Fewer than ten years ago—and a thousand years before that—Kua Bay was reachable only by walking down a rutted, unsigned "road," located about ten miles north of touristy Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. Then a paved road, restrooms, and a bright Kekaha Kai State Park sign overnight turned the bay into a setting for a Beach Boys' song.
The park for centuries was the ancient village of Manini Owali.
The park's few picnic tables each day are stacked with goodies that would have kept the villagers going for a month.
Ultra-blue waters and a usually gentle shore break lure swimmers and body boarders. Board surfers love the right-break off the the bay's northern tip, Papiha Point. But be prepared: During the big winter storms, the sand is sometimes washed away, revealing boulders.
Even with the new popularity, visitors are only a few steps away from the old days. Beginning at a trailhead down a road behind the restrooms, a portion of the King's Trail extends northward a couple miles to Kikaua Point Park. Much of the journey, through a hellish landscape of rough a'a lava, is aided by flat rocks placed by ancient Hawaiians.
Another quick thrill is the walk to the top of Pu'u Kuili, a volcanic cone that is a landmark on the northern Kona Coast. You need to climb about 300 feet in less than a half-mile to reach the summit. Hawaii the Big Island Trailblazer has detailed directions to all of the island's popular spots, as well as the quiet getaways that are hiding in plain sight.