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sea turtle in black sand beach

sea turtle in black sand beach

Shaka Guide's South Island Epic Coastal Journey Itinerary

Shaka Guide

The South Island Epic Coastal Journey covers a lot of ground, literally. It takes you on a journey that spans more than 200 miles of Hawaii Island.

You’ll visit the Kona Coast, South Point, a black sand beach, barren lava fields, and Mauna Kea with so much to do in between.

Because this tour packs a lot in over a vast distance, you’ll want to make a few key decisions as you start the tour that will help you plan your day and manage your time.

We recommend choosing two (or three max) of these activities to maximize your time.

Tour Starting Points

This suggested itinerary starts in Waikoloa and travels counterclockwise ending where you began.

If you’re taking the tour in this direction, here are the decisions you’ll have to make:

  • Kona Coast*
  • South Point
  • Volcanoes National Park 
  • Mauna Kea

Please Note: the beginning of the South Island Epic Coastal Journey is the same as our Kona Big Kahuna Tour. If you’re planning on doing that tour another day, just drive along and listen to the stories and make the stops a different day, or skip it and start the tour at point 61. You can use the offline map to guide you there.*

south island epic coastal tour map by shaka guide

*This itinerary starts in Waikoloa*

The South Island Epic Coastal Journey has three different locations where you can start the tour:

  1. Waikoloa
  2. Kona
  3. Hilo

You can also do the tour in multiple directions; you can take the tour either clockwise or counterclockwise from any starting point on the island.

The Tour is Customizable

What you choose will really depend on where you’re staying and what you’d like to do.

For example, if your hotel is in Waikoloa and you’d like to stargaze at Mauna Kea, your best bet is to take the tour counterclockwise from Waikoloa.

However, if you’re staying in Hilo and you’d like to cliff jump at South Point, you’ll want to take the tour clockwise starting from Hilo.

Like all Shaka Guide tours, you have the ability to stop and go as you please.

Visit the sites you want, and skip the ones you don’t. This suggested itinerary will give you an idea of how long you should expect to spend at each stop and which spots to skip if you have some specific adventures in mind later in the day.

Pro Tip! Fill up your gas tank before you head out, you don’t want to be frantically looking for a gas station at some of the remote points on the island.

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Tour Itinerary

MORNING

Approximately 4-5 hours Depart Waikoloa EARLY. And when we say early, we mean around 8:00 a.m.

This tour packs a lot in, and if you want to get to all of it, you’ll need to make the most of your time.

Trust us, the early wake-up call will be worth it.

Hit the Beach at Kiholo Bay and Queens Bath 

bay area in hawaiiImage from Flickr by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Approximate time: 30 minutes - 1 hour

Brace yourself for beautiful turquoise waters, tidepools, and sunbathing sea turtles.

The first stop on the tour gives you the chance to get moving!

There are two entrances to this area depending on where you want to go first.

Both entrances involve a little hiking but the ocean views are worth it!

Stop by just for the view or stick around for a swim.

Keep in mind that Queens Bath is a tidepool with changing ocean conditions. We only recommend swimming if the surf is calm.

OR

Visit Kua Bay Beach

Approximate time: 30 minutes - 1 hour

white sand beach with people sand bathing in big islandKua Bay, Big island Hawaii | Photo by dronepicr, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr

This is a small local beach with nice white sand. We recommend choosing either Kiholo Bay and Queens Bath or Kua Bay Beach, there’s just so much to get to on this tour!

Look for Huehue Lava Tube

The Huehue lava tube is an enormous and ancient lava tube formed from Hualalai Volcano.

Have a look for it on your left-hand side as you’re driving down Mamalahoa Highway.

Please note, that this lava tube used to be accessible to the public but has recently been closed off to visitors. So just look from the road, you can’t miss it.

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Hike to the beach at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park

Approximate time: 45 minutes

If you’re looking to stretch your legs, take a short hike to the beach at Kaloko-Honokohau National Park.

On the way, you’ll see an ancient fishpond and a traditional thatched Hawaiian building.

The cultural significance of this park lies in the way it has preserved the ancient Hawaiian methods of utilizing the land, the stones, and the sea.

If you’re looking to make it to Volcanoes National Park and do some hiking there, you might want to skip this spot.

