The 1.5-mile drive across a hellishly jagged lava field north of Kona keeps some visitors away from Kekaha Kai State Park. Big mistake. The road has been improved (now it's only bad) and the beaches that await are among the best in the Islands.
The road ends at Kekaha Kai beach, with picnic tables and palms on a sandy peninsula, which requires no walking to enjoy. But most visitors at least make the quarter-mile stroll to Mahaiula Bay (pictured) and log some serious beach time inbetween snorkeling. This was once the site of a rustic resort.
The prize at Kekaha Kai are the Makalawena Beaches, a mile-long stretch of dunes and coves that begins about 1.25 miles from the parking. The first part of the hike is a scorcher, an open lava field that is part of the ancient King's Road. Makalawena sees a fair number of beachgoers, but there's plenty of room. Just at the backshore of the beach is the Makalawai Oasis, a little pond set amid a circle of palms. Sweet. Then, at the far end of the beaches (where a campround host is set up) is a sheltered cove that is excellent for safe swimming. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has details, beginning of page 72.