2013 - 2014, Arts & Community, Travel
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Makalawena: The Big Island’s Image of Paradise

The sun setting beyond the horizon of scattered lava rock, white sand, and light blue ocean at Makalawena Beach.

The sun setting beyond the horizon of scattered lava rock, white sand, and light blue ocean at Makalawena Beach. Photo by Acasia Hokama.

By Krista Aoki, Assistant Editor-in-Chief

Why pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to go on vacation when you can drop less than $50 on a round trip vacation to the Kona coast?

Sometimes it’s appropriate to ditch Hilo, its rain, and that pile of class readings, escaping to Kona for a mini-vacation.  Makalawena Beach represents the white, sandy Hawaiian shoreline pictured on postcards.

 Makalawena’s sand beach, historically recorded as Ku’una a ke akua, honors the legend of Punia, said to trick ghosts into helping him lay his fish net before capturing the ghosts and drowning them.

About four miles from the nearest highway, Makalawena’s far proximity from the highway makes it an ideal place to go for those who seek seclusion from Kona’s white sand beaches crowded with people.

It’s hard to imagine that before, Kekaha Kai was once populated with people.

Once occupied by the Kekaha Church of the Hawaiian Evangelical Association, the shoreline was also home to a number of residents along its coast.  Archaeological records show a school founded by Kamehameha III to service its people.

 However, when visiting the beach, there are no visible traces of its human history.  Any houses standing were destroyed by a tsunami in 1946.

When driving north of Kailua-Kona on Hwy. 19, this trailhead can be found in between mile markers 88 and 89.  If, when driving north, you reach the road to Kua Bay, you’ve gone too far (the road is a short distance south of Kua Bay).  The trailhead is accessible by lifted vehicles on an unpaved road.  This rocky road and its various drops make it imperative to either walk in, or drive in with a 4-wheel drive vehicle.  There is a spot off the highway to park a 2-wheel drive vehicle.  Because some of the trail lacks shade, it’s wise to bring a hat, water, snacks and sunscreen.

At the end of the trailhead, there is a locked gate where those driving their vehicles will have to park.  From there, the trek is about a ¼ mile past the ironwood trees along the shoreline.

Eventually, you’ll be greeted by a gorgeous shoreline, traces of lava rock, deep blue waters, and, if you’re lucky, huts made from palm fronds, Makalawena is the picture-perfect image portraying paradise.  On sunny days, it’s especially refreshing to pop open drinks celebrating life, enjoying them lying in the sand, or wading in the water.  Diving into the salty ocean water is the perfect reward.

It’s ideal to spend the majority of your day there, or camp nearby overnight.  Camping on the beach is restricted without a permit.  Gifted to Akahi, Bernice Pauahi Bishop’s cousin, during the Great Mahele, the land is now owned by Kamehemeha Schools. In advance of your trip, contact Kamehameha Schools at (808)-322-5300 regarding acquiring a permit.

 Still, just north of Makalawena is a state-owned camping location in close proximity to stellar diving, fishing, and freshwater ponds.  If entering through the trailhead, these camping spots are located on the way to the beach.  They are also conveniently close to Makalawena Beach, and just yards away from the shoreline.  Be thoughtful before camping there, and pack shoes with thick soles! The thorny kiawe branches do not act kindly towards those who come wearing slippers.

This vacation at Makalawena is something people across the world pin on their Pinterest boards, or place on their bucket lists.  Though it seems like a far journey during the drive or walk in, we could consider ourselves lucky to be just a short distance away from the picturesque image of paradise.

All historical and archaeological information was found from L. Soehren’s Archaeology and History in Kaupulehu and Makalawena (1963).


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