All about Big Island Lava and the Hawaiian Diamond

A'a and Pahoehoe Big Island Horizon BnB
A'a and Pahoehoe lava

Hawaii is a series of islands composed, primarily, of lava. Lava isn’t all the same. Two main types are A’a (ah-ah) and pahoehoe (paw-hoey-hoey). There is also a third type, but you’re not likely to encounter it as it forms during submarine eruptions, this is called ‘pillow’ lava.

The dynamics of a lava flow generally dictate which type of lava forms. A’a lavas are associated with high discharge rates and steep slopes, while pahoehoe flows are associated with lower discharge rates and gentle slopes. Geology aside, pahoehoe is usually darker and a’a tends to be lighter and brownish to reddish. The reddish comes from oxidation of the iron to iron oxide.

Pahoehoe tends to be smooth. You can generally walk on it without shoes. A’a on the other hand is chunky and sharp  – think of the sound you’d make when trying to walk on it bare foot!

Two Steps Big Island Hawaii Captain Cook Horizon Guest House
Two Steps

If you snorkel at Two Steps, only minutes from Horizon Guest House and adjacent to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, or Place of Refuge, you’ll find yourself walking over smooth pahoehoe before entering the water.

Black sand Horizon Guest House Honaunau Captain Cook Hawaii
Black sand

When the lava is broken up into fine grains we end up with a black sand. However, when the mineral olivine is present in large enough quantities, and is packed into a sedimentary formation, natural erosion creates a green sand beach.

In the photo below is the ‘famous’ Green Sand Beach – also called Papakōlea Beach. This unique beach is located about two miles from the southern most point of the Big Island, South Point, and is approximately an hour’s drive south of Horizon Guest House.

Green Sand Beach Big Island Hawaii Horizon B&B Captain Cook
Papakōlea Beach

Papakōlea Beach is one of only four green sand beaches in the world, the other three are in Guam, Galapagos Islands and Norway.

The cliff in the background of the photo is a loose, sedimentary formation containing a relatively large amount of olivine as fine crystals. The green crystals are mixed with black (lava) and white (coral/shells) sand and, as a result, some patches of sand are greener than others.

How to get there

To get to Papakōlea Beach involves a drive and a hike (but it’s well worth the extra effort).

  1. Take the road to ‘South Point’ between mile markers 69 and 70 on Hwy 11 (between Kona and Volcano Village). Drive to the small harbor at the end. On the left hand side there is a car park.
  2. Walk from the car park to the ocean and take the road to the left (facing the water, toward the east). Follow the road with the ocean on your right for approximately 2.5 miles. At this point you will be above the beach. Next, make your way carefully along the lava cliff on the west side of the bay.

Tip: Leave early and try to make the trip on a weekday to avoid the crowds.

You can see in the next photo how green the olivine sand is. There is also a lava rock with olivine occlusions, and a bracelet made from larger olivine crystals.

Peridot Horizon BnB Hotel Captain Cook Hawaii
Olivine sand and lava

Fun fact! A type of olivine is peridot (also found in meteorites) and is a gem quality stone. Peridot is also referred to locally as ‘Hawaiian Diamond’. Found in only a fraction of the olivine deposits, it is the birthstone for the month of August.

Strange but true! When lava is ejected into the air, it can form an usual solid lava that has an uncanny resemblance to petrified wood. These samples below came from the Hualalai mountain, which is the mountain you see when you land at the Kailua-Kona airport.

Solid lava Hawaii Big Island Horizon Guest House
Solid lava almost identical to petrified wood!
Author: Angus Meek

Kealia Ranch Store

The Kealia Ranch Store is famous for its shaved ice, and it’s definitely worth a stop to check out their stock of local arts and crafts – and snacks!

The Kealia Ranch was originally founded in 1915 and is still operating as a working cattle ranch today, with stock of Hereford and Angus cattle. They supply grass-fed beef locally, and also farm cacao and coffee on the ranch. The ranch is located less than a mile from Horizon.

