It’s hard to find a white-sand beach in Kona on Hawai‘i Island.
But there is one — and it’s been a carefully guarded secret until recently.
Makalawena Beach is a secluded stretch of sandy beach coves located about three miles north of the Kona International Airport on private land owned by Kamehameha Schools.
That last part, though, you won’t find in most guidebooks or on travel sites.
People have access to the beach via the shoreline — which is public — by parking at the nearby Kekaha Kai State Park and walking for about 30 minutes along a well-worn path of sharp a‘a. (You’ll need a 4WD vehicle.)
And there are even boats now that drop off visitors to the beach for a few hours.
So this once pristine coastline — and let’s be real, it’s not as crowded as Waikīkī Beach — is now packed with people just about every day of the year. Beach-goers lug their tents, hibachis (grills), beach chairs, even surfboards for about a mile along the shoreline to get here.
And I can see why it’s worth the effort.
The white sand here is super fine — not dissimilar to the sand found in Kailua on O‘ahu — and there are enough small coves to find a quiet spot to relax. Since it’s not easy to get to — it’s about four miles from the highway — it tends to be less crowded than spots like Hāpuna Beach.
There are small pools of brackish water inland for washing off the salt and small coves perfect for snorkeling and bodysurfing. We dove around and saw Hawaiian sea turtles, ‘uhu (parrotfish), yellow tang, kala (unicorn fish), a variety of wrasse, a pod of spinner dolphins and lots of humuhumunukunukuapua‘a (wedge-tail triggerfish).
But man, it was crowded. People were tossing footballs in the shallow water and blasting their reggae music on the beach. It wasn’t quite what I had expected.
“It’s in the (guide)book,” says one of the volunteer caretakers this weekend, who counted more than 150 people on Sunday at this small beach. “So they come. And they going keep coming.”
The beach is “open” every day — it used to be closed on Wednesdays — from sun up to sun down. Once the sun starts setting, though, the caretaker will come around and tell folks to leave. The only way you can stay and camp is if you have a permit from Kamehameha Schools. And those aren’t easy to get, either.
We were lucky enough to know someone who works for KS. He invited us to stay over the weekend at Makalawena with him and his extended family. And it was perfect timing, too, since I’m still recovering from a concussion and can’t do much but lounge around. And if you know me, you know how hard that is!
Here’s what our weekend looked like — and let me tell you, when the sun goes down is when this place really turns on its magic:
For dinner one night, we had lūʻau stew with taro leaves and chunks of beef and pork. It was simply perfection, especially with fresh poi from Waipi‘o Valley. Just enough salt, too. I couldn’t stop eating it.
These kids had so much fun here; it was a perfect playground for them. They kayaked, dove, fished, bodyboarded, adventured around — and afterward they got to eat kiawe-grilled steaks and chicken, hot dogs, fresh āholehole (flag tail) and s’mores. It doesn’t get much better than that!
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better sunset in Hawai‘i outside of Kona — and especially if you’re watching it from Makalawena. I couldn’t have planned a more perfect weekend to rest, relax and heal. Thank you to the Kealoha family for inviting us and letting us eat everything in your coolers. We are humbled by the beauty of our island state. Truly.