Formerly known as Kona Coast State Park, Kekaha Kai State Park is located on the western shore of the Big Island on the North Kona Coast. The expansive coastal park includes several sandy beaches and secluded bays including Kua Bay (Maniniowali), Makalawena Beach, and Mahaiula Beach. Kekaha Kai means “The shoreline” in Hawaiian.
Bordering the scenic sandy coves and dark lava rocks at Kekaha Kai State Park are deep blue waters with coral reefs just offshore creating beautiful colors. The park’s three beaches are popular for a variety of activities including swimming and snorkeling as well as bodyboarding and surfing.
Mahaiula Beach is the southernmost of the three beaches and features sand sloping gently into the water. Offshore caves, tunnels and underwater arches provide good areas for exploring. There is even a sunken ship! Off the northern end of the bay is the surfing spot called Kawili Point.
Archaeological sites onshore near Mahaiula Beach include a stone fish goddess known as Pohaku o Lama. Onshore at Mahaiula is a nice picnic area with picnic tables.
Leading north across the lava from Mahaiula Beach is the Ala Kahakai Trail to Makalawena Beach. Known as a good bodyboarding spot, Makalawena is a white sand beach with a brackish pond located at the northern end.
The whole wetland area behind Makalawena Beach along the shoreline of Puu Alii Bay is called Opaeula Pond and has been designated a National Natural Landmark. A Hawaiian fishing village was located in this area in ancient times.
The trail continues north for about 4 miles (6.4 km) from Makalawena Beach past ponds, forested areas and sand dunes before eventually reaching Maniniowali Beach which is also known as Kua Bay. A detour along the way leads to the top of the 342-foot (104-m) cinder cone known as Puu Kuili which provides great views of the surrounding coastline.
The white sands and blue water of Kua Bay are popular for swimming and snorkeling as well as scuba diving though there is very little shade onshore. Nearby hiking trails and lookout points provide some great views of the coast. Dolphins are often seen in Kua Bay during the summer months and Hawaiian green sea turtles are seen all year around.
Kekaha Kai State Park is open daily from 9 am to 7 pm except Wednesdays. The road to the park is located 2.6 miles (4.2 km) north of Kona International Airport and leads to Kua Bay, while an unpaved road leads to Mahaiula Beach.
Maniniowali Beach can be reached via the trail or by a road located between Mile Markers 88 and 89 which ends at a parking lot where a trail leads over the rough lava to the beach. Never go in the water during times of high surf or strong currents. There is no lifeguard.