What you'll find

You’ll find local snacks, including ‘ulu chips (made from breadfruit), assorted dried fruit (mango, pineapple, plum, lemon and ginger), locally-made pepper jelly, honey (produced on the ranch) and Kona coffee.

You can even buy beef direct from the ranch! (Perfect for grilling out for dinner at Horizon). Includes, rib eye, t-bone, sirloin, chuck and porterhouse.

Locally made arts and crafts.

Shaved ice

Choose from a great variety of flavors, add ice cream and then toppings of your choice. Fruit popsicles are also available.

There is a wide range of Kealia Ranch apparel.

They also stock some beautiful koa products, including cutting boards.

Browse their stock of unique, locally made arts and crafts – perfect for gifts.

The Kealia Ranch Store is less than a minute’s drive from Horizon – perfect for a shaved ice on your way back from the beach, or browsing for a gift.

When and where?

The Kealia Ranch Store is open Wednesday, Thursday & Saturday, 9:30am – 4:30pm.

86-4181 Mamalahoa Highway, Captain Cook, HI 96704

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South Kona Fruit Stand

The South Kona Fruit Stand has been a fixture in South Kona for a number of years. They grow and sell their own produce as well as serving smoothies, coffee and sandwiches.

The fruit stand is located just south of the intersection of Highway 11 & Highway 160). Their distinctive signs will give you forewarning of where to pull over. Take note – it’s a one way entrance and a one way exit. There is also easy parking.

What you'll find

You’ll find a wide variety of homegrown produce (depending on the season), some familiar snacks, and some homemade baked goods (try the lilikoi bars!). They also do made-to-order sandwiches.

Outdoor seating is located above the parking lot and is accessed by a path that runs alongside the main shop.

The South Kona Fruit Stand is a great little fruit stand and a great addition to the South Kona community. It doesn’t have the wide selection of fruit available at some of the bigger farmers markets but it makes up for it with a unique local charm of its own.

When and where?

The South Kona Fruit Stand operates everyday except Tuesday. Open 10-5pm Mon, Wed, Thurs and Fri & 10-4pm Sat and Sun.

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Restaurant review: The Korner Pocket Sports Bar & Grill

The Korner Pocket Sports Bar & Grill is a South Kona institution. Popular with locals and tourists alike, Korner Pocket is in Kealakekua close to Highway 11. Open every day, they also do a Sunday brunch. A great place to stop on your way south!

We arrived for lunch mid-week and there were plenty of tables. There is also easy parking in the parking lot in front of the restaurant. You can choose to eat inside or outside where there is a covered lanai. The service was great and the menu has some great options. 

Of course it is a sports bar and this is well-catered for with nine TVs and two pool tables. It can be a little noisy inside but there is a great outdoor lanai with seating which we found to be perfect. 

The menu

Korner Pocket uses fresh, grass-fed beef for their hamburgers, served on locally-made fresh buns. They also offer – slow-cooked prime rib, spicy poke nachos, fish and chips, tacos and salads, as part of an extensive menu.

What we ordered

(Above) Blackened Ono Sandwich $16.95 – Lettuce, tomato, pickled red onion & aioli on a French brioche bun with a side salad.

(Above) KP Patty Melt $14.95 – Toasted rye, sautéed onions and Swiss cheese.

We took advantage of the outdoor seating which is to the left as you walk into Korner Pocket from the main parking lot entrance (the outdoor seating is located behind the screen in the photo below).

The fish sandwich was delicious and perfectly cooked as was the KP patty melt. 

The Korner Pocket Sports Bar & Grill is a great place to grab a quick lunch, or to watch the game, or to simply spend the afternoon or evening having a leisurely meal. 

Korner Pocket Sports Bar & Grill

81-970 Haleki’i Street 
Kealakekua

Hawaii 96750

Ph. 808 322 2994

Hours: Mon – Thurs 11am – 8pm, Fri – Sat 11am – 9pm, Sun 9am – 8pm

https://kornerpocketkona.com

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Snorkeling Kahalu’u Beach Park

Kahaluu-bay Kona 2
Photo credit: lovebigisland.com

Kahalu’u Beach Park is one the most popular snorkeling spots on the Big Island of Hawaii. While we recommend Two Step and Kealakekua Bay as two of the best, Kahaluʻu Bay has its own charm.

