Hawaii May 2021, Day 3: a hidden gem restaurant, a painted church, and a safe haven

Leaving Kailua-Kona behind, I headed south on Mamalahoa Bypass Road, hugging the coast rather than at elevation like I had been the day before. I drove past lots of beach resorts and (after I eventually ascended 1000+ feet) coffee farms. I eventually wound up at an X-intersection with State Highway 11 above Kealakekua Bay, but instead of going straight down to the bay, I continued south on SH 11 to my lunch spot: Kaaloa Super J’s.

This place is a true hole-in-the-wall, in the best possible sense. It’s a tiny, very humble, family-run restaurant by the side of the road; you feel like you are literally in someone’s home (in fact, you might be). But their pork laulau (pork stewed in taro leaves) is out-of-this-world good. I honestly can’t remember where I heard about it (I may have just stumbled across it on Google Maps), but boy am I glad I went. I was later told by multiple people that this was at least the best pork laulau on the Big Island, maybe anywhere in the world.

Pork laulau as part of a plate lunch (with two scoops of rice and the ubiquitous macaroni salad)

I also got a traditional kulolo dessert, but I didn’t care for it that much (gummy texture, not much distinctive flavor – neither of which was the fault of the restaurant, just the dish wasn’t to my taste). I wish I had gotten haupia cheesecake, because I got it later on from a supermarket and it was amazing, so I can only imagine how good it would have been homemade from Kaaloa Super J’s. Seating inside was extremely limited, so I just sat on the park bench outside, and though it was drizzling slightly, I sat there savored the food and the experience. Both were as “real” and “authentic” as you can get. Don’t leave the Big Island without stopping by here!

When I tore myself away, I wound down toward Kealakekua Bay, stopping en route at St. Benedict Catholic Church, also known simply as “The Painted Church.”

As you can see, the church is gorgeously decorated. You might be able to see that wrapped around the pillars is some Hawaiian-language writing. In talking with the attendant on site, I learned that these are not, as I first imagined, translations of bible verses, but (if I recall correctly) prayers of exorcism.

There’s also a monument to Fr. Damien De Veuster, a Belgian priest who was famous for ministering to the leper colony on the island of Moloka’i.

Be aware that you’re not supposed to wear bathing suits or revealing clothing inside, so you might need to (as I did) make an impromptu change of clothes once you arrive.

I continued down to the shoreline and reached Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. Pro tip: if you park in the parking lot inside the park, it’s $10, but if you park literally 100 feet away next to the road just outside the park limits, it’s free. Unlike Kaloko-Honokōhau NHP, which I had found to be somewhat of a bust the day before, this was very interesting, with lots of reconstructed buildings, intricately-carved wooden kii statues, and original walls to see. The central part of the complex was a walled enclosure manned by priests that would, under the traditional Hawaiian system of kapu (taboo), provide safe haven for any lawbreakers who could reach it before justice caught up with them.

This guy, a worker at the park, was a descendant of Kings Keawe and Kamehameha themselves, and his family had preserved the traditional knowledge of how to carve kii statues. I listened to him talk for quite a while about his heritage and traditions.

There were also some cool black-lava beaches and beautiful views along the shoreline.

After leaving the park, I headed to Kealakekua Bay. Now came the only time on my trip I actually didn’t get to do something I had planned on doing. I was planning on renting a kayak in the village of Captain Cook and kayaking across the bay to the Captain Cook Monument that marks the spot of the famous British explorer (and first documented European to reach Hawaii)’s death. But when I arrived at the kayak rental shop c. 5 pm, though the shop was open and all the kayaks were still lying around, no one was to be seen. I called the number for the store, and the guy answered explained to me that it was “getting too late” to rent me a kayak because “it would be dark soon” (despite the fact that the hours listed on Google had the place open until 11 pm and it wouldn’t be dark for 2 hours). So, apparently there would be no kayaking for me. Feeling slightly deflated, I decided to hike down a trail to monument the next morning (although that ended up not happening either) and started winding up the VERY steep road to my Airbnb.

Kealakekua Bay is stunningly beautiful; you can just make out the thin white obelisk of the Captain Cook Monument on the opposite shore at left.

Though the place I stayed was listed on Airbnb, it was really a true B&B, a large house with multiple parties staying there. Charming, peaceful, and with incredible views over the bay, it was easily my favorite place I stayed on the entire trip. Although it was raining heavily as I arrived, it soon cleared and I could enjoy some wonderful relax time on the back porch overlooking the bay while munching on the host-provided chocolate chip cake. As I posted on Facebook in the moment, this did not suck!

Next: a historic coffee farm and more

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