Go with the (Lava) Flow on Hawaii’s Kohala Coast

Lava on Hawaii, the Big Island is like sand on the beach; it’s everywhere. Hawaii Island is the largest of all the Hawaiian Islands and the baby of the island chain, continuing to grow as Kilauea erupts. If you’re visiting Hawaii with kids, experiencing the lava on Hawaii Island is an education in science and history with a big dose of adventure.

My 8-year-old daughter echoed the thoughts of many first time visitors when she said, “I saw all that lava and thought where am I?” The runway in Kona, built over an 1801 lava flow, has vast views of the fields of lava that cover the island. The lush, green oasis that visitors are expecting is nearby and comes into view as you drive north toward the 20-mile stretch of manicured resorts and communities called the Kohala Coast, our base for the week.

Lava Coastline on Hawaii Island

Rocky lava gives way to a big sand beach around the corner

Lava Adventures with Kids on Hawaii Island

In between our time spent at over-the-top pools at the Hilton Waikoloa Village  and the award-winning beaches of Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel we discovered lava adventures all over the island but unfortunately ran out of time to do them all.

Experience Kilauea Volcano Up-Close

If you want to see Kilauea in action you have three options: stay overnight in Hilo or Volcano Village for a multi-day visit, take a long day trip from the Kohala Coast or do what Amie and her family did last year, see it all from the air on a helicopter sightseeing tour.

Kilauea Lava Flow into Ocean

Your best chance to see lava flow is by boat or helicopter. Photo: HTA/Tor Johnson

While we didn’t visit Kilauea this trip, the first time I saw the lava flowing I was immediately reminded of my third grade science class where the teacher explained how magma flows to the surface and becomes lava. The hiking opportunities (across extinct craters) and visitors center in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are worth your time and if you’re not up for the long drive from the Kohala Coast, the Volcano Twilight tour with Hawaii Forest & Trail gets rave reviews.

Hawaii Island Lava Graffiti

Love notes in the lava are an unexpected tourist attraction

Ancient Lava Art and Love Notes

Messages from the past in the form of petroglyphs and present day love notes spelled out in white stones dot the lava flows and walking paths around the Kohala Coast. The Waikoloa petroglyphs are walking distance from the Hilton Waikoloa Village and Waikoloa Marriott Beach Resort & Spa and the Puako petroglyph fields are adjacent to The Fairmont Orchid. Hawaii Island’s version of white-stone graffiti is unique in the islands and found all over – much prettier than spray paint and easier to erase when Mario is no longer the “cutest.”

17th Hole at Hualalai Resort

This view explains why Hawaii Island is a golfer’s paradise. Photo: Hualalai Resort

Golf on a Lava Flow

The Kohala Coast is known as the ‘Golf Capital of Hawaii’, paradise on lava-lined fairways for avid fans. Famous golf course designers like Jack Nicklaus and Robert Trent Jones carve fairways through lava fields and turn black into green. One look at the view from the 17th hole at Hualalai, near Ciao Bambino recommended Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, and even non-golfers might pick up an iron.

Snorkeling at Fairmont Orchid

Lava outcroppings attract fish and snorkelers at The Fairmont Orchid

Snorkel Over Centuries-old Lava Flows

The ragged fingers of lava that jut out into the sea are the foundation for an entire ecosystem of reefs and marine life. We loved snorkeling at the Mauna Kea Beach Resort around the reef-topped lava flows with colorful fish and green turtles gliding around us. Their one-hour guided tour is perfect for families with beginner snorkelers and the crescent-shaped beach is a must even if you’re not a guest. The Fairmont Orchid also has a sandy beach with calm waters for beginner snorkelers and shady areas for the onlookers.

Pololu Valley Lookout

Rewarding views lead to a black sand beach at the end of the trail

Find the Lava Prize at Pololu Valley Lookout

Hawaii Island is famous for its black sand beaches which are created when hot lava contacts cool water and shatters into tiny fragments of sand. The Pololu Valley Lookout is literally at the end of the road on the Kona side of Hawaii Island. From the resorts of the Kohala Coast, the drive winds through the farmlands of North Kohala, toward the artsy town of Hawi and to the end of the road at the lookout. After a 20 – 30 minute steep hike down with stunning views you find the prize – a black sand beach. It’s not recommended for swimming and the hike is challenging with toddlers, but with older children this is a rewarding activity and the promise of ice cream in Hawi sweetens the return climb up the hill.

Kristi participated in a media trip with Kohala Coast Resort Association but as always Kristi’s thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Kristi Marcelle unless noted.

Relevant Links

Walking in the Footsteps of King Kamehameha the Great

Hawaii family hotels from the CB! Hotel Collection

Big Island of Hawaii Helicopter Review: Paradise Helicopters

Parents’ insider guide to tropical bliss at Four Seasons Hualalai

Five family-friendly activities on the Big Island of Hawaii with kids

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