The IRONMAN World Championship popularized this otherwise unassuming bay. Located in the heart of Kailua-Kona, this once was the first capital of the unified Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. Kailua, meaning “two oceans”, derives its name from the two currents that feed the bay.
Three beaches flank Kailua Bay: Kaiakeakua, Kamakahonu, and Niumalu.
Historically, the name Kaiakeakua once referred to the entirety of Kailua Bay. Fresh water filters through the subterranean lava rock, and then mixes with the ocean. Aliʻi (“royalty or chieftains”) favored this place, and others used it as a landing for waʻa canoes.
After unifying the Hawaiian archipelago under his rule, Kamehameha the Great returned to Kailua-Kona in 1812. He erected the Ahuʻena Heiau in the mouth of Kamakahonu, a small sandy inlet. After Hawaiʻi endured years of conflict, Kamehameha I dedicated this new heiau (“temple”) to Lonoikamakahiki, god of peace and fertility. He then decreed this his new kingdom’s seat of power, and held residence here until his peaceful death in May 1819.
The beach’s name, Kamakahonu (“eye of the turtle”) refers to the landmark lava rock formation that is now buried under the Kailua Pier. A portion of it is still visible creeping into the shallows of Kamakahonu.
Opposite the two aforementioned beaches is Niumalu (“shade of the coconut tree”). It is the perfect name for a shady beach frequented by monk seals and turtles.
Kailua Bay’s shoreline access, pristine waters, and 25-acre reef allude to Kailua-Kona’s humble history as a fishing village, before its rise to prominence.
Not to be mistaken with the Red Hill on Oʻahu, our “Red Hill” is the distinct landmark that divides North and South Kona. Named in English for the color of the oxidized iron in the rock, its name in the Hawaiian language is Puʻu ʻOhau (“hill of dew”).
Approximately 400 thousand years ago, a fissure opened on the northwest flank of Mauna Loa. As lava erupted from the fissure, volcanic spittle collected around the rift into a cinder cone. Part of the formation would one day shear off into the ocean, revealing its characteristic red interior.
Hawaiians attribute volcanic activity to Pelehonuamea. As the goddess of lava, fire, lightning, and dance, she is responsible for shaping the land. Pele resides within Kīlauea, the most active volcano in the world, but may sometimes dance down the slopes of Mauna Loa, just as she did in late-2022. Her face is immortalized here in the rocks at Puʻu ʻOhau.
Predating the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, Puʻu ʻOhau served as a burial ground. High Chiefess Kamaʻeokalani was interred here in 1868. She was grandmother to the Kingdom’s final monarchs, King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani.
An estimated 1,000 people flock to Kealakekua Bay to snorkel in pristine, calm waters daily. 250+ tropical species call the conservation district and coral reef home. It is also home to the monument memorializing seafarer and cartographer Captain James Cook. However, nestled at the base of the cliffs was once a place named Kaʻawaloa.
Kaʻawaloa was a flourishing fishing village and seat of power in Old Hawaiʻi. Now overgrown by invasive mesquite trees, the history of Kaʻawaloa and Kealakekua Bay is often relegated to the arrival and death of Captain James Cook. The surrounding area has since been renamed to Captain Cook, and Kealakekua Bay is often referred to as “Cook’s Bay” by visitors. Despite this, before his arrival, and continuously afterwards, the bay and surrounding shores have remained significant to Hawaiians.
The Pali Kapu o Keōua (“The Sacred Cliff of Keōua”) still bears the scar from Cook’s cannon today. Additionally, tiny lava tubes pockmark the 600-foot sheer face. Some of these pockets are burials, containing the iwi (“bones”) of Hawaiian royalty.
The people revered the eponymous Keōua Nui, brother to Kalaniʻōpuʻu. During his reign as aliʻi nui (high chief), the people gave him his name, meaning “the rain cloud”, for his benevolence, such as the rains over harvests. Where he went, rain clouds signaled peril, and once they disappeared, safety had returned. He died soon after his son, Kamehameha I, came of age. Following his burial, the forever immortalized the memory of the beloved Keōua the Great.