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Kailua-Kona is located on the leeward (Kona) side of the island of Hawaii - also known as the Big Island because it is the largest and youngest island in the Hawaiian chain. Kailua-Kona is often referred to simply as Kona, or occasionally as Kailua Town, and is the principal town on the west side of the Big Island.
Kona has a rich history as the playground of Hawaiian royalty from pre-contact and monarchy times, and served as the capital in the last years of the reign of Kamehameha the Great, whose heiau (temple) has been reconstructed and is located on the grounds of the King Kamehameha Hotel, near the Kona pier which serves as the landing point for incoming cruise ship passengers, and which is also familiar as the starting and finishing point for the Hawaii Ironman Triathalon each October.
Visitors to Kona typically reach the island either by air, arriving at the Keahole International Airport, some 11 miles from the center of town, or by cruise ship, tendering into Kailua Pier from their anchorage in Kailua Bay. It is also possible to fly into Hilo on the leeward side of the island and drive over, a trip of approximately 2 to 2.5 hours by car. Interisland flights are also made between Maui and Waimea in the northern half of the island.
There are four major hotels in the general area of Kailua-Kona, the King Kamehameha and the Royal Kona Resort in Kailua proper, the Outrigger Keahou Beach, located about three miles south of Kailua on Ali’i Drive, and the new Sheraton, formerly the Kona Surf. In addition, there are a number of smaller hotels and large numbers of vacation rentals, both single family homes and condominiums. Many of these are easily accessed via the internet at such owner/rentor sites as Great Rentals, Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO) and the like, and Kona Web has a great deal of information for the visitor, in addition to listings for most of the major vacation rental agencies in town.
Rental cars are highly desirable, if not down right necessary, for transportation beyond Ali’i Drive. There is a shuttle that provides transport up and down the length of Ali’i Drive, but other public transportation is not really geared to the needs of the visitor. There are a variety of tours that can be booked that will allow a visitor to see the major attractions of the Big Island in a group setting, but to truly experience the island, a rental car is virtually a necessity.
Principal among the attractions on the Kona side are a wide range of water sports activities from deep sea fishing to scuba, snuba, and snorkeling, parasailing, surfing, etc., although most of the "good" beaches - ie lots of white sand, are actually north of Kona, along the Kohala "Gold Coast" where the major resorts are located. Kona’s beaches are smaller pockets of sand in a series of bays.
Also of interest is Kona’s historical past - here you will find the summer palace of Hawaiian Royalty, the Hulihe’e; the first Christian church in the state which is across the street from the Palace; the birthplace of King Kamehameha III, the remains of a number of villages, holua slides, heiau, and, further south at Kealakekua Bay, the memorial to Captain Cook who was killed there, and the National Park at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, also known as the City of Refuge. A new National Historical Park was also recently opened at Kaloko, just north of the Honokohau Small Boat Harbor, and roughly across from the entry into the Kaloko Industrial Park where Costco is located.
For additional information about Kailua Kona, as well as the rest of the Big Island, I would recommend reading Hawaii, the Big Island Revealed by Andrew Doughty and Harriett Friedman ( Wizard Publications, Inc.). It is the best guidebook about the Big Island, and tells you things we locals would actually prefer vistors not know, like all the "secret" beach spots and how to get there. I don’t always agree with their restaurant reviews, but will admit that even when I don’t agree, I do find their assessments to be fair and unbiased. (I just happen to like Sam Choy’s place a lot better than they do!) You can also find a lot of good "insider" information on Kona Web.