Known as Hawaii’s Big Island, Kona is steeped in a rich cultural history interlaced with tales of royalty, betrayal and nature’s fury. Believed to be the first island that Polynesian voyagers from the Marquesas Islands set foot on 1,500 years ago, Kona was also the island that the Great Hawaiian King Kamehameha – who brought unity to all of the Hawaiian islands – held closest to his heart. With a landscape that spans lush vegetation to desolate expanses of black lava rock, the island of Kona is the keeper of a wealth of legends and secrets. But while the wave of tourism grows stronger each year, hidden slices of paradise still exist for those who know where to look.
By Mikki Brammer
”You almost made me miss the turn,” yells Jesse, the driver at the wheel of our ageing four-wheel drive that has been hurtling along a sun-drenched highway on the Hawaiian island of Kona. I peer out the window through my recently acquired Elvis-style aviators – purchased during the impulsive gas-station shopping trip that signals the beginning of any roadtrip – but all I can see is the same stark landscape of black lava rock that we’ve been staring at for the past half hour.
“Hold on!” hollers Jesse over the radio unashamedly blaring eighties gold, as he swerves sharply off the road and down a rocky incline onto the obstacle course of lava rock that lies ahead of us. “You’ll be safer if you take off your seatbelt,” he grins, delighting at the squeals of his three female passengers as he guns the accelerator and we begin our turbulent ascent over the rocks. As my head hits the roof and my seatbelt tightens its grip on my neck, I quickly do as I’m told, unbuckling the clasp and leaving my wellbeing up to fate.
We are on our way to a beach, known only to few, 45 minutes out of Kona Town. Buoyed by the promise of crystal waters, divine ocean breezes and three days of paradise all to ourselves, we grit our teeth and hold on for the ride. The eighties soundtrack is now drowned out by a chorus of squeals and nervous laughter. We bounce around the truck’s cabin, trying desperately not to be impaled by the tangle of camping gear bursting to break free through the grill that separates it from the back of our heads. Suddenly Jesse lets go of the steering wheel, leaning back in his seat as the vehicle continues its unsteady charge forwards. Sensing our terror, he reassures our panicked expressions, informing us that we were passing over the walking track of the ancient Hawaiian King Kamehameha, which lines the perimeter of Kona, and that letting go of the wheel was a gesture of respect to his spirit. Touched, yet slightly concerned for our lives, we breathe a heavy sigh of relief as Jesse resumes his grip of the wheel.
Our relief is short-lived, as the four-wheel drive lurches up on its two left wheels, lingering in the air as if it were an acrobat balancing delicately on a tight-rope, before slamming back down on all four wheels to the spine-tingling groan of metal against rock. We come to a halt and get out.
Upon inspection of the now-contorted exhaust pipe, Jesse concludes that our collective weight is too much for the vehicle to bear. Faced with the controversial decision of exactly which of the passengers should be evicted from the truck, we all agree to get out and walk the remaining distance.
The sun beats hard down on the black rock; stray drops from my water bottle disappear instantly as soon as they hit the sweltering surface. As we trudge along, clambering over rocks in our highly inadequate flip-flops, our skin raw from the wrath of the midday sun, someone makes the tired declaration that the beach had better be worth it. After 15 minutes of navigating a path through an unforgiving labyrinth of shrubs, we encounter momentary respite as a salt-infused breeze whistles delicately through the trees – as if nature’s way of telling us to not to give up.
As if on cue, a trail of sand begins to form. Our pace quickens as we eagerly follow the trail, knowing what lies at its end; we are soon rewarded with the sound of crashing waves in the distance. Scrambling through the shrubs, we emerge onto the sandy path that opens out into the Holy Grail we have been seeking. We tear down the golden beach with glee, discarding any unnecessary apparel, and throw ourselves at the waves that have been beckoning us. The cool water is a precious nectar to our parched skin and I dive beneath the surface, lingering in the peaceful underwater silence. As I explore the rippled sandbed with my fingertips, startled fish dart dexterously out of my path, puzzled by this intruder who has dared enter their aquatic abode.
The afternoon sun sets in as we begin to set up camp, pausing for brief sojourns into the water, and we keep our eyes peeled for the sign of whales in the deep-blue distance. Our camp is a simple one, consisting of only the necessary amenities – a tent, an esky and, of course, a hammock expertly strung between two trees. When everything is in its place and the first embers of the campfire are burning, I take it upon myself to test the hammock’s efficiency. As I lie back to a view of blue sky dotted with voluptuous clouds, a curious Red-crested Cardinal, native to the Kona area, surveys the scene. The sea breeze gently nudges the hammock into a rhythmic sway and I am lulled into sleep, enveloped by the cosy warmth of the afternoon sun.
I am soon awakened from my slumber by my fellow campers yelling and pointing to the horizon. As I clumsily dismount the hammock, excited by the prospect of seeing a whale, my heart sinks to discover that there is indeed movement in the water, but of a very unnatural kind. A tourist boat has moored a few-hundred metres out from our slice of paradise, and a legion of fluorescent flippers and snorkels has begun an invasion towards our beach. We defiantly stand our ground, agreeing that it is unjust that anyone could enjoy the splendour of the secret beach without having to endure the tumultuous journey that had got us here. Fortunately, the tourist army stops midway, more interested in the reef that prefaces our precious cove than in the beach itself.
Long after the invaders have disappeared into the distance, the heartwarming glow of sunset begins to flood the horizon and I set off for a stroll down the beach, the cool sand sliding like silk between my toes. There is a plan for lobster diving tonight – a moonlit mission to catch what will make tomorrow morning’s delicious fire-cooked breakfast. The lilt of song from around the campfire leaps along the breeze – my cue to return. As the stars begin to twinkle and the waves crash enthusiastically against the shore, the palm trees sway in unison in the evening breeze, as if they are waving to someone off in the distance, and their delicate rustle cleanses my consciousness of the chaotic thoughts of everyday life. I smile, breathe in the fresh ocean air and surrender to paradise
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