A red Jeep pulled over on the side of a coastal road on the Bi Island

Best Pit Stops from Kona to Volcano

by Diane L. 

The two-hour drive from Kona to Volcano is one of the most beautiful drives on the Big Island. You probably already know this. But you might be surprised by how many interesting things there are to see and do along the way. From beautiful beaches to important historical sites, there are a lot of stops that you won’t want to miss. Here are some of our favorite pit stops along the road from Kona to Volcano, in order of appearance:

Kealakekua Bay

Kick off your road trip from Kona to Volcano at one of our favorite spots for spotting dolphins. Stop for a quick photo op or use the public restrooms at the pier. Or if you have time, go for a snorkeling tour and explore some of the area’s underwater sea caves and lava tubes. Most boat tours will also take you past the Captain Cook monument overlooking the bay. This is another great photo opportunity. The Cook Statue is a local landmark that can only be accessed by boat or the 3.7-mile there-and-back hiking trail. (Restrooms)

The Coffee Shack

This coffee shop and restaurant is just south of Kona and right along the bluff with amazing ocean views. It’s a great breakfast or lunch stop. (We recommend leaving early so you have plenty of time for stops along the way plus the national park before sunset.) Grab a cup of Kona coffee and take in the first of many sweeping ocean views you’ll see today. Then let’s hit the road! (Restrooms, snacks)

A verdant Kona coffee plantation with the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
As you drive down the coast you’ll encounter a green belt of coffee plantations.

Stop at a Coffee Plantation

As you drive south, you will be driving through the Kona Coffee Belt. There are many coffee plantations open to the public along the way. However, once you pass through the 30-mile-long coffee zone you won’t get any more opportunities. Kona coffee is grown along the western slopes of the Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes. This small district provides the perfect climate for growing coffee. Meanwhile, the rich volcanic soil gives Kona coffee its distinct flavor. You can stop just for free samples and a quick trip around the gift shop or take a plantation tour and see what it is like to grow coffee on the side of an active volcano. (Restrooms, snacks, souvenirs)

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

To the ancient Hawaiian a Pu’uhonua was a place of refuge. Puʻuhonuas were protected areas where kapu breakers (kapu was a system of social taboos that were very important to the early Hawaiians), defeated warriors, and civilians could seek refuge during times of battle.  These areas offered safe harbor to anyone who reached its boundaries and no physical harm would come to them.

One of these areas, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau, is an important Hawaiian ceremonial site and a National Historic Park. The ocean protects it on two sides and a massive wall, known as the Pā Puʻuhonua (Great Wall), on the other two sides. Several important historical structures can be found in the park, plus many exhibits depicting how the early Hawaiians lived. (Restrooms, souvenirs)

A replica of an ancient Hawaiian structure at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park.
One of many replicas of ancient structures you can explore at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

South Point

We consider this a must-see simply for the opportunity to say you stood on the southernmost point of Hawaii and the 50 states (Rose Atoll in American Samoa is technically the southernmost point of the United States).

Stand along the cliffside edge and take in the view. This spot is also a popular cliff diving spot for adrenaline junkies and there is a ladder down to the water to climb back out. However, swimming in this area is not recommended due to strong currents. The drive down is also a unique experience. With high winds and empty fields, you may feel like you’re driving to the edge of the earth. 

Papakolea Green Sand Beach 

Green Sand Beach is amazing but requires a bit of a detour to get there. Green sand beaches are exceptionally rare, with only four existing in the entire world. The green tint is the result of crushed Olivine crystals that were brought to the surface during Mauna Loa’s eruptions. This is a small beach and the current is strong, but it is still a great place to wade into the water, take some photos, or enjoy any picnic lunches you brought along.

Once you reach the parking lot for Papkolea, it is a 2.5-mile hike to the beach each way, without shade. There are usually locals there who will shuttle you down to the beach in four-wheel-drive vehicles for about $20. Unfortunately, this is an illegal practice that is damaging the fragile ecosystem. Please be aware that you can be cited if you are caught by authorities in one of these vehicles.  

Punalu’u Bake Shop

If you haven’t tried a malasada yet, swing by this bakery on your way to Volcanoes National Park to grab one of these Portuguese-inspired, fluffy, filled donuts. The bake shop also carries other things to satisfy your sweet tooth, like macadamia caramel bars, King’s sweet bread, ice cream, frozen drinks, and hot cups of Kona coffee. This is also a great place to grab a CD of local, Hawaiian music as radio reception can be very spotty in this area. (Restrooms, snacks, souvenirs)

Punalu’u Black Sands Beach 

This beach is just a short drive off the main highway and is a prime spot for green sea turtles to nap on the beach – a true rest stop! This is a Hawaii county-run park with all the amenities, including restrooms, and a picnic area, and there is usually a lifeguard on duty. Sometimes food trucks are operating in the park as well. There are two entrances to the park and two parking lots at each end, so if you miss the first one just keep going til the next one. There is usually plenty of (free) parking here. 

No matter what time of year you visit, the black sand retains heat well and will keep you warm as you lay under palm trees and enjoy a snack or beverage before continuing. There’s also a rocky outcropping on the western end of the park which is a great spot for photos. (Restrooms)

Volcano Winery

As your drive from Kona to Volcano comes to an end, you may want to treat yourself to a stop at Volcano Winery. Wine sommeliers may not be impressed by the wine quality (volcanic ash and sulfur fumes do not exactly produce ideal conditions for growing grapes) but how often can you say you went wine tasting next to a volcano? Wine tastings are $20 per person and include seven pours of wines from dry to sweet. Volcano Winery makes 100% grape wines, plus their best-selling fruit blends and honey meads. One-hour vineyard tours are also available for $40 per person. This is also a great way to celebrate reaching Volcanoes National Park – you’re less than 5 minutes away! (Restrooms, snacks, souvenirs)

Final Tips for your Kona to Volcano Road-trip

As you can see there is quite a bit to see and do in the one hundred miles from Kona to Volcano. If you can squeeze in just a few of these amazing pit stops, you will surely add some memorable experiences to your drive to Volcanoes National Park. But don’t put too much on your plate. There are so many interesting things to see in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and you’ll need to save some time and energy for that.

Remember that you can always hit the stops you missed on the way back to Kona. You can also stay overnight in Volcano or inside the park (if you camp or are lucky enough to get a reservation at the Volcano House). And if that still seems like too much, then why not consider taking a tour like the Evening Volcano Explorer? It makes stops at many of the spots listed above, plus Volcanoes National Park, AND you’ll get to sleep on the way back to Kona!

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