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Travel: Discover the Kohala Coast

Hawaii's sunniest shoreline is a place you've probably never heard of.


See more photos of the Kohala Coast in the gallery below.

ON THE WESTERN SIDE of the Big Island, the Kohala Coast has been called the state’s “sunniest resort destination,” as it gets fewer than eight inches of rain a year. Not bad for an island that has 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones. But don’t tell anyone, because the Big Island is a giant slice of heaven compared to the busy honeymoon factory that is Maui. From San Diego, fly to Honolulu, then take a 45-minute flight to Kona. Just a few minutes from the airport, the Kohala Coast begins, with eight high-end resorts comfortably sharing 20 miles of coastline. We’ve suggested a few things you can do along the way. No need to say “Mahalo.”

Get an outdoor massage

What better way to begin a massage than with a foot bath and a Hawaiian blessing? At the Mauna Lani Spa you’ll be guided to an outdoor hut for your treatment (and once you’ve tried a massage al fresco, you’ll never want to go back indoors). The Lomi Lomi uses longer effleurage strokes and lots of unscented oil, which gives the massag-ee an amazing charge (good chills!). Ask for Linh.

Picnic with the locals

Each month on the Saturday closest to the full moon, the sacred grounds at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows are home to a community party called “Twilight at Kalahuipua‘a.” Both locals and visitors bring dinner and gather for music, storytelling, and hula. If you’re not familiar with the full moon schedule, ask Danny Akaka in the cultural center below the hotel’s grand staircase. (And if you’re in full honeymoon mode, dine on the beach, Bachelor-style. Book the sunset dinner with the concierge.)

See a white sand beach

Don’t be one of those people who never leave their resort. Check out the white sand at Hapuna State Beach, between the Mauna Kea and Mauna Lani resorts. The public beach has nice facilities, picnic tables, BBQ pits, and lifeguards. If you don’t BYO food, stop at 3 Frogs, the beach snack bar with a full menu. A Single Killah Taco is $7.50, but you’ll still save by skipping a hotel meal!

Snorkel with a guide

Two marine life-loving natives will take you around Kauna’oa Bay at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. A guided tour is like having your own valets; they dive down and bring to the surface sea urchins, sea cucumber, and octopi for you to touch (très slimy—and yes, they shoot ink). Bring an underwater camera, and the guides will snap a pic of an eel for you. There’s also sea turtles, fish galore, and the guides even know where a three-foot baby white tip shark lives—and they’ll point him out. Very cool.

Pig out at a luau

At the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, the hotel’s Royal Lu’au is serious about its culture—and its meat. Before eating, guests take a walk to check out their dinner—a pig roasted in leaves, under dirt, all day. If you’re not a pork lover, there’s plenty of food for vegetarians and picky eaters (kids welcome). Eat and enjoy the music and dances of Tahiti, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Samoa. P.S. The Samoan fire dancer will blow your mind.

Go outrigger canoeing

Just beyond the Four Seasons is a cluster of huts and bungalows known collectively as Kona Village. They were ravaged during the tsunami last March, but the Village plans to open again in 2013. However, the Village’s beach shack is open for business now (make all watersports reservations at the Four Seasons). The Alaka’i Nalu (“Leaders of the Waves”) will take you on an outrigger canoe and give you an awesome (and Hawaii-appropriate) workout. They even let you jump out and snorkel in the middle of your trek.

Get cultured

Just the ride in on the driveway is worth staying at the gorgeous Four Seasons Resort Hualalai—it’s all lava, ocean, and golf course. But Hualalai isn’t just about surface beauty, spa treatments, and shopping. Spend a few hours at the hotel’s Ka’upulehu Cultural Center, where “Uncle Earl” Kamakaonaona Regidor will show you replicas of ancient tools, teach you some of the language, and guide you through the impressive historical paintings of Herb Kawainui Kane.

Finally try stand up paddleboarding

The beautiful Fairmont Orchid has a safe little cove perfect for learning SUP-ing before you go out on the open ocean. And you’ll be in capable hands—the teacher can stand on one leg while holding a paddle and taking your photo. When you get back to the beach, order an orchid mai tai or a frozen Grey Goose lemonade.

Take a ride in a chopper

Swoop into ravines, get up close to mountainsides of dense foliage, and soar over the ocean. Jason the pilot has a good sense of humor and will put nervous flyers at ease. You’ll catch views you wouldn’t be able to see any other way—not by road, boat, or planes. The ‘copter’s a must-do. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters takes off a few minutes from Waikoloa Marriott.

Witness an active volcano

Mid-afternoon, make a half-day round trip to Kilauea Volcano (you’ll get back around 8 p.m.). During daylight, you’ll see steam coming out of its vents, but about a half hour after sunset, dramatic pinks and reds start to show, and it really glows. Several busloads of tourists will appear, too.

If You Go

Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows
68-1365 Pauoa Road,

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Dr.,

Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa
69-275 Waikoloa Beach Dr.,

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters

Four Seasons Hualalai
72-100 Ka’upulehu Dr.,

The Fairmont Orchid
One North Kaniku Dr.,

For more info, go to kohalacoastresorts.com.

Photos: John Meanley. Massage table and overhead beach courtesy of Mauna Lani. Overhead of golf course courtesy of Hualalai Resort.

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