My husband and a buddy have long fantasized about doing a motor bike road trip and scuba diving expedition in Australia. In fact plans were solidly under way, until his friend had a stroke, just two weeks after retiring at 60. While both guys were shaken to the core, the trip was understandably postponed in wake of the recovery. Not wanting to sell short the dream with a friend, Chris decided to save the opportunity in hope of making the trip with his buddy at a future time.
That’s when I proposed a consolation prize of sorts.
“Rather than motorbike tour the big island of Australia, why not rent scooters on the Big Island of Hawaii with me?” I suggested. “It’s an island that also has beautiful beaches easily explored on a bike.” Admittedly it was a scaled down version of the original plan which required a significant drop in testosterone fueled open road touring at speed with bravado, as well as beef, beer and boy banter. But I assured him we’d make it fun, so he agreed to “come along for the ride.”
It may have been the prospect of me getting my motorcycle learners license that incentivized him. While this qualified me to take a learner’s safety course in the future, eventually leading to a full license, it was really about self-preservation and a desire to equip myself with knowledge he already possessed, since we would each be riding our own bikes. Renting scooters less than 50cc’s only requires a Class 5 license, what is needed to drive a car, but getting a learner’s license was a promise I had made to myself for personal safety reasons.
We based ourselves in Kailua-Kona after touring other parts of the island with a rental car. Renting scooters from Big Island Mopeds, the plan was to explore the known and not so well-known beaches along the Kona Coast. While I had visited several of these beaches on previous trips with girlfriends, they were all new to him, and we deliberately went off the beaten track looking for new hidden gems for both of us.
(Check out a fun video summary of our scooter tour here!)
Big Island Mopeds http://konamopedrentals.com/ deliver and pick up scooters all over the island, so they make it easy to book single or multi-day use trips from wherever you are staying. Ours were as cute as a button, and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as we tried them out in the parking lot upon delivery.
This is a rundown of beaches we accessed by scooter, exploring a new one each day.
Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area
While a beach with an airport name in it may not seem like the most likely appealing location, it is in an area long since abandoned as an airstrip, now replaced by upscale private residences along a private gated road. Except of course, if you are on a scooter, know where to park, and can find the path, which is legislated for public access, to the not so well-known beach area. Being just outside of Kalua-Kona, our base, also made it an easy outing as we got used to the scooters. We took Ali li Road through town along the waterfront, then up Palani Road, along Kuakini Hwy for 1.5km, exiting and parking by a school. After walking across the sports field and into the private road area, signage directs visitors through a pathway between residences to the beach. The day we visited there were only a couple families and we had it virtually to ourselves. It’s not an expansive beach area at all, in fact it’s studded with lava rock and tide pools, but there are nice sandy areas for a picnic and a swim. On a windy and wavy day it would be quite calm and quiet.
Makalawena Beach in Kekaha Kai State Park
Affectionately known in friend circles as “hike in beach” if what you are after is an almost deserted post-card perfect scoop of soft white sand beach cupping brilliant blue waters, you need to head to “Maks”. Although popular, the string of idyllic coves absorbs crowds, so it’s not hard to find your own paradise. Getting to Makalawena requires extra effort, including a hike across lava rocks, which can be exhausting in the heat, plus a drive in on an unpaved State Park access road between miles 90 and 91 off Hwy 19. For us on scooters, the hike in was much longer, since the small tires would bottom out easily, so we left the mopeds chained to each other at the end of the paved portion of the access road. There are often vehicles driving in, so if you’re on foot, there’s a good change you might beg a ride one of the directions. Bring lots of water and a hat, and be sure to pack out the garbage that you brought in. While this trip also required driving some distance on Hwy 19, the Big Island is well set up for scooters on this route, with a paved shoulder portion making it much safer and easier for slower moving vehicles. Just be sure to exercise caution at vehicle exits which cross the scooter lanes.
Kua Bay, also known as Manini’owali
Just up the road from “Maks” accessed off Hwy 19 between miles 88 and 89 by a paved road right across from Hawaii Veteran’s Cemetery, it is easy to access Kua Bay by scooter. Nicknamed “humpy beach” by my friend’s children, you can also recognize the entrance by the two humped hills that the road leads in through. Of course on scooters, parking is never an issue, even on busy days, since you can wheel up to the front and wedge bikes pretty much anywhere between vehicles if there is space. Because it is easily accessed, and has washroom and shower facilities, this beach can get crowded. But it is a beautiful crescent shaped white-sand beach fronted by sparkling turquoise water and first-rate swimming, body boarding and snorkeling.
This off the beaten track area offers a blue lagoon experience with pristine turquoise water surrounded by lava flows. While there is a course sand and rock beach with public access, it is steeper banked and falls short of the pristine white sand comparisons. But there is a lovely little white sand peninsula area, which seems more like an island, with two palm trees that you can swim out to and explore. The blue lagoon bordered by lava rock was fun to snorkel with plenty of tropical fish to see, and a few sea turtles on some of the shoreline. You can take an unmarked graded gravel road between miles 82 and 83 and drive in for 1 mile to the area, but we hiked in over the lava rock after leaving our scooters in a parking area off mile 81. The lava trail hike in initially appears hard to find, but is well marked by painted rock arrows twisting and turning throughout the rock field. While clouds kept our day on the cooler side, this could be a scorcher on a sunny day. Best to bring lots of water, a hat and sunscreen. It was a good 1-hour drive from where we were staying each way, an important consideration if it is hot and sunny, since you will still be exposed to the elements on a moped. In our experience, an hour on the bikes at a time was a good way to plan. Their range is certainly farther, with a full tank of gas taking you a good 80 miles. And at $8 for a fill, it was pretty hard to argue with the efficiency they offered.
