We are north of Kona in an area of the island that has the lowest rainfall (5.7 inches a year). Even when it is raining in Kona, skies are usually clear in Puako. The humidity is very low (noticably lower than Kona), and mosquitos are pretty much non-existent. And the best beaches on this part of the island are very nearby (Waialea Bay aka beach 69, Hapuna and Mauna Kea is just to the north outside the picture below).
Puako is the only non-resort community in this area; it still has a very gentle, relaxed "local" feel which we really like. Next door we have the general store which is a community treasure - pretty much everything you need is right there (from Drinks to Dinner to Dvds...). Our only road has a dead end, and gets very little traffic - you will see lots of people walking along it in the mornings, and everything from quail to wild turkeys. Although the ocean side has been pretty built up with houses - some modest, some very fancy - the beach itself is fully public, and there are half a dozen very easy beach access - i.e. you park and the beach is 10 feet away. Each access has its own personality, the one that is less than a block from us has some man made lava rock pools which are great for the little ones (the bigger pool is called the "Queens Pool.")
Note: If you are looking for a resort, Mauna Kea is just north of us and is pretty darn nice (We often go out there for a special evening).
There are two types of beaches to enjoy: the big beaches of Wailea Bay, Hapuna and Mauna Kea are nearby - for 5 to 15 minutes away depending which one you choose. There are also the small beaches you can access off of Puako Beach Drive - the nearest one is a very short walk - about 200 yards from our condo.
Puako Beach Drive
Each little beach off of Puako Beach Drive has its own personality. We enjoy both the one closest to the condo, and another one about a half mile down the road. These beaches are very very close to the road (10-150 ft), and have 3-4 parking spaces which are almost always unused. They make for a really easy sit on the sand and watch the sunset....
Sophia at the beach near 134 Puako Beach Drive. At high tide, this area has an enormous "pool" that is about 2' deep, protected by a lava rim. And the sunsets from here are amazing.
The Big Beaches - Hapuna, Wailea Bay and Mauna Kea
There are three classic large beaches nearby, each with its own personality.
Hapuna is the largest, with nice sand, decent waves for body surfing, but a very gentle slope so that even toddlers can play in the surf. It also has a snack shack with ice cream bars, smooties and a pretty good burger. Hapuna has made it to top 10 beach lists several times http://www.bestplaceshawaii.com/tips/10_best/beaches.htm http://www.americasbestonline.com/beaches.htm
Our daughter Sophia at Hapuna, on a fairly crowded weekend day. You can see that the waves when they get to shore are pretty gentle. This photo was taken in December.
You might also experience days when the shore break is larger - at which point we retreat to Mauna Kea for the day, or stay closer to the top end of the wave break.
The beach at Hapuna does not have any shade near the water, and on a holiday weekend (this was during the Christmas holiday), it can get pretty crowded. We do have a couple of nice umbrellas as well as 4 comfortable beach chairs.
Wailea works really well if you'd like some shade. There are no lifeguards here - but there is a shower and decent parking. It is a local favorite, and the snorkeling can be pretty good as well. To the left of the parking lot is a rope swing over the water!
Mauna Kea beach is reached by going into the resort. You need to go up to the hwy and drive a couple of miles and turn into the resort. At the gate tell them you want to go to the beach. The parking lot here is limited so it may fill up... It has some really nice sand - very fine, and I think is a bit more sheltered on days when waves are a little to big elsewhere - but then again sometimes it works the other way around. They do have some lifeguards here. Also, this is the only beach where we have ever had a problem with jelly fish (the little tiny bluish ones that sting!). I've heard that in the afternoon when the wind is coming off the ocean you need to be a bit careful about these. Overall we usually go to Mauna Kea only once or twice in a trip for a bit of variety and the sand is very very nice....
Kohala dive shop is about 5 miles from the condo in Kawaihae. You can arrange for boat dives there, or you can rent gear and do some wonderful shore diving right off of Puako Beach Drive. If you plan on doing only shore diving (a fine option), you can rent tanks for $10 a day with one refill a day. You can pull into thier parking lot, drop your tank off and they will hand you a full one, and then zip off - or you can chat for a bit and get some advice for your next dive - they are a great resource! While in Kawaihae, you may want to stop off at the fruit stand which has great inexpensive fruit and vegetables - and sometimes fresh banana bread and stick rice snacks (cash only). Pretty much a tank refill plus a fruit stand visit plus the drive will turn into a 30 minute errand...
The terrain off of Puako is pretty neat; canyons, a few arches, lots of fish and turtles, occasional dolphins, lots of whale noise in season, and, unique to this area, garden eels.... One of the nicest dive spots on the island is the shore dive at the end of the Puako beach road, about 1 mile from the condo. The beach entry closest to the condo also leads to a nice dive, but entry can be a bit tricky. In general go when the water is flat - and do get advice from the people at the Kohala Divers!!! Early is the morning is almost always a great time to go - this also works well for jet lagged west coast people.....