In the Footsteps of King Kamehameha on Hawaii’s Kohala Coast

A beach vacation in Hawaii with kids is a time for relaxing and soaking up the aloha spirit. As my kids have grown, I’ve found that time on the sand complemented by cultural and physical activities is a good mix for everyone. The Kohala Coast resort area north of Kona on Hawaii, the Big Island offers this in spades.

A treasure trove of accessible Hawaiian historical sites and cultural activities on the Kohala Coast engage all ages. A nice perk is that doing them doesn’t require pre-planning and reservations.

Beach at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
Crescent-shaped bliss at Mauna Kea Beach Resort

Kohala Coast Activities with Kids

Hawaii Island is larger than all of the Hawaiian Islands combined and choosing a well-located hotel with kid-friendly activities nearby makes life easier. The Kohala Coast, nestled among the lava fields, is a 20-mile stretch of planned communities and upscale resorts that begins just past the Kona airport at the Ciao Bambino recommended Four Seasons Hualalai and extends north to the hotel that first attracted tourists to Hawaii Island when it opened in 1965, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.

According to Danny Akaka, cultural historian at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, the Kohala Coast is home to many ancient Hawaiian cultural sites for one very good reason; it was the favorite stomping grounds of Hawaii’s greatest ruler, King Kamehameha l often called King Kamehameha the Great.

King Kamehameha the Great

King Kamehameha was born in the district of North Kohala, near Kapaau on the Kona side of Hawaii Island. A fierce warrior and relentless in his 15-year pursuit to conquer neighboring islands, he united all of the islands under his rule in 1810 and called them the Kingdom of Hawaii, after his home island of Hawaii.

King Kamehameha the Great
King Kamehameha greets visitors in Kapaau

During his rule, King Kamehameha the Great routinely traversed the island on a 175-mile pathway called the King’s Trail which still exists in parts today. The trail winds throughout the Kohala Coast resorts with royal temples and fishponds, ancient petroglyphs and canoe landings found on resort grounds, sometimes just steps away from the pool. With close proximity to the hotels, it’s easy to add in cultural activities in between beach time.

Five Ways to Experience Hawaiian History and Culture with Kids

We kicked off our cultural exploration with a luau and when my 8-year-old daughter showed interest in learning more we set off to explore King Kamehameha the Great’s turf.


Look beyond the grass skirts and coconut shell tops for a story about Hawaii’s past. For kids there is nothing more captivating than seeing a whole roasted pig pulled out of the ground and dancers tossing fiery torches above their heads and behind their backs.

Our luau at the Waikoloa Marriott was short on pre-luau activity for kids, although there is a large grassy area and fishponds near the beach if you need a diversion, but it’s an entertaining show and surprisingly educational for school-age kids if they listen to the story.


Petroglyphs are centuries-old lava rock pictures etched into the stone that depict everyday events in the lives of native Hawaiians. There are petroglyph fields scattered throughout Hawaii Island and the Kohala Coast and two of the larger sites, the Puako and Waikoloa petroglyph fields, are located near the resorts with easy access and free admission.

Turtle Petroglyph in Hawaii
A turtle on the King’s Trail in the Waikoloa petroglyph field

The Puako petroglyphs are a 5-minute walk from the Ciao Bambino recommended The Fairmont Orchid and have man-made replicas of petroglyphs at the entrance making it easier for kids to see the drawings which are not as clear on the lava rock.

The Waikoloa petroglyphs are across from the King’s Shops in the Waikoloa Resort where the Hilton Waikoloa Village and the Waikoloa Beach Marriott are located. This trail is well marked with historical information but doesn’t have an ounce of shade so bring water and a hat.

Basket Weaving at Mauna Lani Bay Resort
With a little help, coconut palm fronds become a souvenir basket

Cultural Activities

There are cultural activities, many of them complimentary, offered daily at area shopping centers and hotels. Learn how to dance the hula, play a ukulele or weave a coconut palm frond basket which is not easy to do but holds up well in a suitcase.


The royal fishponds ensured that King Kamehameha the Great would always have a ready supply of fresh fish. A “runner” from the nearest royal fishpond hand-carried fresh fish to him wherever he was on the island. If the fish didn’t arrive alive, the runner probably didn’t make a return trip.

Royal Fishponds at Kalahuipuaa
Royal fishponds at Kalahuipuaa

The best place to see fishponds is at Kalahuipuaa, the grounds of the Mauna Lani Resort where there are seven ponds, some dating back to 250 BC.  If you’re short on time, Kalahuipuaa is your one-stop for Hawaiian culture with the fishponds, a replica canoe house and a small field of petroglyphs on a walking path.

Physical Activity

The only activity that bombed in my daughter’s opinion was the one I thought she’d like best, outrigger canoeing. Thankfully the smart staff at the Four Seasons Hualalai saved the day by bringing along snorkel gear which was a huge hit along with the sea turtle and octopus sightings.

Kohala Zipline
A scenic zipline race through the canopy

While it’s a stretch to call it a cultural activity, ziplining and traversing hanging bridges over ancient taro fields with Kohala Zipline proved to be an exciting half-day adventure and a highlight for my daughter.

If your kids are interested in the local history, make a day of it and visit the Puukohola Heiau temples on your way to Hawi for lunch at Bamboo Restaurant and a photo op with King Kamehameha the Great in Kapaau.

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

Relevant Links:

Hawaii family hotels

Big Island of Hawaii Helicopter Review: Paradise Helicopters

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

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  • Gorgeous pics! I’ve been to Oah’u twice, and hope to hit Maui next. Mixing cultural activities with recreational visits should be a good way to keep a kid’s attention (just don’t let them know they’re “learnin'”).
    Thanks for the photo ride!

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