Honaunau Bay, Hawaii
Honaunau Bay is one of a series of tranquil, turquoise bays tucked into the Big Island's South Kona coast, a region that is quickly becoming a must-visit Hawaiian destination. Honaunau's crescent-shaped beach, soft white sands and windswept palm trees have lured photographers for years, giving Honaunau distinction as Hawaii's most photographed beach.
This spectacular stretch of sand was once home to a ruling chief's palace, and today tourists and locals alike descend upon the beach in part for its pristine and peaceful setting, and to take advantage of the snorkeling, for Honaunau offers divers true underwater bliss. Snorklers have the chance to swim alongside surgeon fish and, most notably, the endangered green sea turtle - an opportunity which attracts many divers to the area. The bay's coral formations are also home to a variety of other rare fish, many indigenous to Honaunau.
The bay is adjacent to Puuhonua o Honaunau, the Place of Refuge, an ancient Hawaiian holy site now operated by the National Park Service and one of the Big Island's most popular historic destinations.
The bay's exquisite environs, the Kona coast, feature topographies ranging from rain forests to coffee plantations and embody the magnificence and mystique that so uniquely define the Big Island.
Horizon Guest House
Web site: www.horizonguesthouse.com
Situated on a sprawling expanse of 40 lush acres 1,100 feet above the Kona coast, the Horizon Guest House has gained notoriety on the Big Island as a private luxury accommodation. Horizon promises tranquility and magnificent views of the surrounding area. The inn features 4 suites, all with their own private lanai (veranda). Rooms are decorated with authentic Hawaiian collectibles and antiques, including hand-quilted Hawaiian bedspreads. Guests looking to unwind can take a dip in the state-of-the-art "infinity edge" swimming pool and Jacuzzi, and sip a cocktail or watch a breathtaking sunset. Families beware: No children under 14.
Best Budget Hotel
Web site: www.managohotel.com
First opened in 1917, the Manago Hotel is a budget traveler's treasure. The hotel offers Hawaiian culture, gorgeous views, cheap prices, a delicious on-site restaurant and even Japanese-style accommodations for the more adventurous. Rooms generally feature simple d��cor and some have shared bath, but Manago also offers guests many rooms with extraordinary views of Kealakekua Bay and the ancient Hawaiian Place of Refuge that are worthy of a luxury resort. Travelers looking for a taste of ethnicity can stay in the Japanese Room, where tatami mats replace beds and furo (deep hot tubs) replace traditional baths. A lovely Japanese garden and koi pond are also on the property. The restaurant features authentic Hawaiian fare at low prices.
Best New Age Retreat
Web site: www.dragonflyranch.com
Imagine for a moment a Big Island retreat tucked within tropical flora and fauna where accommodations are Swiss Family Robinson-style indoor/outdoor suites draped with twinkling white lights; daily breakfast features homegrown organic fruit and sprouted grain bread; and highlights of the activities at your fingertips include lomilomi massage rejuvenation techniques, flower essence therapy and vibrational healing. This is no New Age fantasy - this is the Dragonfly Ranch, a healing arts retreat that brings romantics, families and honeymooners a healthy and exotic island experience.
Best Luxury Accommodation
The Four Seasons Hualalai
Web site: www.fourseasons.com/hualalai
The Four Seasons Hualalai is the ultimate Big Island luxury retreat, a resort consisting of a series of secluded bungalows that manages to feel intimate. Well-appointed rooms and suites feature Polynesian-style d��cor, ocean views and bamboo canopy beds. Some even boast private outdoor showers - perfect for making tropical fantasy a reality. The resort's Jack Nicklaus golf course has lush green fairways nestled into black lava with ocean and island views that threaten to distract even the most avid golfers from their game. When they're not unwinding in an oceanfront hammock, guests can explore the resort's 5 pools or Hawaiian history and cultural center, take advantage of scuba lessons or try their hand at Hawaiian outrigger canoe paddling.