Drive through Kona Town

Approximate time: 10 - 30 minutes

shoreline roadAli'i Drive, Kailua-Kona. dronepicr, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

We will pass through Kona Town on Ali’i Drive. You are welcome to stop here for a bite to eat, walk around this quaint seaside town, or grab snacks for the road.

We recommend just driving by for now, you can always come back on our Kona Big Kahuna Tour!

Pull over for a view of Magic Sands Beach 

Approximate time: 5 minutes

The beach is also known as La’aloa, white sands, or disappearing sands and it got the name from the sand that is pulled off from the beach during the winter or early spring, leaving the lava rock exposed. If you’re pressed for time, feel free to keep driving down the road, there are plenty more beaches ahead. Please note: there’s usually a pretty strong, potentially dangerous shorebreak here.

Visit Kahaluu Beach

Approximate time: 30-45 minutes (depending if you’re snorkeling)

Have you ever seen a church on the beach? Well, here you can! Look out for a small white church and you’ll see the beach right next to it. This beach is a popular surf spot and also a great place to snorkel! We recommend you come back and snorkel here another day.

Go for a Short History Walk at Kamehameha III’s Birthplace

Approximate time: 15 minutes

stone memorial of king kamehamehaKamehameha III's Birthplace Keauhou Bay in Kona | Photo by W Nowicki, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Take a walk to learn a bit about Hawaii’s history and the story of one of its most famous kings, Kamehameha III.

The walking area has historical signs and markers along the way explaining how Kona has been home to important royal sites since the 1600s.

Learn about Kuamoo Battlefield 

Approximate time: 10 minutes (pull over and listen to the story of this site)

Pull over for a look at an ancient battlefield and burial ground.

While you’re stopped, we’ll tell you the story of this historic spot.

From your car, if you look over the lava field here, you will notice the terraced piles of rocks.

These are the burial mounds of the fallen warriors, still visible today.

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Try local honey at Big Island Bees

Approximate time: 20 minutes-1 hour (depending on if you do the guided tour)

Big Island Bees makes honey from all sorts of flowers that are grown on the island.

With over 2,500 hives and 125 million bees, they know their stuff.

Stop by to walk through the museum, look at the shop, and try some of their locally-produced honey -- for free!

You can also do a guided tour of the facility however, if you’re on the South Island Epic Coastal Adventure, we recommend saving this for another day.

Find the Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay

Approximate time: 15 minutes (plan to spend more if you’re snorkeling or kayaking)

Kealakekua Bay is a marine life conservation district.

Because the water here is usually calm, underwater life thrives making it a great spot for snorkeling.

While you’re there, look out in the distance for a white structure -- that’s the Captain Cook monument (we’ll tell you his story).

You can kayak there if you want to spend a few hours on the water. Be advised: there are no lifeguards on duty here.

south island epic coastal journey download

Discover a sacred place of refuge at Pu'uhonua Historic Park

Approximate time: 30-45 minutes

In ancient times, Pu'uhonua was known as the city of refuge and offered a sanctuary to lawbreakers.

Within the park are a number of historical landmarks like the grounds where the Ali’i (royalty) lived within the Pu'uhonua.

While you’re there try the guided audio tour of the park.

Please keep in mind that this is a very sacred spot for Hawaiians and should be treated with respect.

Note: there is an entrance fee per vehicle. 

Snorkel at Two Step Beach

Approximate time: 1+ hour (if you’re snorkeling, if not, skip this spot)

Two-step is immediately after the turn for Pu'uhonua Park.

The beach got its name from the lava rock steps you can use to enter the bay.

This beach is usually crowded so only go if you plan to snorkel.

Marvel at St. Benedict’s Painted Church

Approximate time: 15 minutes

church with colorful interiorsSt. Benedict's "Painted Church" | Photo by Nnachappa64, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This historic church was built in 1899 by Father John Velghe of Belgium.

Unlike the typical stained glass windows that you’ll find in churches, this religious site is completely painted on the inside.

We highly recommend going inside for a peak! Look for the Hawaiian details -- have you ever seen palm trees painted in a church? -- and the vaulted ceilings. It’s truly a sight to see!

Please note, the Painted Church is open from 9:30-3:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays. 

