Time: 1.5-3 HOURS (Hiking time)
Distance: 3.8 MILES
Elevation Gain: 1300 FEET
Foot Traffic: MODERATE
Challenges: Shadeless, All Uphill Return, Carrying Dive Gear
What to Bring: Water (>2L), Hiking Shoes, Sunscreen, Snack, Swimsuit, Towel, Snorkel Gear
Sights: Captain Cook Monument, Kealakekua Bay, Fishies, Spinner Dolphins
A hike with some historical significance, this trail takes you from up on the Big Island's southwestern cliffs down to sea level to the beautiful, Kealakekua Bay. Once you reach the bay, you will be greeted by gorgeous reefs, marine life, and a monument honoring the famous explorer Captain James Cook. If you are lucky, you may even see some of the local spinner dolphins cruising around the bay. Just watch out, that return hike back up is a burner!
Well, my time spent so far on the Big Island had a very different feel than my time on the Garden Isle. My family and I had just spent 5 days on Kaua'i full of hikes, boating, and other activities, seeing some of the best the island had to offer. Now we were spending a few days in Kona and things were a bit... slower. We were doing a bit less hiking, and a bit more beer drinking and shave ice eating. I can only do this for so long before I get stir crazy. So one morning I woke up hopped in the rental car, and drove south to Ka'awaloa Trail, ready for a little solo hike and diving fun.
The trail is straightforward, but it will probably kick your butt, mainly on the return trip. It's an entirely downhill trail. There is then one switchback before you hook a left (south) as you begin your final descent to Kealakekua Bay.
The trailhead is located off the side of Napo'opo'o Road (not pronounced how you think so stop giggling), near telephone pole #4. There's a tiny bit of space off the side of the road by the trailhead for maybe two cars, but my guess is it is usually taken.
Instead, most people park on the opposite side of the road on the shoulder leading up to Mamalahoa Bypass Road.
It's hiking time! Gotta burn off those dozen or so beer tasters I had at Ola Brew last night. (Side note, that may have become one of my favorite breweries in all of Hawaii...)
You will see these markers periodically along the trail. They don't correlate to any sort of distance, so it's just a reminder that you're making progress.
The first portion of the hike is relatively uneventful as you have trees and brush on both sides of you. I did think this part was kind of cool, with some skinny bamboo stalks on the left and a Weirwood looking tree on the right (if you get it, you get it).
First glimpses of the ocean. That mountain far in the distance is actually Mauna Loa, the largest Volcano in the world in terms of length (literally means "Long Mountain").
After 25ish minutes of hiking I finally broke out of the trees. The landscape changed pretty significantly here. Instead of brush and trees, I was surrounded by volcanic looking rock. And unfortunately, now there was no more shade! I had gotten a relatively early start so the heat wasn't too bad, but carrying all that snorkel gear down was definitely making me sweat!
The only turn and switchback of the trail happens around this marker. We are now heading south towards Kealakekua Bay which you can partially see in this picture. Supposedly, the remains of the heiau (ancient temple) are located in this area where the ritual desecration of Captain Cook's occurred. But my focus was making it to the bay. I was ready to go swimming!
Shortly after the switchback I arrived at sea level. The trail then enters the trees again.
Which leads you here. Naturally, I went straight at this point heading towards the water.
However, this is NOT where the monument is located. Instead it leads you to a little rocky beach. Supposedly, there is a historical sign here that actually marks the place Captain Cook was killed in his skirmish with the Natives. But the way to the famous monument is to take a LEFT at the picture above and follow the trail through the trees
There it is, the Captain Cook Monument! The name Captain Cook has a lot of significance in Hawaiian History. He was the first explorer to make European contact with the Hawaiian Islands, originally landing on Kaua'i and later landing at this bay on the Big Island in 1779. There is evidence that suggests that the native Hawaiians thought he was a god, partially based on his arrival during the Makahiki festival, a harvest dedicated to the god Lono. Captain Cook ended up returning to this same spot after his ships were damaged, and it is then that he ended up meeting his end in a fight with the natives. And there's your history lesson for the day.
The other main reason people come here is the epic diving/snorkeling. There are a few ways to get here. You can do what I just did and hike 2 miles down, carrying gear and all. Or you can head to Napo'opo'o Beach Park, rent a kayak, and paddle across the bay to this spot. Getting in the water from this jetty was pretty easy, but I'm sure it's condition dependent. Getting out, however, would have been a bit trickier. Luckily, there was a tour group here, and they had this little portable ladder handing off the jetty. Sometimes hitting these tourist spots has its benefits!
Splash! Snorkel selfie!
I was very impressed with the overall visibility in this area.
And with the number of fishies and reef life.
Just watch out for those urchins!
Most of the coral and fish are right by the pier and follows around towards the cliff... probably around 10-20 feet in depth. But the depth does drop off if you head more towards the center of the bay. This area is also known for having spinner dolphins swimming around. I didn't see any, but I talked to a couple who was hanging out by the pier. They said you have to follow shoreline along the cliff a little ways to get to the spot where you typically see them. The time of day matters as well. Everybody's got their routines!
Oh well, I was just happy to be playing around in this clear blue water surrounded by my aquatic acquaintances.
After I had gotten my fill and dried off, it was time to make the 2 mile trek all the way back to the car. No better way to feel refreshed than a little hike/dive combo. It's a good thing too. I was going to need that refreshed spirit for my next adventure--a two day backpacking trip into the lush Waimanu Valley.
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Also Check Out:
- Big Island Hikes write up of this hike
- This post about this area and hike