Are you headed to Kona this October? Check out our guide for highlights on what to see and do on the Big Island. We’ve also included our tips on what and where to eat to ensure you’re well fueled for race day.
Where is Kona and how do you get there?
The town of Kailua-Kona is home to the IRONMAN World Championships, and a permanent sign next to the pier proudly announces this claim to fame to locals and visitors alike. The town, whose name is frequently shortened to Kona, is the largest on the West Coast of the island of Hawaii. And to clear up some potential confusion, Hawaii is the largest island among the archipelago of Hawaiian Islands. While it is technically called Hawaii, locals and visitors alike aptly refer to it as the Big Island.
Kona’s international airport, code KOA, is a rustic affair and services to and from Japan are the only international, direct flights to the island. All other flights are inbound from the US mainland or the other Hawaiian Islands, so chances are that you will need to connect via Honolulu, the largest airport on the
island of Oahu.
For all but a few visitors to the island of Hawaii, the focus is on rest, relaxation and tropical exploration rather than swim, bike and run. That means there is plenty to entertain you post-race… or at least keep your family and friends occupied while you’re running around in Lycra and resting ahead of race day! Following are some of the most popular activities on the Big Island.
What to do when you’re not triathlon’ing
Manta Ray Snorkel
Night snorkelling with manta rays is a unique experience in Hawaii. The boat trip typically leaves in the late afternoon so you can capture the sunset before jumping off the boat for a swim with rays, some of which can have a wingspan as large as five meters.
One of my personal favourite experiences in Hawaii is a helicopter tour that offers 360-degree views of the entire Big Island. In under two hours, you can be transported to the “wet side” of the island, taking in the waterfalls of the Polulu Valley, flying over the cattle ranches of the North Kohala Coast and get a bird’s eye views of the currently active lava crater of Kilauea Volcano.
Volcanoes National Park
Speaking of volcanoes, the Big Island is home to five volcanoes – Hualalai, Kilauea, Kohala, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, three of which are currently active (Hualalai, Kilauea and Mauna Loa). In particular, Kilauea is the volcano that has been hitting the headlines in recent months. While it has been has been continuously erupting since 1983, recent activity has forced the closure of the park for safety reasons. However, the park is located at the opposite side of the island, and the volcanic activity presents minimal risk to visitors not within the immediate vicinity of the volcano.
Located, about 40 minutes north of Kona is the pristine white sandy beach of Hapuna. At just over half a mile long with a continuous shore break, it is often voted among the best beaches in the world. It’s a great place for relaxing, swimming and snorkelling or playing beach games with family and friends.
Where to refuel from a workout and celebrate your race
Eating from a bowl
You won’t get too far in Kailua-Kona without someone telling you “you have to try a poke bowl from Da Poke Shack” or “you can’t leave the island without devouring an Acai bowl from Basik Cafe.” Indeed, if you look on TripAdvisor, Da Poke Shack is the highest rated eating establishment in all of the Hawaiian Islands! It’s a bare-bones place offering a range of poke made daily from the freshest fish and served with sides of rice and seaweed salad in takeaway-style cartons. Basik Cafe is equally simple with their walk-up window serving tasty bowls of fruit and acai topped with your choice of seeds, granola and honey.
Dining to the soundtrack of ocean waves lapping on lava rocks is an experience that is hard to beat. On the Big Island, there’s no shortage of choices for oceanside dining and, one of my favourites is Daylight Mind close to downtown Kona. The location right next door to the IRONMAN expo can make it a busy destination during race week, but it’s a recommended spot for dining around the clock. On race day, it can be a perfect spot for family and friends to catch a view of the swim course while devouring a tasty breakfast. The owner is a Melburnian and the coffee lives up to those lofty standards – look for the flat white on the menu to feel at home!
If you’re looking for a post-race dining splurge, the ULU Ocean Grill within the Four Seasons Hualalai resort offers delicious “regional, seasonal and artisanal” food in a stunning location. Plan to get there early so you can also enjoy a sunset cocktail and watch the Tiki torches being lit at the Beach Tree Bar & Lounge before walking along the beach to dinner.
Lava Java is a Kona institution, and it’s long been known as the place to spot professional triathletes getting their caffeine fix in the days leading up to the race. The restaurant even renames several of its breakfast and brunch specials to pay homage to triathlon’s current elite. Think “Frodeno French Toast” or “Siddall Sausage Scramble.” Since relocating to new premises a couple of years ago, Lava Java (right) has taken on a more formal feel, but it still remains an easy place to grab a coffee, smoothie or a fist-sized muffin to go.
For those seeking plant-based or gluten-free dining, the Evolution Bakery & Café is a relatively new addition to the island for breakfast and brunch. I never seem to leave there without a slice of their delicious banana bread, so you may wish to wait until post-race if you’re easily tempted by sweet treats!
Images: Korupt Vision and Shutterstock.com