The road between Kailua-Kona and the Puna Region of The Big Island of Hawaii has a lot of opportunities to see and experience much of what this unique Hawaiian island has to offer visitors. It is what keeps us coming back, time and again!
As you head out south on Hwy 11 you will be elevated high above the beautiful ocean views. If the fog is heavy from Volcanoes Nat'l Park approximately 95 miles away, the water and shoreline will look shrouded in fog and not so wonderful. We've seen it pristine and perfect, and on this trip, not so much due to the elevated activity of Pele'. Still, it is worth the trip and should not be avoided just because of a little cloudiness.
Traveling through Kona's world renowned coffee region, you will see several local farms, some that offer tours and sampling. Our personal favorite is Greenwell Farms, due to the quality of their coffee and the free tours provided to those interested in coffee production. A purchase approaching $200 is not unusual for us. With 100% pure Kona coffee at approximately $25/lb. this is a great value for a wonderful, high quality product.
From Kona, traveling on to the south the next major point of interest is South Point, which is the furthest southern point in all of the United States. The 12 mile drive from Hwy 11 is worth the hour investment to see the high cliffs. In the past, I have been here when there have been fisherman and cliff divers enjoying this secluded area. It is from here, that you can also make the additional trek to the "green sand beach". Be prepared to hike approximately 2 1/2 miles to get there. Of course it won't be the walk DOWN that will get you! You may be able to rent a 4WD vehicle from a company that will permit you do make the drive on this unpaved road, but check out their policies before you make the trip.
Next along the way is one of our favorite stops when driving in either direction, a bakery with bragging rights as the most southern bakery in the USA - Punalu'u Bakery. Nice clean restrooms, sandwiches and soft drinks along with their famous Hawaiian sweet breads make this a must do stop!
Not far from here (less than 15 minutes) is the black sand beach of Punalu'u. This is one of your best chances to see sea turtles. I have made this stop four or five times over the course of the past ten years and have only been disappointed by a no-show of turtles once (sorry Cathy). On this trip, there were several resting on the beach, ignoring the tourists. NOTE: This is a standard stop on all of the Circle Island Tours and at times can be very crowded. I suggest making this stop early in the morning or late in the afternoon in hopes of avoiding that aggravation.
After leaving the beach and continuing on towards Hilo, the next real sight will be Volcanoes National Park. Before you get there, however, you will have the opportunity to make note of the various lava flows that have occurred over the course of the last century. Each flow is unique and can generally be distinguished from others. If you pick up a good travel book on this island you will be able to follow along your journey with flow maps that include the dates of the eruptions that resulted in the flows you are traveling over.
Depending on the activities at the Kilauea Volcano which is the centerpiece of the park, you may or may not be able to do much inside the park. During our visit, much of the park was closed due to the dangerously high sulfur levels. We made a stop at the National Park's visitors’ center and enjoyed a short 20 minute video. Unless you have an annual pass for the US Parks system, you may or may not feel like spending the money for such a short visit inside the park. For us, it was another nice stop along the way . . . and good for a restroom break.
The Puna Region is just about five to ten miles from Hilo and on this trip was our final destination. If you read "Hawaii The Big Island Revealed" don't take too seriously the authors' sense of humor and warning about the fugitives and outlaws who live in this area. While this is one of the remotest areas of this island, its beauty should not be missed. The current volcanic activity creates some especially wonderful opportunities to explore such natural phenomenon as lava tidal pools and naturally heated ponds. It was also here that we picked up our obligatory fallen coconut, which was especially fresh and sloshy. We got over 8 ounces of fresh coconut milk out if it, along with a good amount of "meat" which tasted wonderful chilled.
I have been told you can make this trek from Kailua-Kona to Puna in about two hours . . . buy why would you want to? We took a leisurely trip of nearly five hours to make our way from our timeshare resort to the B&B that would be home for the evening.
Enjoy your ride through paradise!!