The South Kohala Coast offers some of the most luxurious resorts on the world. Large resorts, beach parks, houses, and a small port occupy much of the coastline. Despite all of this there are still wild stretches of coastline to explore. Places with no development, where you can hike alone for a couple hours.
A few friends and co-workers were camping out at Kiholo Bay over the weekend. An open invitation had also been sent out to our group for a hike south of the bay along the coastline. For once my weekend was not already committed and I decided to take the short drive down to Kiholo to join in.
Queen’s Bath is a name you will find scattered through vacation guides to the island of Hawaiʻi. The problem is that there is more than one, dozens actually. The name Queen’s Bath tends to be applied to any freshwater pool, particularly near the ocean. Some are small, some are quite large pools of crystal clear freshwater, a few are hidden in lava tubes.
There is the well known lava tube at Kihilo just a pebble’s throw from the surf. Enter through a skylight into the crisp, cool water. Bring a dive light and swim all the way to the back of the tube. Careful, there are boulders waiting to scrape the shins of an unwary swimmer, reef shoes or river sandals are the ideal footwear here.
There are any number of pools along the Kohala Coast, particularly the low-lying section from Puako to Kiholo bay where enormous amounts of fresh water find their way into the sea. These often have reef fish trapped within, perhaps washed in by the winter surf. Other species of fish prefer these pools, grazing on the algae growing in the shallow, warm water.
The Puna coastline hosts many pools along the shoreline. Kaimū beach at Kalapana hosted one of the most famous Queen’s Baths. It was lost to the lava on the 1990’s as successive flows covered the area and destroyed the famous black sand beach. I have heard the pool at Ahalanui Park called a Queen’s bath, yet another example of the confusion.
Some of these pools are brackish, the salt water mixing with fresh. The result is a swirling view through a dive mask with the mixed refractive indexes, looking a bit like mixing water and oil. As one swims away from the ocean the water becomes fresher, you often find startlingly cool currents where the fresh water enters the pool. Often the tides will affect the depth of the water in the pool, even pools a hundred yards from the ocean rising and falling as the tide backs up the flow of water.
Many of the pools are local secrets, directions not available to outsiders. Places where a hot afternoon can be enjoyed, swimming in the cool waters. I know a few of these, don’t ask me where to find them.
The film truly highlights the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean. Modern plastics do not decompose readily, but persist in the environment for decades. This is a problem that deserves more attention and should be in the mind of anyone who treasures our seas.
Apparently the biggest problem is not the large pieces of plastic like those used in making the chair, but rather the microplastics. Under the influence of wave and sunlight, plastic slowly breaks down into smaller and smaller bits. These are sand size or smaller granules that have come to pervade the entire ocean. The granules are easily ingested by the smaller creatures of the plankton community, the food on which all ocean life depends.
Walking a Hawaiian beach you see some plastic, even far from the major urban sources of this pollution. Walking the tide-line on any beach or cove reveals small bits of colorful plastic. There is not a lot, but it is always there.
A picture postcard perfect setting… Brilliant blue water, waves crashing on black rock, palm trees overhead, the old pier jutting out from shore. Whittington Park is a beautiful stop along the Mamalahoa Highway as you round the south end of the island.
Like Mahukona at the north end of the island, this is an old sugar port. Here the small inter-island steamships loaded cargoes of Ka‘u cattle and sugar bound for Honolulu and shipment to markets across the Pacific. Bulky cargoes are best transported by water, thus these busy little ports were once found across the islands, today only a few ruins remain.
Known as Honu‘apo, or turtle cove, the port served area ranchers and plantations until the middle of the twentieth century, when better roads and trucks allowed shipments to the port in Hilo. Numerous ruins remain, seen in the wave battered pier, scattered foundations, and the ruins of a sugar mill across the highway. The pier has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, pounded by winter storms, once blown up by the army to prevent use during a feared Japanese invasion.
A large pond and wetlands sit alongside the mown lawn at the center of the park. Once maintained as a fishpond by ancient Hawaiians it is now a rich marsh. The park encompasses over half a mile of shoreline and over two hundred acres of land. There is plenty to explore along the shore north of the main park. Numerous archeological sites scattered across the low coastal plain testify to the centuries of use, from a large pre-contact village, to the plantation operations of the 19th and 20th centuries.
It is a pretty park with decent facilities. Camping is available here with a permit that can be purchased online. Stop by and enjoy the scenery and have lunch. Much of the time this beautiful park sits empty, the isolation of this coastline exemplified.
Access is through the Hualalai Resort. You must check in at the security shack just off the highway at the southern entrance, just 1/4 mile south of the main entrance to the resort. There you get a beach pass from the guard and head down to the public parking area. Get directions from security, you have to double back and take a right. There are only so many public parking spaces available, to ensure entry just get there early, arrival before 8am is pretty much guaranteed access.
From the parking area a nice concrete path leads to the Kukio Bay beach, a few hundred yards further north along the shoreline. The beach is not where you want to go! The beach is on Kukio Bay, we want Kakapa on the south side of the point. Divers only need walk a short distance to the dive entry into Kakapa bay, a good thing when weighed down by tanks, weights, and in a wetsuit.
A small sign noting the presence of public restrooms at the beach is the marker to turn off the path and head straight to the water. Head to the little inlet where a small point of rock creates a protected pool where you can finish gearing up and swim. The pool is deeper towards to the right and the small rocky point.