Unwelcoming National Park Becomes Great Find

I was flying back to Dallas from the mostly-outdoors Kona International Airport on the Big Island of Hawaii. Checking the map, I noticed that there is a national park just south of the airport. I love exploring all national parks. So, I planned to spend a few hours doing that before catching my flight. The park — called Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park — is worth a visit. 
As I entered the parking lot I noticed unusually few cars. Approaching the visitor center, no park rangers were in sight; but, a lady who worked at the park concession greeted me. I want to see the park efficiently as I have a flight to catch, I explained. She tried to discourage me by saying the park is mostly uneven walking paths, made of volcanic rock, and difficult to walk. I persevered, “What will I see on the walks?” She was unhelpful: “The usual animals and plants that you see in nature.” It was 2:30 p.m. The park closed at 4 p.m. She told me that I would need good walking shoes (I was wearing sneakers), plenty of water because dehydration occurs quickly on the open trails and sunscreen for the hot sun. I pressed for information and learned that some trails could be reached from another entrance to the park south of the main entrance. I shouldn’t have to work so hard for information. But I headed for the other entrance.

At the “unofficial” second entrance to the park, cars park in a public parking lot attached to a marina. As I entered the area, there were beautiful boats moored along several docks. At the far side of the marina, a small sign indicated the road belonged to the park, although a gate prevented cars from entering; but there was plenty of room for walkers. From this vantage point, it looked like an abandoned gate; something to be skipped.

I followed the uneven lava path. In about five minutes I was in a shaded area covered by large bushes. A few minutes later, I was on a beautiful, craggy beach. I understood why the park exists. None of the supposed hazards related to me by the alarmist park worker applied.

The park shows how native Hawaiians survived in a hostile environment of lava rock and hot sunshine, why the Hawaiians chose this place to live and why it is considered sacred ground to Hawaiians.

Basically, the reason is no mystery: Hawaiians love this place for its breathtaking beauty. On the beach, a reconstructed thatched-roof Hawaiian hut re-creates early settler life. Water pools in enclosed areas where seawater enters. There, early Hawaiians found a captive supply of fish for food.

A huge green sea turtle crawled slowly out of the water. This is turtle habitat. Hawaiian and U.S. law prevents anyone from interfering with the turtles, a protected species. But having the chance to see them up close in their natural habitat was simply amazing. No promises this will happen when you visit, but there is plenty of beauty in the many birds that live in the area. And isolated sunbathers enjoyed the solitude of the beach almost to themselves.

What started as likely the worst national park experience turned into a marvelous encounter with natural beauty … even including a green sea turtle. Ignore the negative vibes from park staff and head to the trails! On the way in or out of Kilo airport with a few hours to spare or even worth a special trip, this is one detour to take and still be at the outdoor airport in plenty of time.


  1. Hi, Michael. I lived in the Hawaiian Islands for three years, flew in and out from the Kona Airport half a dozen times, and NEVER managed to stumble upon the Kaloko-Honokōhau Park. You’re fantastic. Now I feel like I need to go back AGAIN to see that park! Best regards to your family.

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