Stop for fuel and refreshments at Malama Market & Gas

Approximate time: 10 minutes

You’re in for a long drive ahead and if you’re planning on making the trip to South Point for some cliff diving or to hike to the green sand beach, this will be the last place to grab some snacks and water or use the restroom for about 30 miles.

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Visit Ka Lae - South Point OR Skip to visit Volcanoes National Park and/or Mauna Kea 

Approximate time: 1+ hour(s)

Ka Lae translates in Hawaiian to ‘the point’, and is the southernmost piece of land in the United States.

The area has a desolate beauty all on its own with wind-bent trees, an intriguing green sand beach, and cliffs that feel like the end of the world.

There are two major activities that you can do at South Point, a 40-foot cliff jump or a 2.5-mile trip hike to Hawaii’s only green sand beach.

South Point Cliff Jump

Approximate time: 1 hour

At the end of the road, you will find a small parking lot near the cliff.

This is where you can park and make the 40-foot plunge into the ocean below (do not attempt in the winter months, October through April).

While you’re there, check out the ancient fishing heiau nearby.

Green Sand Beach

Approximate time: 3+ hours

small beachPapakolea Green Sand Beach Big Island | Photo by Madereugeneandrew, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Green Sand Beach or Papakolea Beach is one of four beaches in the world with this green-colored sand.

The beach is a remnant of a 49,000-year-old cinder cone volcano that spewed olivine-rich lava, leaving this green crystalline sand.

It’s an amazing sight. You can either hike 5 miles roundtrip (not recommended) or hitch a ride on a truck for $20 per person.

The hike is extremely dry and hot. Opt to hitch a ride if you plan to go.

Take a look at Mark Twain's Monkey Pod Tree

Approximate time: 5 minutes

This area is a small village called Waiohinu, where Mark Twain, while he was here, planted a monkeypod tree.

This little town still exists, and is home to a second-generation descendant of the monkey pod planted by Mark Twain!

A hurricane claimed the original tree in 1956, and today’s tree sprouted from its roots.

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Lunch or Snack at Punalu'u Bakeshop, Naalehu Town

Approximate time: 20 minutes

At this point, you might need a bite to refuel, and where better than a bakery that specializes in Hawaiian sweet bread.

“Punalu'u Bakeshop” Na’alehu means “the volcanic ashes” in Hawaiian.

It’s the southernmost community in the US with a post office.

There are fewer than 900 people living here, and it’s a nice quiet rural town.

There's a popular bakeshop in this area called “Punalu'u Bakeshop” and Shaka Restaurant and Bar, known as “the southernmost bar.”

AFTERNOON

Visit Whittington Beach Park OR Stop at Punaluu Black Sand Beach

Approximate time: 30 minutes

Whittington is a peaceful little rest area with picnic tables and excellent views of the ocean and surrounding cliffs.

If you’re short on time, you might want to skip this spot and stay on the road towards Volcanoes National Park, plus there’s a black sand beach coming up next!

OR

Stop at Punaluu Black Sand Beach

Approximate time: 30 minutes

black sand beachPunaluu Black Sand Beach, Island of Hawaii

Punaluu is well-known in Hawaiian culture and legends. It is known as a “Wahi Pana”, or sacred place, and was seen as an oasis in the Ka’u desert.

Punaluu Beach is famous not only for its black sand but also for its sea turtles.

Green sea turtles are usually all over the place here, sleeping on the beach and swimming next to you in the ocean.

If you see them, be sure to keep your distance. These are protected animals and getting too close will result in a fine. 

Try local coffee at Kau Coffee

Approximate time: 15-45 minutes (depending on if you do the guided tour)

You can turn to Pahala Town to check out the Ka'u Coffee Mill and get some free samples of this delicious coffee and macadamia nuts at their gift shop.

They also offer free tours at 11 am and 1 pm daily. The tour lasts about 30 minutes.

If you don’t need a midday pick-me-up, skip this spot as it’s a slight detour.

This spot is currently closed but offering curbside pick up and ordering because of Covid 19.

Tree Molds

Approximate time: 30 minutes This is a brief stop that accompanies a mini 1.2-mile hike to see some neat lava tree molds.

Lava trees form when fast-flowing lava moves through a forest and completely surrounds moist trees.

