Introducing South Kona Coast
The dozen or so miles between Kailua-Kona and Captain Cook are among the most historically action-packed on Hawaiʻi. Along this stretch of the Mamalahoa Hwy (Hwy 11), Hawaiian kings, queens and commoners mingled with the circumnavigator Captain James Cook and his rabble-rousing crew before massive bloodshed ensued; the great god Lono slid from the heavens for the Makahiki harvest festival; and taboo breakers braved shark-infested waters to reach the Place of Refuge. Upcountry is the Kona Coffee belt, where the history of coastal agriculture continues to unfold on coffee farms and macadamia nut plantations. Take the time to poke around charming villages, talk story with a shopkeeper or detour down a side road and you'll discover the Hawaiʻi that people long for – where trees blossom wildly, ukulele are crafted and aloha thrives.
With light traffic (can we get an amen?), you can drive from Kailua-Kona to Kealakekua Bay in about 30 minutes, but plan on it taking an hour or more during the morning or evening rush. South Kona Coast is short on sandy beaches (for that, head north), but long on snorkeling and diving spots.
Note that when Hwy 11 meets Hwy 180, its common name switches from Kuakini Hwy to Mamalahoa Hwy, the name most South Kona addresses take.
Captain Cook is a small town with big, brilliant views. Named after the ill-fated circumnavigator who landed and perished in the waters below, Captain Cook is peppered with homey B&Bs, free roadside coffee-tasting rooms and places renting kayaks for the paddle–snorkel combination across Kealakekua Bay to Kaʻawaloa Cove.
A sacred place meaning 'pathway of the gods,' Kealakekua is bound by the 600ft-high Pali Kapu o Keoua cliffs, where the powerful deity Lono slid from the heavens to earth. The aliʻi (chiefs) were buried high up on those cliffs centuries ago, and at the base of the cliffs the Hikiʻau Heiau religious center hosted sacrifices to honor war god Ku.