Black volcanic lava covered the landscape as we flew into Kona, the largest and newest of the Hawaiian islands. Kona is so young in geological terms that very little of the lava has weathered and the landscape is stark, black, barren and unforgiving.
From the airport it was an easy, twenty minute drive to the town of Kailua Kona where we stopped at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites. The room was five star and the hotel well located in the centre of town, one block back from the waterfront area.
Kailua Kona is a seaside town filled with restaurants, bars, tourist shops and travel agencies offering tours for diving, whale watching or snorkelling with dolphins and endless excursions to coffee plantations. However, our journey to Kona was to visit Hawaii’s famous Volcanoes National Park.
On our second day we hired a car from Hertz at the Marriott Hotel in Kailua to make the three hour drive north to the volcano. We were returning to see this fiery monster after 25 years. Arriving at the National Park Visitor’s Centre we were surprised to learn how the volcano’s lava flow had dramatically changed since our previous visit.
Where it was once an easy walk to see the amazing sight of red hot lava spewing into the sea with accompanying clouds of sulphur dioxide, it is now an eight kilometre strenuous trek across very rough and sharp lava, an adventure only for the ultra-fit and very brave. At the Visitor’s Centre we saw a short video about the Volcanoes National Park giving us a good overview of how this geological wonder all began.
After a delicious lunch at nearby Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant we drove to the crater rim. Along the way we saw steam vents but the best view of the lava is at Kilauea Overlook and Picnic Area. Here, from a distance, we were amazed to finally see the bubbling molten lava belching out of the core of the earth.
The National Park also has a couple of other highlights. The 500 year old Thurston Lava Tube is set in a lush rainforest near the Devastation Trail and Sulphur Banks. The easy walking tour is filled with spectacular natural sites and should not be missed.
Back in Kona, dinner was booked at the well known Fish Hopper Restaurant on the waterfront with stunning views, attentive service and delicious food. Make sure you begin your evening with a sunset walk along the shoreline shopping strip and sit in one of the many bars to enjoy one of the most stunning sights to be enjoyed daily on the Big Island. It will remind you why Hawaii remains one of the most popular travel destinations in the world.
Kona has two gay bars. My Bar, which was a little out of the way, and Mask Bar or Mask-querade Bar which was by far our favourite of the two. Brian, the long time owner (20 years), has a winning formula. The bar is decorated with beautiful masks donated by customers from around the world, hospitable service, electronic trivia and karaoke, darts, pool and well priced drinks, combined with a crew of friendly locals who turn every night into a party.
A feature of Mask is the horseshoe shaped bar that makes for easy conversations and a very welcoming atmosphere. Mask Bar is within walking distance to town in a small shopping mall with easy parking.
The Kona coastline is brimming with beautiful beaches, some with black sand but most are white with glistening clear blue water. We went on the hunt for a gay beach. Officially there are none, but we did find a very private one known as Pole 67 Beach. To get there drive a few minutes past the Waikoloa Beach Road turn off and take the turn to Puako. Drive a few hundred metres and turn right on Old Puako Rd. Drive about one kilometre until you see a stone sign on the right to Hapuna State Park, then just a little further is a white arrow painted on the road pointing to the beach access. Turn onto the track, drive a short distance, park your car and follow the well trodden path to the small beach below. There is plenty of shade and we were very excited to find turtles swimming and feeding very close to the shore. The beach is quite small but worth the effort and, although very secluded, there are a few guys around.
We did not get to Honokohau Beach but it is unofficially Kona’s gay beach and is much easier to find than our little gem. However, we did find Hapuna Beach and spent a relaxing day basking in the sunshine and swimming in some of the most pristine waters we had seen in Hawaii. This place is not to be missed but make sure you take a beach umbrella and plenty of sunscreen as there is almost no shelter on this stretch of scenic coastline.
Whether its beaches, water sports, marvelling at the volcano or dining watching a magical Kona sunset the Big Island of Hawaii is packed with things to do. Ironically, this severe, rugged wilderness protects some of the most precious, enigmatic jewels of the Hawaiian islands and keeps us yearning to return and discover more.
Know Before You Go
- Stay in Kailua Kona rather than Hilo.
- Hire a car, driving is very easy.
- Set aside a full day for the volcano visit (3 hour drive each way).
- Stay at Holiday Inn Express & Suites or go to agoda.com for more options.