The beach park is located in calm water only minutes drive south of Kailua-Kona. Its easy location makes it the perfect place to snorkel if you are staying near Ali’i Drive, or in one of the hotels around the waterfront.

Kahaluu-Bay-Aerial_Please-Credit-The-Keeper-of-Bay-Production-resized
Photo credit: Kahalu‘u Bay Education Center

The bay itself is well-protected by a fringing reef, providing safe, calm waters for your snorkeling adventure. The water is relatively shallow, at about 4-5 feet deep. Green sea turtles are often seen in the bay as they like to sun themselves on the rocks.

Some of the sea life you might see when snorkeling include: sea urchins, octopus, eels, turtles, and of course plenty of tropical fish such as yellow tang, parrotfish, rainbow fish, and more.

hawaii-snorkeling-at-kahaluu-beach-park-big-island
Photo credit: wanderwisdom.com

Take care to snorkel in the south part of the bay. Traditionally, the north part of the bay is where surfers congregate. But there’s plenty of room for snorkelers and surfers alike! 

Free parking is available at the beach park. There are also picnic tables, showers and bathrooms, and snorkel rentals. Lifeguards are on duty from 9:30am–4:45pm every day.

Keep in mind that this is a very popular snorkeling destination because of its accessibility to downtown Kona. During the busy season (Nov-Mar) it can get crowded. Your best strategy is to arrive as early as possible to avoid the crowds. The ocean will be at its most calm first thing in the morning before the wind changes to onshore. 

The best snorkeling is found in the cove directly out from where you first enter the water. The water is a little clearer further out, due to the fresh groundwater that comes up through the sand near the shoreline causing a blurry effect in the water.

Photo credit: paradiseinhawaii.com

When the tide goes out there are plenty of shallow tide pools to explore in amongst the rocks. The park also has large pavilions for added shade and the beach park is the perfect place to bring a picnic lunch. Don’t have a car? The beach park is close enough to Kailua-Kona you can walk to it (if you’re staying nearby), cycle to it, or make use of the Kona Trolley! 

If your stay on the Big Island is limited then a short trip to Kahaluʻu Beach Park for snorkeling is well worth it. Make sure you get there early to avoid the crowds, and before the parking lot begins to fill up! 

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Essential Big Island: Two Step snorkeling

The Big Island has some of the best snorkeling in the state of Hawaii. Two Step is one of those places (along with nearby Kealakekua Bay). We recommend you don’t miss out on this amazing snorkeling spot.

South Kona is perhaps most famous for coffee and snorkeling. Both Two Step and Kealakekua Bay have some of the best snorkeling on the island and in the entire state. Two Step is especially popular because it’s easy to get to and even easier to jump straight into the ocean and start snorkeling.

Two Step Hawaii
Photo credit: bigislanddivers.com

Two Step is the name of the beach and also the name of the two naturally occurring steps inset into the rock at the ocean’s edge. These steps are where you enter the water. It can get crowded at peak times, so we recommend getting to Two Step as early as possible. This way you will beat the crowds and also take advantage of the calm ocean surface which is best for snorkeling. Alternatively, the end of the day can be a less crowded time to go snorkeling too.

You will find parking right at the beach itself but keep in mind this fills up quickly. On the opposite side of the road is paid parking. There is more free parking on the side of the road which approaches the National Park next to Two Step. If you park here it’s just a two minute walk down to the beach. You can also park in the National Park itself.

Entering the water is easy because of the two naturally-formed lava steps (hence the name two step). It’s mostly lava here, and there isn’t much sand. But the snorkeling is easy and there are no currents, making it a perfect place for beginners to try snorkeling. We recommend using a flotation device (either a belt, or even a boogie board) if you feel apprehensive about being in deep water (10-15 feet). Using a boogie board is a great way to simply relax and concentrate on observing the marine life.

