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Concerns about Kailua-Kona

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Akron, Ohio
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Concerns about Kailua-Kona

I'm probably reading too much, or reading too much into what I'm reading, but I have some concerns about Kailua-Kona. I'm planning a trip and on paper it looks like the best spot to stay. I plan on diving two or three days and taking surf lessons once or twice. We will be spending a couple of days either in Hilo or Volcano to see that side of the island. I understand the the Kohala coast has all of the nice sand beaches and nicer brand-name resorts.

I've been doing some research and keep seeing about disruptive Vog, how depressing Kailua-Kona is, etc...

All things equal I would prefer to stay in the nicer resort area, but if I plan to do activities based out of Kailua-Kona I would imagine that driving 1 1/2 to 2 hours a day would be horrible.

Hayden Lake, ID
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1. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

I have been on Hawaii for the past week and a half. We've driven into Kailua-Kona a few times. The drive isn't bad and the Kohola area weather has been much sunnier.

And our accommodations are stellar.

Edited: 16 May 2014, 21:14
United States
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2. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

April 10 we flew into Kona and drove past Kailua on our southern route to Volcano.

It looked like a lot of vog from that road, but when we returned three days later, it was sunny at Royal Kona on the water for the next three days. It seems that the vog condenses near the hills, but we were very pleased with our stay and loved the seashore town.

Healy, Alaska
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for Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
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3. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

Like all travel, it is subject to opinion . . . we stayed in Kailua-Kona for the ease of access to restaurants, and for the diving and for the budget friendly accommodations but I haven't stayed in the Kohola area so I can't really compare. The actual downtown Kona area reminded me of a smaller Lahaina, if you have been to Maui. Some folks love it, some folks don't. There was some vog there but it wasn't bothersome. We also spent time on the east side as well - loved exploring VNP and Hilo. :)

Kona
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4. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

It really comes down to personal perspective and preferences. You're from Akron, Ohio, and I can imagine that staying anywhere on Hawaii Island could be a wonderful experience for you. The "negative" comments about Kailua-Kona are offered mostly to provide people with a bit of a reality check in the face of the way that tourism marketing spin gives people unrealistic expectations of Kallua-Kona. Lots of people enjoy the town and what it has to offer. The vog can be very bad, and there aren't any beaches to speak of, and yes, it's a bit seedy, but it's not some horrible depressing place. I would never choose to stay there on my vacation, and in fact I really try to avoid having to go there at all, but many people enjoy the tourist village and its funky ambiance.

If you've researched your diving and surfing lesson opportunities and really feel that Kailua-Kona is the best place for you, I wouldn't worry about it at all. But do keep in mind that you will be driving 1.5 to 2 hours a day round trip from Kailua-Kona to any nice beach.

Denver, Colorado
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5. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

Some days are really bad vog and some are really clear depending on the prevailing winds. My experience is just north of Kailua Kona near the airport is generally where the weather tends to clear up and be sunny and less voggy. The resorts in Kailua Kona vary but have no easy access to nice beaches, so for that you will need to drive at least as far north as Honokohau Beach next to the marina and a string of nice beaches the north of that as well (read the west side beaches frequent question for that).. Staying in farther north in South Kohola area will tend to be sunnier and warmer with easy access to nice beaches like Hapuna Beach and Wailea Bay and staying up north will allow for easy day trips to Hawi and Pololu Valley overlook or east to Hamakua Coast site seeing.

Island of Hawaii...
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for Hilo, Island of Hawaii
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6. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

I think first you want to plan out which dives you do will, and where. There are dives up north as well. Will you be departing from Honokohau, Kailua Pier, Keauhou, Puako, Kawaihae?

btw, are you aware that any trip to the east side involves an altitude change that requires you to wait a certain amount of time (maybe 24 hours, not sure). You will ascend either 3000 or 4000 feet going north or south, and over 6000 on the Saddle, so keep that in mind when you plan.

