Kiholo Bay Overview
The famed Kohala Coast of the Big Island is home to some of the most beautiful beaches and shoreline in the world. Ancient Hawaiian history combined with its coastal magnificence of marine life, fishing ponds, black sand beaches and historical lava flows make the Kiholo Bay area impressive.
As a hiking adventure, this coastline has a little bit of everything, including beautiful views, black sand beaches, Green Sea Turtles, a freshwater pool, and swimming spots to explore. Remember that the shoreline is public, but the properties near the shoreline are private, so respect all private areas as you hike. From the parking area (described below) you head North along the beach to reach Kiholo Bay and lagoon. The portable restroom you see here is the last you will see until you return, so you may want to make use of it. As there are no facilities at this location, be prepared by packing plenty of water, reef-safe sunscreen and snacks to make your adventure at Kiholo Bay enjoyable.
Kiholo Bay History
Built during the monarchy of King Kamehameha I in 1820, as an engineered fishpond, it spanned approximately 2 miles with a 6-foot high by 20 feet wide lava rock wall, protecting the bay from the ocean currents. In 1859, a lava flow from the Mauna Loa volcano, reached Kiholo Bay and devastated the southern portion of the ancient fishpond. Also, significant to the area’s history is that on October 2006, Kiholo Bay was struck by a 6.7 magnitude earthquake followed by a 6.0 earthquake. This historic area is now under government regulation and protection as the Kiholo State Park Reserve.
Keanalele freshwater pool – Queen’s Bath
You will be hiking along a black sand beach. Hardened basaltic lava is characteristic of black pebble beaches of Kiholo Bay. Along the way to the lagoon, you will find small tide pool named Keanalele in an ancient, buckled lava tube. It is easy to miss this landmark referred to as the Queen’s Bath, so look for a sign and some large stones marking its entrance. Only ancient Hawaiian royalty (the Alii), were allowed to enjoy its waters as a place for bathing and relaxation.
You will find an area with hand holds and rock “steps” providing access to the first pool with an easy swim to the adjoining pool, guided by light from a natural opening above. If you bring a waterproof flashlight you can swim deeper into the lava tube. As the water level rises and falls with the tide, low tide will allow you to go farther into the tube, but high tide will make for a better swim. This is the perfect spot to cool down on a warm day. These caves are dark and slippery, with low overhangs, so watch your step and use extreme caution should you decide to explore keeping mindful of the ocean tides.
Kiholo Bay Lagoon
As you continue on and reach the lagoon area within Kiholo Bay, the water becomes a deep teal due to the mix of fresh and sea water mixing together. As you round the bay you will find a small bridge to cross the man-made channel. This will give you a nice view of Wainanali’i lagoon. Continue to stay near the shoreline as the surrounding area is a conservation area. This area has abundant sea life and is a beautiful spot for photos and to relax and explore the water before retracing your steps to the trailhead.
The Nature Conservancy Project at Kiholo Bay
At the northern end of the bay is a recovering fish pond, connected to the ocean via a man-made channel. It is an important feeding and resting site for Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles and other marine life. The Paul Mitchel family donated the seven acre site to the Nature Conservancy in 2012 and it is currently under the stewardship of the group called Hui Aloha Kīholo. They are doing important restoration work on the area to help the health of the estuary and the native fish and marine life in the area. See the video tab below for more information on this exciting project.
Kiholo Bay Directions, Parking and Hours
Take Highway 19 north from Kona and turn left on the public access road between mile markers 82 and 83. This is a narrow gravel road, but usually drivable with a 2WD. There is a parking area at the end of this road that can be rough on vehicles without clearance. The gate is locked after 7pm April-Labor Day and 6pm Labor Day-March so make sure to give yourself time to get back to your car. The hike is just over a mile each direction. If you try the road and it hasn’t been graded recently or feels too rough, alternatively, you can access the bay via a foot trail that begins from the highway just south of mile marker 81 (about a 20-minute walk). There is a small gravel area next to the highway where you can park (just north of the guardrail).
Camping at Kiholo Bay
There is a black sand beach and a small camping area to the south of the parking area. Camping is available on weekends with a reservation and permit. There are only eight spots and you can only book a maximum of 30 days prior to the stay. Competition for these permits is pretty high, but worth it to stay so close to the beach with the ocean waves crashing next to your camp site. Camping and resources in the area are managed by the community organization called Hui Aloha Kiholo. They check camping permits, organize clean ups and education, raise funds for the amenities, watch over and protect the land, and enhance the cultural and natural landscape of the area.