Photo credit: Bigislandguide.com

Two Step is popular with local residents and tourists alike. Despite the lack of sand there is still shade and it makes a nice location to set up a beach chair and relax by the ocean. There is also a shallow bay to the left of the boat ramp that serves as a safe place for children to swim, or adults who aren’t confident in deeper water.

Two Step is one of the jewels of South Kona. You’ll see plenty of fish including yellow tang, butterflyfish, eel, parrotfish, and puffer fish, to name a few. You might even see dolphins and the occasional turtle. Keep in mind it’s now illegal to swim with spinner dolphins. A distance of at least 50 yards must be maintained at all times.

There are limited facilities at Two Step. There are porta potty restrooms, but no showers. There are also a few picnic tables.

Two Step is definitely an essential stop on your Big Island journey. Whether you’re a seasoned snorkeler or just a beginner, there is something for everyone at South Kona’s celebrated snorkeling spot.

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Essential Big Island: Making the most of Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea

Essential Big Island is a series of blogs focused on sites or attractions that are a must-see for any visitor to the island.

Visiting the summit of Mauna Kea is spectacular – whether you do so for the sunrise, or the sunset. We recommend the sunset! Make the most of your visit to Mauna Kea with our guide on how to structure your mountain visit.

It’s important to plan out your itinerary carefully. You’ll want to arrive at the Visitor Information Station in good time before sunset. We recommend allowing 30 minutes to drive up from the information station, and about an hour prior to that to acclimatize to the altitude.

For example, if sunset is 7pm and you’re staying in Kona, then you should leave Kona at about 4pm and you’ll arrive at the Visitor Information Station at about 5:30pm. Acclimatize at the information station for about one hour and then leave for the summit at 6:30pm.

It’s always better to allow more time! There are rangers on site who will check to make sure you have enough fuel and are driving a 4WD vehicle before you head up. 

Magnificent Mauna Kea

The summit of the mountain was believed to be the meeting place of the Earth Mother, Papahānaumoku, and the Sky Father, Wākea, and Mauna Kea is considered to be sacred. 

Ancient Hawaiians tracked the position of the stars and understood how this related to navigation. They are thought to have used observation platforms on the summit containing stones that were used to mark the positions of the rising and setting stars.

The summit of Mauna Kea is 13,796 ft. (4,205 mts) high. But the mountain extends about 19,700 ft. (6000 mts.) below the surface of the water, making it the tallest mountain in the world from its base. The Visitor Information Station is at 9,200 ft. (2,804 mts.) and this is where you will need to acclimatize for about an hour before ascending to the summit. 

Mauna Kea telescopes

Mauna Kea telescopes
From left, the 8-meter Subaru (Japan), the twin 10-meter Keck I and II (California) and the 3-meter NASA Infrared Telescope Facility. Photo credit: Babak Tafreshi / National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

The summit of the mountain contains almost perfect conditions for viewing the stars. These include dry clear air, low temperatures, low turbulence, excellent visibility, and almost no light pollution.

Mauna Kea sunset
Mauna Kea at sunset. Photo credit: Horizon Guest House

A Trip to the summit

First, you’ll need a 4WD vehicle. If not, there are some great tours available. Then, check the conditions on the mountain by calling (808) 935 6268. There’s a pre-recorded message of the conditions and any warnings. Then you’re good to go!

Start off your journey to the summit of Mauna Kea like any good road trip – with snacks, or even better, a complete meal. We set off on a weekday after stopping at Safeway for supplies. 

We recommend picking up a light to-go meal that travels well. Take a cooler if you can. Safeway in Kona has a great selection of ready-made meals – including salads, sandwiches and sushi.

You might crave sugar at high altitude – we recommend bringing some dark chocolate!

The road out of Kona. Make sure you’ve packed warm clothes, including jackets. If you think you might struggle at high altitude you can purchase small bottles of oxygen from Longs Drug Store (CVS). We took a couple of bottle just in case.

On the Saddle Road heading to the mountain.