Food & Drink
Best Fresh Local Cuisine
Web site: www.merrimanshawaii.com
With all menu items guaranteed to be cultivated from local farmers, ranchers and fisherman, Merriman's Restaurant may just serve the freshest fare on the Big Island. The award-winning restaurant is home to famed chef Peter Merriman, whose culinary creations helped earn the restaurant the distinction of being coined "the birthplace of new Hawaiian regional cuisine." Guests should indulge in the restaurant's signature wok-charred ahi served with homemade slaw and jasmine rice, or the locally bred Kahua Ranch beef served with horseradish and Mauna Kea goat cheese pate. For starters, try the Kahlua pig and sweet onion quesadilla with kimchee and mango chili dipping sauce.
Best Budget Meal
Kona Mix Plate
Web site: konamixplate.com
What its shopping center location may lack in atmosphere, Kona Mix Plate more than makes up for in good, cheap eats. This Kona staple serves up Japanese and Korean-inspired plate lunches and dinners, such as teriyaki beef, Korean barbecue, chicken and fish. All plate meals include homemade macaroni salad and rice or a side salad.
Best "Must-Do" Big Island Side Trip
Place of Refugee Park
Web site: www.nps.gov/puho/index.htm
Puuhonua o Honaunau, or the Place of Refuge, gained infamy as the so-called safe haven for criminals in ancient Hawaii, and today has earned a reputation as a stunning display of Hawaiian culture, serendipitously located adjacent to the silky white beaches at Honaunau Bay. Until the 19th century, if a Hawaiian criminal was caught by tribal authorities, the sentence was death, unless, by chance or fate, the guilty person could canoe (or run) to the Place of Refuge. Once he arrived at Puuhonua, all sins were forgiven and he was freed. Today, the site is part of the National Park Service and visitors can explore extraordinary archeological sites like temple platforms, royal fishponds, sledding tracks and coastal villages.
Best Aerial Adventure
Hawaii Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours
Web site: www.bluehawaiian.com
The best way to experience the Big Island's breathtaking volcanoes, cliffs, valleys and waterfalls is from above - in a helicopter. An island tour from Blue Hawaiian allows folks the opportunity to make the most of their island adventure - and view some of the island's most remote and untouched locales. Flights from the United States' first helicopter company to gain the FAA's "Tour Operators Program of Safety" certificate depart from Kona or Hilo heliports and feature a variety of tour options. Fly over the currently active Circle of Fire and its lava flows and smoking volcano craters, or view black sand beaches, tropical rain forests, towering cliffs and rushing waterfalls more than 1,000 feet high.
Best Historic Hawaiian Experience
Kona Historical Society
Web site: www.konahistorical.org
The Kona Historical Society and its many tours and museums are the jumping-off point for experiencing the true flavor of Big Island culture. Visitors can opt to take a 75-minute walking tour of ancient Kailua Village and see King Kamehameha's last seat of government, the restored temple of Ahuena Heiau, the first Christian church in the Sandwich Islands and Hulihee Palace, the summer palace of Hawaiian royalty. For those who love their cup of joe in the morning and have always wondered how the heck it's made, venture onto the Kona Coffee Living History Farm and learn the process from bean to brew.
Best Athletic Adventure
Kona Coast Cycling Tours
Web site: www.islandsource.com
Outdoor adventure enthusiasts, take note: Kona Coast Cycling Tours let riders whiz through the spectacular Kona coast on wheels, and tours can accommodate riders of all ages and abilities, from kids to the pros. A variety of options exists to satisfy every interest and range in distance from seven to 54 miles. Treks include the relatively easy, 12-mile downhill Mana Road tour, to the more advanced Hamakua Coast Waterfall Adventure, which crosses 50 bridges and includes an optional 1,000-foot climb to a waterfall. Kona Coast Tours also offers cyclists the opportunity to off-road, stop for pictures and explore side paths.