Published on January 26th, 2013 | by Charu Suri
9 Discovering Centuries of History Along Ali’i Drive in Hawai’i, The Big Island
Ali’i means “royalty” or “kings” says the valet, as we drive our car to the Marriott King Kamehameha hotel (affectionately referred to as “King Kam”), located right off the drive.
All these Hawai’an vowels are music to my ears. Hawai’i. Ali’i. Kailua Kona. The written Hawai’ian language has eight consonants and five vowels, and so you can understand the number of permutations and combinations is not as extensive as the English language. But the result is a language that’s incredibly musical, and so mellifluous.
Matt, Erika and I were fortunate to stay right in the heart of downtown Kona as soon as we landed in The Big Island. The King Kam, a deliciously artistic hotel, is located right off the drive, and gave us a vantage of volcano silhouettes, coconut trees, and a glimpse of Ali’i Drive including the oldest catholic church in Hawai’i.
Pedestrians will feel at home walking along the drive, which is flanked by numerous palms
Mokuaikaua Church is The State of Hawaii’s oldest and first Christian Church
The Hulihe’e Palace is just across the street from the church, and is the venue for Hawaiian music concerts and wedding receptions. It used to be the vacation home of the royals
Every visitor who comes to Kailua-Kona should brush shoulders with these seven miles of panoramic waterfront drive, where you can discover three centuries of Hawai’ian history. Ali’i Drive is lit with cafes, culture, Thai restaurants and bougainvillea-clad homes and condos. There’s also a long lava rock sea wall that gives pedestrians a luxuriously private area to enjoy everything along the drive.
Ali’i Drive offers so much in the way of cinematography options: you can watch surfers and stand up paddle boarding off Kamakahona Beach, see the sunrise and set over the magnificent restored heiau temple with its thatched roof and stone wall. In the ancient days when King Kamehemeha ruled, the heiau was the place of sacrifice, and also where he mentored his son.
The Drive offers you plenty of chances to come closer to The Big Island’s history, which is what we loved most about it. We started with Mokuaikaua Church, that tall white spire that’s unmistakable even from a distance. The State of Hawaii’s oldest and first Christian Church which was founded in 1820, this small, graceful symbol of peace has simple wooden pews and plenty of stained glass windows that shine like gems when sunlight filters through. Originally made of thatch, the church was founded by missionaries from Boston, Massachusetts.
The church is bereft of any visitors: Matt, Erika and I are the only ones. Earlier in the day, Matthew attended a Sunday Service and said that the church was packed to the brim, with the service performed in the Hawai’ian language too.
You’ll find many shops along the way that sell pure Kona Coffee. Our hands down favorite was Kona Pony
Along the drive, there are volcanic rock and pebble beaches a plenty. The contrast between the dark stones and the lush greens is stark
Boutique jewelry stores and art galleries abound
More than 90% of The Big Island’s flora and fauna develop locally, and the island is home to thousands of species of plants and wildlife
Tradition is very much alive here, and the island’s tourist attraction status has not altered local pride in its customs.
Right across the church on the other side of the road is the Hulihe’e Palace, which is stately and lush albeit small. Not only is it a popular venue for festive events like parties and weddings, but it has stories to tell. It used to be the vacation residence of the royal family in Hawai’i (we’re talking the Kamehameha family), and today it houses some of the finest furniture, artifacts and local artwork and functions as a museum.
As we walk past the cafes and shops, we notice how many Thai restaurants line the drive—indeed, most of the island is filled with Thai, Chinese and local fare options, with plenty of cafes serving Kona coffee. Be sure to stay away from the Kona blend and you’ll be fine: most hotels serve the blend, but ask carefully for local grown pure Kona coffee and you’ll be happy you did.
The charming postage-stamp size St. Peter by the Sea church
Ali’i Drive is also studded with gorgeous hotels and condos, including the newly minted Sheraton Kona, so there’s the delicious juxtaposition of modern, minted digs sitting cozily with centuries of history. One of our favorite places where we lingered for hours included the charming little St. Peter’s By the Sea Catholic church, which was so very “island” in its colors of teal and white. It excited me because weddings are held there, and if I were to renew my vows, this is exactly the kind of place I’d choose: nothing too ornate and touristy, but simple and colorful. Behind the unassuming church, surfers tangoed on the waves, and colorful bonsai-like trees thrived on volcanic soil.
Ali’i Drive lives up to its name: if you do drive along it, enjoy its splendors, stop for a spot of coffee in many of the cafes, and soak in the centuries-old culture of The Big Island.