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Hawaii: The Big Island--Photos & Kona Reviews


The jagged coves between volcanic rock at Keauhou, just south of Kona Town
Photo by Shay Davidson
The stunning, dangerous beauty of the Kona Coast of the big island of Hawaii, is due to it's volcanic history. The topography of this lovely coast is made up largely, of volcanic rock. 

Although one can enter the water safely in many places to enjoy some world-class snorkeling, many areas where waves meet with sharp, volcanic rock, are not safe for the average swimmer.



Sunset over Keauhou Bay
Photo by Shay Davidson

There is a sort of celebration that takes place, every evening; both locals and tourists stop to bask in the beauty of the Hawaiian sunset.

Photo by Shay Davidson

I never tire of snapping photos of the beautiful plants and flowers that grow everywhere in the islands and contribute so much to the beauty of this magical place.

From my research, I believe this is a Calathea.


Photo by Shay Davidson

Photo of the volcanic rocks and tidepools at Keauhou, on the Big Island of Hawaii:
I could just sit and stare at the surf all day, waiting to see Honu, (sea turtles) and whales!  Mesmerizing.

"Angel Wing Sunset" photo by Shay Davidson; Do you see them?


When choosing the Big Island of Hawaii for your stay in the Islands--Kailua-Kona vs. the Keauhou area:

1.  If your taste runs toward the quiet, low-key and serene, stay out farther from the town of Kailua-Kona.  We loved the Keauhou Bay area.  There are many lovely condo complexes there where prices can run from under $100 up to whatever you want to pay!  Renting a condo versus a hotel room, is always a money-saver in the end because fixing meals to be eaten on your lanai is much more cost effective than eating every meal out--not to mention more nutritional and healthy than eating a constant diet of fast-food or bar food.

In my personal opinion, lunch on one's own lanai after a morning snorkel, is the best way to enjoy a relaxing, Hawaiian visit.  The view is the best and you needn't dress to go out!  Your swimsuit will do just fine.  For lunch, if you are out sightseeing, a condo with kitchen affords you the ability to pack a lunch to be enjoyed on the beach or along the shoreline at one of Hawaii's many parks.  

2.  Condos out in Keauhou-Kona, (South of Kailua-Kona town) are plentiful and are generally newer and more currently upgraded than those complexes in Kailua-Kona town.  As an example, we rented a 2-bedroom, oceanfront condo in Keauhou for far less than our condo in Kailua-Kona Proper-The Keauhou Kona Surf and Racquet Club  is a beautifully manicured property with lovely, upgraded condo units.  The large pool is perfect for swimming laps, and there is beach access from within the complex.  Even when staying RIGHT ON the beach, it is often difficult to access the water on Kona because of the rocky, sharp lava rocks that line the coast.   The complex is very friendly and quiet.  You will need a car to stay in the Keauhou Bay area, but realistically, you will need a car to get around, no matter where you stay in Hawaii!  

Condos at the Surf and Racquet are often beautifully updated, and ours was extremely well stocked and appointed.  You can rent condos at Keauhou Surf and Racquet via, a site I love and use often for condo/apartment rentals by owner, worldwide.   I highly recommend The Surf and Racquet; it is a lovely low-rise enclave, quiet and very well maintained, directly on the beachfront.

From Keauhou, the drive into town is about 10 minutes--but worth it for the quiet and less crowded surroundings alone.  There are shops and restaurants, as well as drug and grocery stores in the immediate Keauhou area for your convenience, and Safeway is only a few miles away on Henry Avenue in Kailua-Kona--as is Walmart, Target and others, if you so desire.  

There is the option of staying within walking distance of Kailua-Kona, especially for those who want to park their car and walk to shops, restaurants and bars.  If you want to stay out late and party, then driving home to Keauhou is not a good option, so you may choose to stay in Kailua-Kona.  Personally, I find the little town crowded and tourist-driven, but many people love that scene, and if it's for you, then definitely stay in town or near town.  

Late planning on our part led to few choices when we booked our latest Hawaiian adventure, and we wound up for 4 nights in Kailua-Kona proper, at the Castle Kona Reef.  Most people would probably be happy with this choice, but frankly, after having stayed at the Surf and Racquet club, moving to the Kona Reef was a bit like moving from the Ritz-Carlton to the Marriott Garden Inn; not bad but not awe-inspiring.  

The poorly designed complexes at Kona Reef cause every little sound from the courtyard to reverberate into the bedroom area of most units.  The badly designed condo units put the kitchen/living area off the one, small lanai, and the bedrooms are situated in a dark, gloomy, back corner of the apartment--just off the noisy courtyard.  After trying to take a nap in the bedroom, we decided to roll out the hideaway bed and sleep in the living room!  For $245 per night, I found this unacceptable.  I loved that the unit had a metal screen door so that left open, a pleasant cross breeze flows through the apartment.  However, there was a direct line of vision from the screen door into the bathroom--which I found humorous!  I know better than to book a condo with view-less bedroom but the particular week we arrived was so crowded, that accommodation choices were very limited.

Kona Reef is a complex in flux; they aren't quite sure if they are a vacation club or owner-owned condos for rent.  No one seems to know what's going on in each, individual unit.  For example, a note asked us to conserve on the air conditioning, but I never did find out where or how to control the air-conditioning.  Since we didn't need it, I didn't need to turn it on, but I found it odd that instructions were so vague. The same was true of the wi-fi; it was there, but it was difficult to figure out which wi-fi to jump on to--although the front desk looked into and finally found the password for me--for the wi-fi network I never did find!

I have to say that although the size of a cracker-box, the one-bedroom unit at Kona Reef was spotlessly clean and very well updated and maintained.  There was a remodel effort that included granite countertops but, for some reason, they chose not to update the older appliances.  None of this will spoil your time in Hawaii!  However, when you consider what you pay for what you get, the Kona Reef doesn't stack up well.