Don’t forget there’s a restroom stop on the way to the mountain. The Gilbert Kahele Recreation Area is located about 15 minutes before the Visitor Information Station (there are often lines at the bathroom at the Information Station, so we recommend stopping here if you need to).

It’s a beautiful scenic drive up to the Visitor Information Station.

The Visitor Information Station with the summit of Mauna Kea in the distance. The station includes information about the mountain and a small gift shop.

Dormitories that house the support staff for the telescopes are located near the information station.

Time to eat our to-go meals. Everything tastes better at altitude – especially chocolate!

You might see some local wildlife like this pheasant.

The bulk of the road from the information station to the summit is unpaved. Hang on, it can get a little bumpy! But the spectacular views of the Mars-like landscape are worth it.

The last section of the road is actually paved. The summit is close!

Just in time for sunset. Take care when you get out of the car – the high altitude affects everyone differently.

Make sure to check out the view in the other direction. The mountain casts an incredible shadow.

You won’t be able to stay up on the mountain much longer than 30 minutes after sunset. The rangers like to get everyone down relatively quickly in order to reduce light pollution from car headlights. It also makes for an easier drive back home if you can avoid the line of traffic back down the mountain.

The summit of Mauna Kea is an absolute must-visit attraction. If you haven’t rented a 4WD vehicle then it is worth booking a tour (they’ll pick you up and drop you back in Kona).

Don’t forget you can spend more time after sunset at the Visitor Information Station (the gift shop stays open until 9pm) to simply gaze at the amazing night sky!

Author: Angus Meek

Essential Big Island: Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau Place of Refuge

Essential Big Island is a series of blogs focused on sites or attractions that are a must-see for any visitor to the island.

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, or Place of Refuge, is a National Historical Park of great significance to the island and to the state of Hawaii. From history to architecture, this is absolutely an essential stop on your Hawaii experience!

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is located in South Kona. Take Mamalahoa Highway (Hwy. 11) to Ke Ala o Keawe Road (Hwy. 160) – between mile markers 103 and 104 (the Honaunau Post Office is on the corner). Follow Hwy. 160 all the way down to the entrance at the bottom of the hill. The park is open daily 8:30am-4:30pm. Make sure you pick up a free brochure just outside the gift shop before you enter the park. The brochure includes a detailed, easy-to-follow map of the park. 

There is plenty of parking inside the park and a well-stocked gift shop.

What happened at Place of Refuge?

Kapu, or the laws that Hawaiians adhered too, could be violated in a number of different ways. These included when a woman eats with a man, a fish is caught out of season, or even when a commoner’s shadow falls on an ali’i.

Penalties for these types of crimes were harsh. You could face the death penalty, in which case your only recourse was to escape your captors on foot, find your way to the coast, and then swim to the Place of Refuge (the area of land bordered by the Great Wall and the edge of the coastline). Once there you could seek to be absolved by the priest for your crime.

Stop by the amphitheater to watch a film about the park

Royal grounds

The Royal Grounds were the primary gathering place for local chiefs. Here was where they would meet, hold ceremonies and negotiate during wartime. They also took part in games such as kōnane (a board game). Here is also where priests were consulted by the chiefs when guidance was required.  

The Royal Grounds with the Hālau wa’a (canoe house) in the background.

Hālau wa’a (canoe house).

Looking toward Two Step, a popular snorkeling spot.

Kōnane is a strategy game played with black and white pebbles on a stone playing surface called a papamū.

The Great Wall

The Great Wall is up to 12 feet in height, 18 feet wide and over 950 feet in length. Constructed over 400 years ago, the wall was built using dry-set masonry – a technique in which stones are placed without mortar.

Hale o Keawe

In ancient Hawaii the Royal Grounds were believed to be the center of power. The grounds contain the main temple (heiau), above, where the bones of many chiefs (ali’i) were buried. The temple retained a special kind of spiritual power, known as mana

Pahoehoe lava – a type of lava that is characterized by a smooth, billowy surface.
 

The Royal Fish Ponds

These ponds held fish that were to be eaten only by the ali’i.

The 1871 to Ki’ilae Village. The ancient trail was remade in 1871. Take a 2.25 mile hike (roundtrip) that includes ancient sites and volcanic features.

