The romantic village of Kailua-Kona sits along the shore of Kailua Bay, a gentle curve of water framed by volcanic slopes and a wreath of tropical foliage. The heart of town is just a few blocks long, filled with open-air shops and enchanting seaside restaurants. A walk down Alii Drive is wonderful in the morning for early risers, ideal in the afternoon for beachgoers and shoppers, and perfect at the end of the day for families, friends and romantic strollers. Kailua-Kona’s seafront was made for walking.
Hawaiian royalty recognized how special this place was when King Kamehameha the Great set up residence in 1812, spending the last seven years of his life here content with his successful unification of the Hawaiian Islands. Evidence of his reign remains intact in Kailua-Kona at the reconstructed Ahuena Heiau, the king’s personal temple dedicated to Lono, one of the chief deities in the Hawaiian pantheon.
Kamakahonu Beach is a strip of white sand on the tiny cove in front of the Marriott King Kamehameha Kona Hotel, the perfect starting point for a walking tour of Kailua-Kona. The beach is popular with sunbathers, while the protected cove is fun for beginning snorkelers who enjoy underwater views of coral and saltwater fish.
Access to Ahuena Heiau is available on a footpath on the northern end of the cove. Photos of the heiau, with a grove of forest trees in the background, can also be taken from Kailua Pier. The pier—home to the world-famous Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament—offers great views of Kailua Bay, Alii Drive and two other major sites of historical interest: Mokuaikaua Church and Hulihee Palace
The oldest Christian place of worship in the Islands, Mokuaikaua Church was founded in Kailua-Kona in 1820 by New England missionaries Asa and Lucy Thurston, who arrived on the brig Thaddeus. The first church was constructed from local ohia wood, with a thatched roof, just across the road from Gov. John Adams Kuakini’s Hulihee Palace.
Hulihee Palace (pronounced hoo-lee-hay-ay) was partially constructed with lava rocks from an ancient Hawaiian temple, a heiau, in the mid-1830s. After Kuakini’s death in 1844, the Kailua-Kona property eventually was left to Princess Ruth, who made it her primary residence, although she chose to sleep in a grass hut on the grounds, preferring the fresh air and ocean breezes, especially in the hotter summer months. The palace later passed down the royal lines to Bernice Pauahi Bishop (of Bishop Museum fame), King David Kalakaua (the Merrie Monarch), Queen Kapiolani, Prince Jonah Kuhio and Prince David Kawananakoa, whose descendants now live on Oahu.
In 1927, a group dedicated to preserving Hawaii’s unique cultural heritage, the Daughters of Hawaii, restored the palace and opened it to the public as a museum. In 1973, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of Kailua-Kona’s favorite attractions, offering a glimpse into the lives of Hawaiian royalty in its heyday.
From King Kamehameha the Great to Queen Kapiolani, Hawaiian royalty recognized the blessed nature of Kailua-Kona. Since those days, many others have shared in its magic.