Surf lessons are not great on this island. It's not what the island is known for, and there are turf wars between the respectable instructors and the fly by nighters. Are you sure this is what you want to do here? If so, they are at Kahalu'u (which is Keauhou).

What is your taste, and what would you find depressing? We can't really answer that for you. I would hate to see you avoid something that would not bother you or you might like.

Here are the things I don't like:

1) The tendency to murky gray skies. They absolutely can descend from the hills and affect the oceanfront, but not always. Summer is worse, and tends to be drizzly and gray.

2) Hot and humid at sea level - again, summer is obviously worse.

3) Focus on hard-selling activities and souvenirs to tourists around the downtown area.

4) A certain amount of riff raff loitering around, attracted by the scene. (Note: Hilo is not immune from this either, but it seems less noticeable there.)

5) Cruise ship overwhelm on certain days.

On the plus side, there is a lot of tropical foliage and flowers that some people like for the more scattered effect, not landscape architect designed. The direct oceanfront has more bars and restaurants than up north. Whether you enjoy the crowd in them is something else again.

There are some small rentals geared towards divers (are you solo?) that are an easy shot down to Honokohau Harbor. There is one poster, who comes here to dive, who has started a few topics on such rentals.

Kailua Kona and Lahaina should be more alike than they are. They have much in common with the pier and the boat traffic. However, Lahaina is light years more upscale at this point in time. Kailua Kona is not doing well economically, and that shows.

If you do choose to stay Kohala, the drive from Waikoloa area to Honokohau is not too bad. It's all 55 mph highway with no traffic signals in-between.

Edited: 17 May 2014, 03:14
Langley City, Canada
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7. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

You know what? Come to the Big Island and find out for yourself. We're staying in Kailua-Kona right now and I've never met friendlier people or had a better time. Live Aloha.

Big Island, Hawaii
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8. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

As a diver, IMO the diving is much better, less crowded and cheaper up north than around the Kona district sites. As far as surfing lessons go, this is not a good island to learn to surf. The only place where beginner surf lessons are routinely held is Kahaluu which is so overcrowded and a mess that recent news reports have called it a "war zone" with newbie surfers running over all the cruise shippers dumped there to try to snorkel.

Bottom line, the Kohala Coast not only has the better weather, beaches and lodging but the majority of the year it's better for diving and snorkeling too.

Chicagoland
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9. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

Let's back up. What part of this trip is set in stone? When will you visit? How long can you stay in the state? What's the budget? How are you getting TO Hawaii -- via HNL? I'm not sure what you want from this trip or if you'd find more of it on another island. Have you stayed other islands?

Love Big Island. Best sea life, but not many easy-access beaches. Volcano, all of the wet side, and ranch country are spectacular. Vog is darn annoying and the west side island really heats up with all that bare lava. I have stayed Keauhou, but mostly Waikoloa Beach area. I can't recommend Kona Town. This is the only island where we rent a mid-size car due to longer drives, and for greater safety. (Drive only in daylight hours.)

on the road to...
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10. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

I've stayed in Kailua-Kona several times and have never had a less than great experience. Personally, I find the negative reputation to be highly exaggerated; Some of it I find downright mind-boggling.

Not everyone is after the same experience, so what's important is to research fully and choose a destination and lodging that's right for YOU. Since the original poster did say that they'd prefer the resort area and seems interested in the 'nice sand beaches and nicer brand-name resorts,' it seems they'd likely be happiest there. Their main concern seems to be the driving time if stationed up in Kohala. While you may put some miles on the car if you do end up driving down to Kailua-Kona several times, I agree that its not a bad drive. It's easy Vacation driving with interesting scenery, not a traffic jam on the highway at home.

However, if Kailua-Kona is the most convenient for someone's activities and wants (or the better match for their wallet), there is no reason to avoid it. If you want a resort experience, you should stay at a resort. Kailua-Kona isn't that place. But It's a perfectly enjoyable, convenient, safe, and beautiful spot that I'll continue to return to.