Photo of the shoreline at Kailua-Kona by Shay Davidson


Where to eat--where not to eat in Kailua-Kona

Happy hour at one of the many bars or restaurants in Kailua-Kona, seems to be the time for the beach-bar scene.  Drinks and appetizers are often reduced in price and might well serve as your entire evening meal!  From Huggo's on the beach or Don The Beachcomber, (inside the Royal Kona Resort) you will enjoy a breath-taking sunset while mingling with many other tourists and locals.  If you frequent Huggo's on the beach, happy hour is fun--often with entertainment. The food seemed to be better our latest visit to Huggo's. The fried popcorn shrimp were excellent; crisp and not at all greasy.  The Bulgogi Beef, is quite tasty, and the $3.00 happy hour tacos are crisp and good!  I ordered the Ahi Tuna the first night in Kona at Huggo's and it was not what I would consider to be restaurant quality.  So, to get my Ahi sashimi fix, I took to buying it at Safeway or K&L Grocery, and it was fresh and wonderful--and for $12 I bought enough for dinner-for-two.  The Beachcomber's ribs and coconut prawns are excellent and price-reduced during happy hour, so if good munchies tempt you in Kona, try Don The Beachcomber,  and do visit Huggo's for the fun, on-the-beach-bar scene. 

The Canoe Club is also a cool place, right on the water in downtown Kailua Kona. The food is average, but during "Happy Hour," (which starts at 2:00 P.M.) there is a specially priced appetizer menu that is quite nice.  The favorite is the mini taco trio--three miniature tacos of beef, pork or chicken for $3.45 to $4.45, depending on the meat, and all appetizers run from $2.45 to $8.45.  Beware that if you order the mini-taco trio in 3 variety flavors, you don't get the happy hour price; the menu is a bit misleading here.

Beers are only $2.95 to $3.95 and house wines are also $3.95 per glass during Canoe Club happy hour--which makes me very happy, indeed!  Skip the calamari strips--they aren't so good, (soggy and too bready) but the shrimp bucket is a good choice!



Staying North of Kailua-Kona: Kohala Coast

Years ago we discovered one of the most quiet, beautiful and natural beach areas in Hawaii to be on the north of Kona Airport on the South Kohala Coast--there lies Puako Beach.  There are a few hotels spread out along the coastline from Kona, north to Puako, but the way to go for a serene, quiet vacation is a home or apartment rental on Puako Beach.  There are many homes available for rental on Puako, and again VRBO is a good choice for finding your beach escape to the South Kohala coast. 

Keep in mind that Puako is a long drive from Kona on a two-lane strip of highway, (45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic) and a stay at Puako will not afford you the availability of night-life nearby within walking distance.  In fact, there is little night life there without driving to one of the nearby hotels or into nearby Waimea.  That having been said, for the vacationer who wants complete solitude and doesn't mind being isolated, Puako is a magical experience.

Normally, you will have the beach to yourself with few other people frequenting the area.  You will need to stock up your beach house BEFORE you get to Puako and be prepared to run to the general store for only the occasional loaf of bread!  Puako is famous for being home to the sea turtles and if you snorkel there, you will inevitably encounter the lovely, sweet giants.  In fact, on one stay at Puako, I can actually say that I saw more turtles in the water than other people on the beach--which I consider to be among the hallmarks of a perfect Hawaiian vacation!

Even if you choose to stay in Kona a day trip through the lava fields, north to Puako, is worth the trek.  The snorkeling there is world class and you won't be sorry you made the drive.  Pack a lunch to eat on the beach or try Cafe Pesto in nearby Kawaihae, an excellent choice when in the area.


The stunning, tranquil beauty of Puako Beach--Photo by Shay Davidson


Up-Country Adventure

After the crazy tourist crush in Kailua-Kona, how would you feel about staying a few days in a different type of setting altogether?  Being the brave soul that I am, I decided to try an old macadamia nut plantation that has been reborn as a bed and breakfast.  Unique?  The Rainbow Plantation B&B comes complete with wild and domestic chickens, and a peacock, to boot!


For The Complete Story on Hawaii's Rainbow Plantation, click Here!


The Paleaku Peace Gardens are a must-see when in Kona's "up-country."

When in the Kailua Kona area, a short 30 minute drive to the Captain Cook area in up-country yields some beautiful attractions for visitors to enjoy.  Two notable spots are The Paleaku Peace Gardens and The Painted Church.

For those who enjoy colorful, native gardens, The Paleaku Peace Garden is the place to go. 


Hundreds of tropical plant species fill this seven-acre park with gentle tranquility.  The photography buff will find beauty abounds to fill the lens! 

The shots below were all taken at The Paleaku Gardens, while we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon, strolling through the grounds, snapping everything in sight!

Following a day of Hawaii memorabilia shopping, a day of respite in the gardens is a welcome change.


For the complete story of the gorgeous Paleaku Peace Gardens, click HERE!

Going to The Big Island of Hawaii?  A trip to Mt. Kilauea, the active volcano, must be high on your list!

If you are visiting The Big Island, you must not miss seeing the live volcano at Mt. Kilauea.  For the whole story, video and photos, click here!  (coming soon)


**Readers are welcome to use any photos by Shay Davidson from this article for any peaceful purpose.  We would appreciate a link back to this article!


Other articles by this writer:

Mt. Kilauea: Live Volcano Story & Video!

Paleaku Peace Gardens; Big Island of Hawaii

Hawaii's Upcountry; The Rainbow Plantation

The Truth about Angels

Social Networking; Is There a Larger Purpose?

Put Down the Cell Phone and Stop Texting!

Creating an Angel Memory Garden



















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