakaua in the 1800s. Before you go, check the visitation schedule, as the Palace has undergone some renovations due to an earthquake and access could be limited (see Resources).
Kona Coffee Plantations
One benefit from the volcanic soil created by Hawaii’s major volcanoes is Kona coffee, grown exclusively in the Kona region of Hawaii on nearly 600 area farms. Most farms are located in the uplands and away from the coast, and produce coffee that is valued around the world for its richness and flavorful taste. Most farms conduct daily public tours that provide an inside view of the harvesting process and end with a free cup of coffee.
Puuhonua o Honaunau (Place of Refuge)
Today it’s a national historical park located in Honaunau Bay in south Kona. But in ancient times it was a place for lawbreakers to seek a fresh start. The ancient Hawaiian code of Kapu was considered sacred, and the breaking of a Kapu could mean death. For those who broke Kapu, Puuhonua o Honaunau was a place of refuge, where they could hide from authorities and could seek absolution for their sins. It is considered one of Hawaii’s most sacred places. Tourist can go on a walking tour of the grounds, which includes The Great Wall--10 feet high and 17 feet thick.
If you’re looking to snorkel, scuba dive, kayak or just relax, then Kealakekua Bay is for you. It’s a Marine Life Conservation District located 12 miles south of Kailua Kona. The area is also another important part of Hawaii’s history, as it marks the location of the death of Captain James Cook in 1779, the first British explorer to make contact with the island. Tourists can find a memorial to his death at the Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park.