The tree burns up on the inside as the lava cools on the outside, resulting in a lava shell left in the shape of the tree.

Volcano National Park or Skip and Head towards Hilo and Mauna Kea if you’re short on time

Approximate time: 3-4 hours

hawaii volcanoes national park signboardHawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii | Photo by Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Volcano National Park offers dramatic volcanic landscapes, as well as glimpses of rare flora and fauna.

The park encompasses two active volcanoes: K?lauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world's most largest shield volcano.

Check out our audio driving tour of Volcanoes National Park, it will take you to all our favorite spots.

Please note: there is no food or drinks in the park and some spots are closed because of Covid 19 and the 2018 K?lauea eruption.

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EVENING

Make a pitstop at Volcano Village

Approximate time: 30 minutes

Perfect for a quick stop, visit to refuel on gas, stop at some of the cute boutiques, or grab a snack at the Kilauea General Store.

If you’re hungry for dinner, there are also some sit-down restaurants you can try.

Check out an acclaimed Orchid Garden

Approximate time: 15 minutes

Moriyasu Akatsuka started the orchid gardens here in 1974 after running a family orchid nursery in Japan.

If you stop at the gardens, you can walk through their greenhouses and view all of the different types of beautiful orchids they raise and ship out to customers across the globe.

They also run farm tours and tastings, but you might need to book these in advance.

Try local Mac Nuts at Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm

Approximate time: 30 minutes

machine making chocolatesChocolate from Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm. @prayitnophotography, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr

As we approach Hilo you have the option to take a quick detour to Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm.

At the farm, visitors are invited to walk around and learn more about this Hawaiian delicacy.

You can also watch the Macadamia Nut Candy being made, see their finished products, and taste test the farm’s many assorted flavors.

The visitor center is open 9:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m. 

Visit Panaewa Zoo

Approximate time: 1 hour

Just outside Hilo is the only rainforest zoo in the US, Panaewa Zoo.

The zoo is free to enter and is open every day except Christmas and New Year's. This is a perfect spot to bring the kids!

While you’re there look for the zoo’s stars, two Bengal tigers.

The white one is named tzatziki and the orange one is named sriracha.

The zoo is open from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Return to Waikoloa on Saddle Road - (Same Stops as North Island Tour)

astronomy center facadeImiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, Hawaii | Photo by Robert Linsdell, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons 

Imiloa Astronomy Center

Approximate time: 30+ minutes

The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center is part of the University of Hawaii at Hilo and is a gathering place that integrates science and Native Hawaiian culture.

They have a visitor’s center, with wonderful exhibits, programs, and events.

Since Hawaiian society was built on exploration and observation, Hawaiian cultural practices have become an important part of ‘imiloa’s exhibits.

Please note: the center is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Pull over for a look at a Heart-Shaped Cinder Cone

Approximate time: 2 minutes

Pull over on the side of the road and we’ll tell you where to spot a heart-shaped cinder cone. Sometimes it is hard to see if it is foggy.

Stargaze atop Mauna Kea

Approximate time: 1+ hours

night skyStargaze atop Mauna Kea

The summit of Mount Everest is higher above sea level than the summit of any other mountain, but Mauna Kea is the tallest when measured from base to summit.

Astronomers from around the world explore the universe from its peak and the Hawaiian people go to it in search of ancient spiritual connections.

For visitors, it is one of the clearest places on the planet for viewing the night sky.

Please note: The Mauna Kea summit, visitor center, and stargazing program are currently closed.

Continue driving on Saddle Road toward Waikoloa

Approximate time: 1 hour

At this point in the day, you will be exhausted! You’ve seen just about every corner of the Big Island and you’re probably ready to head back to your hotel.

Don’t worry, we’ll guide you back towards Waikoloa with stories along the way!

When you’re in Hawaii, we ask that you act respectfully toward the locals, land, and wildlife. 

Please pick up your trash; never touch any marine life, plants, or other animals; and avoid unsafe spots. Hawaii’s natural resources are precious, it’s up to all of us to help preserve these resources.

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Ready to take the tour? Check out Shaka Guide's South Island Epic Coastal Journey Tour!

We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at aloha@shakaguide.com.

Ready to take the South Island Epic Coastal Journey? Here's everything you need to know before you go! 

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