There are many other beaches to explore on the Kona side which I have visited on previous trips, but we didn’t get to them during our time with the scooters. These could all be accessed as well, depending on where you are staying.
Off Hwy 19 at mile 87 through a private country club and residential development. The small protected bay is good for snorkeling, swimming and sea turtle spotting. It’s limited to 28 cars per day so doesn’t feel crowded. We’ve never been through on a scooter, but can’t imagine them denying access even if there were already 28 cars there, so it’s bound to feel exclusive no matter when you visit. You will need to stop at the security guard house and ask for a pass.
This beach is part of the Four Seasons Resort, with public access for a limit of 50 cars per day, but it seldom fills up. The beach area is shared in portions with some high paying guests from the resort, so depending on where you go, you may feel a little like cheap freeloading friends passing through. But due to Hawaii State public access laws for beaches, you’re within your rights. Just don’t go asking for a band-aid for a child’s sliced foot like we did once. It was a guest who eventually came to the rescue, rather than resort staff. Access is off Hwy 19 between miles 86 and 87.
Perhaps the best known and the largest beach on the Kona side, Hapuna Beach, contained within Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area is a postcard snapshot of what a beach can be. A half mile sweep of white powder sand and aqua-blue clear water make it a destination draw. There are lifeguards, washrooms and a restaurant, and the beach is bordered by major hotels to the north. Parking is paid at $5/day per vehicle, and since it is collected as a fee to maintain the state park, it applies to scooters too. Access off Hwy19 at mile 69 down Hapuna Beach Road. This might be a stretch by scooter if you were staying in Kalua-Kona, but if you were closer to Waikoloa Village between mile 75 and 76 on Hwy 19, it would make a fun day.
Apart from the off-side comments 69 might beg, this beach is both family friendly and gay friendly to boot. The lovely crescent of white sand is a local favourite, but remains somewhat off the tourist radar, making it a find. Calm and protected, the north end is best for snorkeling, but that is also where you will find the clothing optional folks. From Puako Beach Drive, take the first right onto Old Puako Rd. Find telephone pole 71 (originally numbered 69) to the left and park. Follow the footpath road to the end running parallel to a wooden fence.
Scooters and mopeds are very common on the Big Island, as are motorcycles, which I caught my husband glancing longingly at on a couple of occasions. It’s pretty hard to look manly on a 50cc moped, especially when you know how to ride a 1200cc touring bike, but the freedom of the road can still be achieved, and you can’t beat them for offering a fun-loving feeling while exploring a new area. Each bike had storage under the seat, suitable for a beach bag, water and lunch. And we carried extras like towels and a change of clothes in a backpack. They were accommodating in picking up basic shopping items too, since you can load up the seat area, a backpack, or place an additional cloth bag between your feet on the platform if the distance is short.
Big Island Moped were great about picking up our scooters as scheduled, and thankfully the flat tire that Chris experienced literally as we were coasting down the hill to our condo the final evening, was easily fixed by a capable mobile repair guy before passing the rental on to the next booking. They assured us that flats were infrequent, so we could likely credit his weight in excess of 200lbs plus groceries that day as capable of hammering in the thorn that punctured the tire.
While my notion of riding a scooter is now tied to the Hawaii tropical experience, or the romantic vision of riding a village street in Tuscany with a baguette, cheese and rosé in my basket, it likely won’t be realized at home in Vancouver where wet streets, rain and congested traffic are the norm much of the year. But the experience certainly did fuel a fair-weather desire to chase the open road on two wheels, so we’ll just have to see where life takes it!
If you go: Big Island Mopeds http://konamopedrentals.com/ rents bikes by the day, multiple days or weekly. Prices start at $40/day or $200/week, but increase to a day rate of $100 and a weekly rate of $500 during the Ironman Triathlon event (Oct 8-15, 2018 last year). By law, only one person is allowed to ride a moped in the state of Hawaii, so you can’t pair up. However, if you have a motorcycle license, you can rent a more powerful 150cc scooter, which are allowed to carry a passenger. While the company provides helmets, they are not mandatory by law. Protective eye wear, however is. So bring the sunnies! We of course wouldn’t have considered riding without helmets, and the eye wear is not only a guard against the sun and wind, but also bugs, which can hit your face with a good smack at highway speed. We’d also recommend flat soled closed toe shoes, like runners, rather than flip-flops which you may see some of the local’s wearing. Big Island provide chain locks to secure the bikes. If you’re travelling in pairs this can be handy when there is little to chain up to – like in the middle of a lava field!
We stayed in the Kailua Kona area at Kanaloa At Kona, a townhouse condo area which is where all the distances and directions in this post are based. There’s lots of accommodation in the area, and many private places listed on Airbnb as well as Booking.com – both online rental listing resources we’ve had great experiences with. It just depends on what you’re looking for in a particular location. Many professionally run Airbnb’s also cross list on Booking.com, where credit cards are accepted and often cancellation terms are a little more forgiving, and you can easily compare listings with broader commercial offerings.