The Big Island of Hawaii is a wonderful place to live. It offers such a great variety of recreation options both at sea and on land. I am fortunate to be able to enjoy both, but since my passion is backpacking, that is what I spend much of my free time doing.

The Big Island has 8 out of 10 worldwide climate zones and elevations from sea level to over 13,000’ elevation. With this type of varied climate, you can imagine how varied the ecosystem is. There are deserts and tropical rainforests, tropical fish and exotic birds and places that seem barren of life.

This much variety allows a backpacker to experience most if not all these intriguing environments, but like everyone, I have found one I love best Within the confines of Volcanoes National Park. Although the park contains many of the climate zones found on the island, my favorite is the Humid Tropical Winter Dry Climate Zone.

This zone found on the lower Eastern slopes of the park is perfect for backpacking. It is usually warm and dry, especially in Winter. The scrubby semi-open forest lands and the open grasslands down to the coast provide great hiking terrain. The wide open and expansive views of the whole coastline are nothing short of amazing.

One of my favorite trails here is the Keauhou Trail.  It is about 7.6 miles long one way. It is also unusual in that it is predominately downhill dropping over 2,800 feet in elevation from the trailhead to the beach at Keauhou Bay.

The trail begins along the top of the Pali, which is Hawaiian for Cliff and is gentle in slope. This part of the trail is over many varied textures of lava ranging from smooth to ropelike textures.

It meanders in and out of old Ohia forest. Ohia is very significant and important to the island in that it is one of the first plants to grow in new lava flow areas. Their presence begins the process of transformation from open raw rock to a forest.

The trees are rugged and tough and remind me of the live oaks of California, but with strikingly beautiful flowers.

Walking through these beautiful forests is amazing, but existing within these old forests lurks a problem. Rapid Ohia Death. The death is caused by a fungus and is spreading throughout the Island. It is devastating the forests. As you hike above the Pali, you will see large numbers of dead trees barren of leaves waiting for some windstorm to pass through and force them to the ground. Many are working on this problem in an effort to preserve this wonderful species.

As you approach the Pali, the views of the coastline come into full view. The trail begins to steepen and get a bit rougher. Here is where the majority of the elevation loss begins. The trail descends crossing back and forth along an old trail used years ago by cattle ranchers to drive the herds down to the ocean where they were loaded aboard ships to transport them to market. Traces of the old trail and rock wall barriers can still be seen as you hike down the hill.

In the distance, you see another smaller Pali to the South right on the ocean with its cliffs falling into the ocean itself. At the far end of that Pali is the beach camp of Ka’aha. At the foot of the Pali on the North is another beach camp called Halape and just North of that is my favorite camp, Keauhou.

Once the base of the Pali is reached, the trail flattens out. A short distance from there is a shelter and composting toilet well above the shoreline and out of Tsunami reach. This is where you can refill your water supply and make a pit stop out of the sun. After a few hours hiking in the full exposure of the tropical sun, a break in the shade is very much appreciated.

From here it is a short .4 mile hike to the bay and campsites. The campsites are spread out around the bay with some in the trees and others in full sun. Since the wind is often blowing along the coast, a bit of tree protection is sometimes appreciated.

The bay is protected from the pounding surf by a barrier island a few hundred yards offshore. This leaves the inner bay calm and a wonderful place to relax and refresh after the hike. Fresh spring water continually flows into the bay from shore. The cold clear fresh water is a great way to wash off the salt water from swimming or just lounging in the warmer surf.

The beach at Keauhou is soft grey sand and rocks in some places making it a great place to take the whole family if they can make the hike in and out.

If you follow the shoreline on around the bay to the North, you will find tide pools, more beach and beautiful piles of old white coral. Take the time to explore the freshwater pools at the back of Keauhou Bay. Watch for beach birds such as plubbers and even giant storks hunting for small fish along the shore. If you are there at a time when the tide is coming in, sit still near the shore and watch for many small moray eels gliding through the shallows searching for slow or dead fish for dinner.

At night, if you are lucky and the sky is clear, watch the Milky Way spread all across the sky through the clean ocean air. See shooting stars streak by. There is no light pollution here to spoil the night time views. When bedtime comes, fall asleep to the gentle sound of the surf falling across the rocks and island offshore.

No matter how many times I come to this beautiful place, I always find something new and exciting to see or do. I know you will feel the same.

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