The Kohala Coast

What's black on the bottom, green on top, and sunny all over? The Kohala Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii, extending from Keahole Airport (built on lava from Mount Hualalai) some 55 miles north to fertile headlands that point to Maui. Along a choice section of the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway (if you stumble over the syllables, Highway 19 will do) are hotels—Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, Kona Village Resort, Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, Hilton Waikoloa Village, the Orchid at Mauna Lani, Four Seasons Resort Hualalai—that woo guests with some of the most artful rooms and imaginative cuisine in Hawaii. Of course, a stay at any of them requires a bit of bullion. Why else would this stretch be called the Gold Coast?

Why else?Well, an average of 344 days of sunshine a year might have something to do with it. Kohala Coast beaches attract travelers from halfway around the globe. These waters are equally magnetic to Big Islanders who live as near as Hilo, where weather is expressed in opposite terms—for a yearly average of 278 rainy days. Sublime as it can be to stay at one of the luxury hotels, that's not a requirement for staking a patch of sand. Local laws ensure the waterfront is accessible to all.

Swimmers snorkel by day with green sea turtles and glide by night with manta rays in Kauna'oa Bay, where the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel put down anchor in the early sixties. Body surfers beeline to Hapuna Park, where shelter in one of six A-frames sets them back a mere $20 a night. This coast has tidal pools for tots; stone temples, circa a.d. 480, and petroglyphs (the biggest concentration in Hawaii) for history buffs; even a spectacular drive along the Kohala mountain road between Waimea and Hawi. If you thought the blue of the Pacific was something to write home about, wait until you see the grazing land rippling along the flank of Kohala Mountain. The grass really is greener in Hawaii.