The Big Island, Hawaii; Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail (King’s Trail & petroglyphs, Waikoloa)


If you’ve been following my blog recently, you may know that we were somewhat serendipitously stranded on the Big Island of Hawaii during the Coronavirus lockdown, from March to the beginning of June.  You can read about some of our adventures and the experience of lockdown 8,000 miles from home in my previous posts.

During our time in isolation on this wild and beautiful island, we made the most of exploring the local area of Waikoloa Beach, walking around the deserted neighbourhood, and doing some interesting hikes along the volcanic trails.

The Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail is actually a 175 mile trail network, formed 20 years ago to help protect the areas of cultural significance and delicate ecosystems around the island, and is accessible from various sections within the four National Parks.  You can read about the trail on the NPS website here

The King’s Trail 

Distance: 5 + miles out and back.  The ancient King’s trail originally covered 32 miles from Kailua Kona north to Puako. We did around 2.5 – 3 miles  in each direction (5-6 miles out and back).

Difficulty: Moderate – uneven, rocky ground.  Sturdy footwear is a must!

There’s a nice succinct history of the trail and the area here  on the Waikoloa Beach resort site.

Photo 17-05-2020, 04 21 42

The Petroglyph reserve area

This is a nice short trail, running around 1 km North from near the King’s shops, Waikoloa, winding around the lava fields, among ancient Hawaiian rock carvings.

Petroglyphs offer a unique view into the history of Hawaii – some date back to the 16th century – only one century after Columbus first landed on American soil.  The word “Petroglyph”  comes from the Greek words, “petros” for rock, and “glyphein” to carve, Hawaiians call this form of rock art “k’i’i pohaku“, or images in stone (Source:

The images were carved or pressed into the lava stone by ancient Hawaiians.  In among the cryptic circles and dots, are more Western images of horses and letters. Some, such as the smiley faces, I’m guessing are not so ancient!  

This is one of the best preserved petroglyph sites on the Big Island, and makes an interesting evening stroll if you are staying in the area.  Continuing across Waikoloa Beach Drive takes you to the start of the King’s Trail in the Northerly direction towards Puako..

The King’s Trail (North)

We walked a total of 5.25 miles out and back on the Northern stretch of the trail, as far as the Na Loko I’a O Kalahuipua’a fishponds.


As with the whole of the King’s Trail, it’s very rough footing, and will feel a lot more difficult than the same distance on flatter ground (as you can see from the estimated calorie burn above!).  The entire trail traverses rough black lava fields.

The ledges of rock on both sides would have originally kept the horses on the trail, while the rider “dozed in his saddle”

We passed by quite a few luxury residences and golf villas (mostly eerily deserted at the time due to the pandemic), with beautiful views of Mauna Kea to the right.  The sounds of our feet crunching on the endless path of lava stones was the only thing permeating the silence.

We finished the outward leg of the hike by bearing off to the left past the fishponds, ending at the equally deserted beach at the Mauna Lani resort.

The desolate windswept black and white stone beach, and unspoiled views of the Pacific ocean under a moody sky, provided a welcome contrast to the rugged black trail.  There was an apocalyptic feel to the place, with bright blue sun loungers, once part of the resort, left open to the elements and abandoned where they lay among the overgrown grass.

With the resort completely closed, the only other sign of life was a local family enjoying lunch and playing by the water.  Probably revelling in the lack of tourists!

This is a good stopping point for a rest and a snack before retracing your steps back towards the Waikoloa Beach resort.

The King’s Trail (South)

This was my favourite part of the trail, and feels even more isolated than the route we did to the North.  The starting point is across the road from the King’s Shops.

Leaving the Waikoloa Beach resort behind, and setting foot on the rough, stoney path, you very soon feel as though you are on another planet, surrounded on all sides by black volcanic rock.

There are stunning mountain views to one side (“mauka” – towards the mountain), and glimpses of glittering ocean to the other (“makai” – towards the sea).

Again, it’s a tough trail, and you need to watch your footing.  If you’re getting tired (especially on the way back), it’s easy to trip or injure your ankle.  I wouldn’t want to do it in anything other than proper hiking boots.

I’ve added a video below to give you an idea of the terrain:

We finished the outward leg of the hike by bearing to the right down to the secluded Keawaiki Bay.

The beaches were just starting to re-open on the Big Island at the time we hiked this trail, and there were still signs to say that there was no access to the bay area.  Then we happened to meet two other hikers, who told us that they had checked with the local authorities, and that it was OK to take a side path down there if you were on foot. At the time of the pandemic restrictions in Hawaii, the information was confusing at best!  

Photo 17-05-2020, 02 40 57

This was a beautiful place to rest and have some refreshments before attempting the 3 mile trek home. This is a completely rocky and black stone beach though, so finding a comfortable spot to sit is a challenge!

The home stretch was more difficult, as we were getting tired from the constant uneven terrain, and walking under the hot sun.  Finally getting back to the resort area and stepping onto a flat, even surface felt amazing!

Photo 17-05-2020, 06 56 54

Again, the calorie estimate takes into account the elevation gain and terrain, so it’s a pretty good workout for a day when you’re feeling energetic!

With the island mostly devoid of tourists, we were lucky to have the King’s Trail to ourselves (in May 2020).  I don’t know how busy it would be during normal times. Waikoloa is a fairly quiet area anyway, and I’m not sure how many people take advantage of the hiking opportunities.  Especially with so many stunning beaches to lie on!

I really enjoyed discovering the Waikoloa area and learning about its history by walking the ancient King’s Trail. It’s great to get out of the resort area and really immerse yourself into the rugged volcanic landscape.  I would highly recommend taking the time to explore the trail if you’re lucky enough to be in the area.  Always remember to take lots of water with you!

As our unintended refuge during the uncertain and unsettling times of the pandemic, the Big Island and Waikoloa area will always remain an important and special place to me.  I will be writing more about our experiences and adventures here in future posts. 

In the meantime, If you’ve enjoyed this post, do let me know, and please feel free to follow me using the buttons below.  You can also follow my Instagram and Twitter feed to see what other adventures I’m up to!

travel safe and Mahalo!





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s