Dolphins, Snorkeling, and South Kona Beaches

My Hawaii Hostel’s Road Trip Guide

Kealakekua Bay- Two Step - Ho’okena

Dolphin Selfie in Kealakekua Bay by Danielle Smith

Dolphin Selfie in Kealakekua Bay by Danielle Smith

Aloha Road Warriors.

The Big Island can feel a little overwhelming with so much ground to cover, and so many nooks and crannies to explore. Where do you start? To help you out, we’ve created some day trip itineraries starting from My Hawaii Hostel with some of our favorite sights, activities and, of course, places to chow down on fresh local fare. Grab your snorkel gear and follow this itinerary to see dolphins, vibrant coral reefs, and some of South Kona’s most beautiful beaches, plus where to stop for ono eats along the way. General consensus is that it is better to get a early start if you want to see dolphins. We recommend leaving the hostel by 6 am.  For a Google Map of this itinerary click here.

Stop 1: Morning Grindz

Fuel up for a day of snorkeling at Kaya’s Cafe with a quick cup of coffee and a slice of delicious house-made quiche for the road. This spot is popular with South Kona locals and opens early at 6 am each day. We like their iced coffee - made with coffee ice cubes for an extra buzzzz.

Stop 2: Kealakekua Bay

Take scenic Napoopoo Road down to Kealakekua Bay. Park in the parking lot and look out across the bay to the Captain Cook Monument.  If you see dolphins (or kayaks following dolphins) you can judge for yourself if they are close enough to swim out to. This side of the bay doesn’t have great snorkeling so if your goal is dolphins and they aren’t here, move on to the next destination.

Read our next blog post on the hike down to the Captain Cook Monument and the north side of Kealakekua Bay for snorkeling, which can be accessed by bus from the hostel. This is a full day activity on it’s own, as the hike is about 2 miles (or 3 km) each way down a steep trail.

A Note on respecting the Nai’a (Dolphins)

Dolphins hunt for food at night and come to the bays to rest during the day. Respect these amazing creatures by observing them from the beach, and keeping at least 50 feet distance if in the water. Of course, sometimes they can approach you on their own and get much closer, but do not chase them or try to touch them. Report any violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources).

Stop 3: Two-Step and City of Refuge

After stopping at Kealakekua Bay, head south to Two Step or Honaunau Bay on the lower road, Hwy 160. Drive slow, as the road is narrow and goes through a residential area. Take a right onto Honaunau Beach road near the entrance to Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park and find a parking spot on the roadside. Two Step is a popular spot for dolphins to hang out and is arguably the best snorkeling on the island. Crystal clear waters, giant brain corals, underwater sea arches, vibrant fish and green sea turtles make this a popular spot for snorkelers and scuba divers.  Easy access via two “steps” in the lava rock makes getting in and out of the water fairly easy.

Right next door is the Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park, a sacred site. The park's website describes it best -

“In old Hawai'i, if you had broken a law, the penalty was death. Perhaps you had entered into an area that was reserved for only the chiefs, or had eaten forbidden foods. Laws, or kapu, governed every aspect of Hawaiian society. The penalty for breaking these laws was certain death. Your only option for survival is to elude your pursuers and reach the nearest pu'uhonua, or place of refuge.

As you enter, the great wall rises up before you marking the boundaries between the royal grounds and the sanctuary. Many ki'i (carved wooden images) surround the Hale o Keawe temple, housing the bones of the chiefs that infuse the area with their power or mana. If you reached this sacred place, you would be saved.”

If you are interested in Hawaiian history this is a must see.  It costs $7 per person by foot or $15 per car to enter the park.  Be sure to pick up an informational brochure so you can follow along with the guided number placards.  

Stop 4: Ka'aloa Super J’s or The Coffee Shack

At this point you might be feeling a little hungry.  If you want to try some authentic Hawaiian Food, you have to stop at Ka’aola Super J’s. Family owned and operated, they serve up simple, filling plate lunches you can eat there or take to go. They serve up some of the best Lau laus in Kona - a Hawaiian dish of savory steamed pork wrapped in taro leaves. Choose from classic side dishes like lomi lomi salmon, poi, rice, and creamy mac salad made with plenty of mayo.

Alternatively, The Coffee Shack has an amazing bird's eye view of the coast, delicious breakfast and lunch, coffee, and yummy pastries. This is a sit-down place with table service, so it’s better if you are in the mood to linger. The lilikoi cheesecake here is epic.


Stop 5: Ho’okena Beach

Ho’okena Beach is a beautiful grey sand beach about 8 miles or 15 minutes drive south from the Coffee Shack on Highway 11. The drive down Ho’okena Beach Road from the highway is about 2.5 miles, along a twisty one lane country road. Drive slow! Ho’okena is popular with dolphins early in the morning. You can often spot spinner dolphins frolicking offshore. Hawaiian style canoes dot the beach, and beautiful palms and Hau trees with heart-shaped leaves offer natural shade. Camping is also permitted here for a nightly fee. Be aware that the beach park is adjacent to a very old community and you are in their backyard - so treat it with respect. Ho’okena is a great place to spend the afternoon and catch a sunset as well.

Stop 6: Cultivate Good Food Juice Bar & Vegan Cafe

If you head back to the hostel before 4 pm, you can grab a refreshing cold pressed juice for the drive home from this cute roadside cafe, right next to Donkey Balls Chocolate Factory. With divine combinations like pineapple - cucumber - mint made with locally sourced produce, their juices are delicious. They also make yummy vegan salads and wraps for all you herbivores out there. Alternatively, if you are looking to cook dinner at the hostel, stop in at KTA in the Keauhou Shopping Center to grab some groceries.

Stop 7: My Hawaii Hostel

You made it, road warriors! Now it’s time to kick back, relax and share your tales, and photos of glory with the rest of us. Don’t forget to tag us @myhawaiihostel on Instagram and on Facebook.

Tune in for our next road trip itinerary coming soon!


About the Author

M the Writer is a blogger specializing in Hawaii travel and entrepreneurship. She landed on the beautiful Big Island in 2013 as a backpacker and has been at the beach ever since.

Read more of her writing and get in touch at: Follow her on Instagram @emilysouthpaw.