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Concerns about Kailua-Kona

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.

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21. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

The last sentence in my last posting confuses me so it probably confuses anyone else who reads it. I was comparing what's close to Kailua-Kona versus close to Waikoloa Village. Sure there are more places to shop and drink in Kona, but that's not the reason I come to the Big Island. I want the beautiful resorts and beaches of the Kohala coast, the laid-back atmosphere of Waimea (and the 2 Saturday farmers markets) and Sakura Festival, less than 25 minutes away, the mountain road to Hawi, and Popolu Overlook, the view of Mauna Kea peak and the telescope buildings most days, and more. This is not say that there's no good reason to stay in the Keauhou-kona area, but I find much more to the north.

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22. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

The Hilton Waikoloa is never recommended by the DEs and regulars here and is not at all representative of the Big Island or Hawaii or even South Kohala.

Visiting a Hilton hotel for an hour and using it to castigate or define an entire area is part of the problem here....it results in skewed perspectives and a lack of knowledge and understanding of the culture, history and gems within a place. As I said earlier, even Kailua Kona is much more than its tacky non-Hawaiiana hotels and tourist tshirt shops. But Roger, as you've said, you don't care about the "natives" or Hawaiian culture, so maybe looking at the island through that lens doesn't matter to you. Other people, including in my experience most posters on this forum, don't feel the same way.

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23. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

SheaG, I agree, the Hilton isn't representative of the whole area. We also stopped at the Hapuna Beach Hotel. We liked it a lot. The basic problem with the whole area is if you don't want to use the hotel restaurant, then you have to drive.

In 11 days on Maui and BI prior to Kona, I drove about 1100 miles. That's a lot of miles for small islands. That's why it was nice to stay in Kona and be able to walk to restaurants and a farmer's market. I'm not saying that there are not nice places to stay elsewhere on the west side, I'm just saying that Kailua-Kona is a much nicer place to stay then I thought it would be based on the impression that I received here before booking. Because of the attitude here toward Kailua, I was considering the Hilton, but after seeing it, I was looking forward to their old hotel.

Edited: 18 May 2014, 21:48
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24. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

Tourist, you're welcome. For me your comment about the sun goes to the heart of why I/we don't recommend Kailua more. It's the haze that sits over the area, and if not over the ocean at all times, mostly obscuring the hills.

In Hilo we get some cloudy and rainy days, but the vog in Kailua produced this murky smoky gloom that is not like normal overcast.

When I first came and stayed in Kona District, in the late 90's, liked much of the town just fine, and found it a fun village by the sea. By the time I moved here, and made the drive from Waikoloa to town a few times a week, I marveled at how the sky went gray at a certain point and the gorgeous contrast of the coastline was lost. Leaving Kailua Kona, coming out of the haze as I drive north, my spirits would lift.

Last time I went down there, I arrived on a rare crystal clear day and loved it. The next morning, the gray was back and I couldn't linger -- just wanted to leave.

I do think that winter visitors have the best shot of seeing Kailua at its best, due to occasional shift in wind patterns. The summer pattern there is the worst.

If Kailua Kona had brilliant blue skies and sparkling ocean most of the time, I would be much more positive about it as a place to stay. Most first time visitors assume that if "Kona side" is the sunny side as they read, that Kailua Kona will be sunny. That's a natural assumption. So many people book before learning of the weather pattern, and it falls on is to tell them it won't be all sun and beaches.

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25. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

Roger, your criticism of the Waikoloa Hilton is certainly valid. The resort's sprawl makes in and out trying, and the food and drink options are mediocre. There are people who want the vacation where they don't leave and don't even rent a car. It's very popular with Aussies and Japanese tourists. There are also American tourists who just want to come to sun and pools and snorkel a bit in the lagoon and have that kind of family holiday. So the Hilton does have its type of visitor; it's not you or me or a lot of people using TA, who tend to want to get out and about and experience more of the island. Some people stay there for free using Hilton points too.

The Hilton is its own little world. It is not Kohala. It is a bubble in Kohala.

You didn't see much life around the townhouse complexes during the day? Probably the visitors are off doing fabulous things that are within easy reach of the condo. Whether at the beach swimming and snorkeling or in one of the nearby small towns like Hawi or Waimea or Honoka'a, or visiting Waipi'o or Pololu or historical parks or a farmer's market or the fish market.

There's no need to walk up and down a main drag to amuse themselves as people do on Ali'i Drive. They'll be back in the evening, possibly cooking in lovely kitchens, grilling fresh catch, enjoying the cool evening.

How can you know anything about their experience or say it is sterile, when you can't see it?

You really can't get the Kohala area experience by doing a drive by.