Park Highlights

There’s lots to see at Place of Refuge so we’ve picked some highlights:

  1. The Great Wall – the wall measures 12 feet tall, 18 feet wide and over 950 feet long. 
  2. Hale o Keawe – the main temple housing the bones of the chiefs. The temple is only able to be viewed from the outside, but it’s an impressive structure.
  3. Pu’uhonua – get up close to the Great Wall and then walk into the Pu’uhonua, or Place of Refuge, itself. 
  4. Keone’ele – this is a sheltered cove that was only for the use of the ali’i to land their canoes. Look out – you might see some turtles here.

Place of Refuge was also a sanctuary during other times. During war it was designated a place for children, elders, and those not involved in warfare to seek sanctuary. Kapu was officially ended in 1819 along with the custom of seeking refuge at Pu’uhonua Hōnaunau.

Make sure you visit Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau on your Big Island adventure. Learn and discover what life was like in ancient Hawaii at one of the best-preserved historic sites in the state.

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The Ho’oulu Farmers Market & Artisans Fair

Make sure you stop by one of the best arts & crafts markets on the island! The Ho’oulu Farmers Market & Artisans Fair includes a range of locally made and grown products.

This farmers market located just south of Kailua-Kona has been operating for 13 years. Gail and Greg Smith, along with founder Kuku Keala Ching, created the market and artisans fair. The market is held on the front lawn of the Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa beside Keauhou Bay near Kailua-Kona. The market operates on Wednesdays and Fridays between 9am-2pm.

What you'll find

At this market you’ll find locally grown coffee, produce, seasonal fruit, macadamia nuts, jams, bakery items, local arts and handmade crafts. Live music is also a feature.

Ho’oulu means ‘to grow’ in Hawaiian and the market is one of the longest-standing farmers markets in Kona.

When and where?

The market operates on Wednesdays and Fridays, 9am-2pm. Visit bigislandmkt.com for more information and a list of vendors.

The Ho’oulu Farmers Market & Artisans Fair is a great market in a lovely location, on a large lawn space in Keauhou Bay. We found that the market’s focus on 100% Big Island made, to be a big attraction – for visitors and local residents alike. It does cater more to the arts and craft than the fresh produce seen at other markets, but this is definitely a big plus. A great place to find genuine Hawaiian arts and crafts!

For a full list of Big Island farmers markets check out our blog post Your Guide to Big Island Farmers Markets or download our Timetable of Big Island Farmers Markets.

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Restaurant review: Menehune Restaurant

Menehune Restaurant is located on Mamalahoa Highway in South Kona, just south of Captain Cook. They serve a great variety of breakfast and lunch dishes. Open from 6am to 3pm. A handy pitstop on your journey south!

We arrived for lunch early in the week and there were plenty of tables. There is also easy parking in front of the restaurant. The service was super friendly and the menu is extensive.

The menu

For breakfast choose from – a range of omelettes or waffles, or go for their classic breakfast options – like biscuits and gravy, a breakfast burrito, a wrap, or a turkey & Swiss croissant. For lunch choose from sandwiches, wraps, burgers, salads or fish and chips.

What we ordered

(Above) Fish and Chips – beer batter crispy fresh caught fish, French fries, citrus slaw, and tartar sauce ($26.95)

(Above) Ono sandwich with avocado and slaw ($29.95)

The fish and chips were tasty and the portion was large. The Ono sandwich however, was overpriced for what it was and wasn’t as flavorful as expected. This was disappointing. We do like to support local businesses but the prices at Menehune Restaurant are on the steep side. If you’re looking for a lunch spot on your way out of Kona there are other restaurants to choose from such as the Coffee Shack that might be a better option in this area. 

(*Please note, we haven’t tried their breakfast menu).

Menehune Restaurant

84-5227 Mamalahoa Hwy 
Captain Cook

Hawaii 96704

Ph. 808 238 0627

Hours: Mon – Sun, 6am – 3pm

https://www.menehunecoffee.com/restaurant/

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