Edited: 18 May 2014, 23:07
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26. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

I am totally with you Tourist, and as I think the other topics in the TQ demonstrate...when it comes to the ultimate choice...there's no right or wrong here. It's much like the north or south (or east!) debate on the Kauai forum or the Kihei versus whatever debates on the Maui forum or Bora Bora versus Moorea on the Tahiti forums. It's about what you're looking for in a vacation and what *your* personal priorities and interests are. We're just here to voice our different perspectives and if something resonates, great, if it doesn't, feel free to ignore or contradict based on your own experience. That's what makes for a useful forum. People don't need to be afraid of differing views and the implied notion in some of these topics that no one should have preferences or it's all great because it's all Hawaii is a little silly IMO.

I lived in South Kona when I first moved here and worked in downtown Kailua Kona for ten years. Eventually I found that I spent almost every bit of my free time up north, in the Kohala districts and Hamakua because I am a beach and ocean person, I don't like a lot of people around, I think the restaurants are largely overpriced tourist traps, and the vog bothers me. I finally moved to Hamakua and adore it. I get that some people like being in a tourist town and having lots of bars and tshirt shops and what have you around, and that's fine - there's nothing wrong with that and it's not "better" or "worse". One area isn't more "real" than the others, these are both heavily tourist destinations but both have historical significance and some great cultural sites and experiences. Plus the true oceanfront lodgings that line Alii Drive are almost non-existent on the Kohala Coast. So as long as you know what you're getting and what you're not getting, you can make the decision that's right for you.

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27. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

I would like to end my discussion of this topic by clarifying my position.

I'm not saying that Kailua-Kona is the best place to live on the west side of BI.

When watching the tv show, Hawii Life, prior to our trip, a couple chose Waimea. At the time we couldn't understand why, but after visiting and enjoying a pizza, we understood. It's fairly high elevation with nice foliage and vistas. But it's not a place that we would want to stay as a tourist.

I'm also not saying Kailua is better than other towns, I'm just saying that between the Royal Vista and Marriott Courtyard it's a very nice seaside town. It's a nice walk with the ocean on one side and many open air restaurants on the other side of the street. Also, my wife said don't forget to mention the nice farmer's market where she bought some jewelry, fruit, and banana bread. There's also entertainment and boat trips all within walking distance.

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28. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

Thanks for all of the input. We have absolutely nothing set in stone yet for the trip. Good to know about the beginner surfing. We are exploring other islands as well so every bit of info and advice helps.

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29. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

Not sure if you've already made your trip but if you haven't here's my .02:

I love diving in Kona, especially with Kona Diving Company. A full service, wonderfully fun and friendly group who will make sure your dive experience is the best.

Kona is NOT a resort town. If you're looking for a resort style vacation go to Waikoloa or stay at the Four Seasons Hualalai. As someone said in an earlier reply, it's a funky little touristy town.

If you like to hike to things like waterfalls and amazing vistas you can head to Waipio Valley.

Before you dive you can go up to Mauna Kea and marvel at the amazing heights you've ascended, watch the stars or just spend some time doing some hiking at altitude.

Oahu has many resorts and the diving is ok. Maui has many resorts also with some ok diving also. Maybe you should research them also.

Good luck!

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30. Re: Concerns about Kailua-Kona

I have to agree with Roger about one important fact....what a "tourist" wants in a place to stay vs a local, or someone who spends significant time here are two different things. We stay in keahou and spend a lot of time in Kailua-Kona and love it. There are a lot of places on the island we have not seen, but we have spent some time in Waikoloa and Kohala and do not really see ourselves staying there. Yes, there are beautiful resorts and beaches, but what we love about Kailua-Kona is a spacious condo for a reasonable price, within walking distance to a shopping center, a quiet pool, multiple dining options within a 15 minute drive, beautiful scenery and the ability to get to multiple other locations in 15 min-2 hours. If we want a gorgeous white sand beach, we can drive to one in 30 minutes. If we want to walk 15 minutes to a small snorkeling beach, we can do so. Best of all we have a (distant) ocean view and sunsets to watch every night from our lanai. We drive along the sparkling blue ocean water on our way into town and enjoy the ocean views from many of the restaurants. Most dining is not "fine" dining, but it suits us as we travel with teenagers.

We have travelled in December, but usually in February and in June for the first time this year. The vog is not an issue for us. It has been cloudy in the afternoons this trip, but for us it is a nice reprieve from the humidity. It usually passes and the sun once again comes out. Also, I have asthma and the vog does not bother me at all.

Anyone interested in hearing more about why I like Kona, please message me. I think it gets an unfair rep on this board. There are lots of wonderful places on the island and for me, Kailua-Kona is one of them.

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