We like extremes here in America. The biggest ball of twine (Cawker, KS). The most expensive hamburger (The Burger Royale at DB Bistro Moderne, NYC). The biggest asshole (goatse guy). So when we learned that the Southernest Bar in the United States was on the island of Hawai’i, we had to trek there when we visited.
The bar is called Shaka’s, named after the “hang loose” Hawaiian hand sign. It resides in the small town of Na’ahelu, which is between Volcanoes National Park and the southernmost tip of the island, which is occupied mostly by wind farms and a few ranches. If you take the drive down to Shaka’s, there are a few things to see on the way. For one, Highway 11 passes through miles of old lava fields, so it looks like you’re driving through a desolate wasteland. The a’a lava, sharp and unweathered, stretches on one side of the highway to the sea, and to the base of Mauna Loa on the other.
They use the terms mauka and makai to differentiate between “toward the mountains” and “toward the ocean.” Especially on the big island, where there is a ring around the shore and only a few roads inland, like the infamous Saddle Road between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, north and south have little meaning. All the roads are toward one town or another. On the way down, we passed the Punalu’u Black Sand beach, so I swung a sharp left in the Jeep and drove on down. Past a windy golf course, and dotted with tents with local families chilling andd grilling, this is how you enjoy the beach on the windy side of the island.
Another 20 minutes down the road or so and you reach Na’ahelu. Shaka’s is past the gas station and the post office, with parking in front and out back. It’s hard to miss the big blue building. We dropped in for some Kona brews and burgers. Firecracker had a burger smothered with mushroom gravy and sweet Maui onions, with some delicious fried potato wedges on the side. They call them hash browns, so get them instead of the fries. I had a South Seas fish sandwich with mahi and light tangy tartar sauce. It was fresh and delicious. The beer was good too- I had a few Kona Lavaman Red Ales. Service was a little slow, even for the islands- he apologized for being short on staff- but everything was tasty and we didn’t wait too long.
So they are worth a stop, even if you don’t want to say that you’ve had a beer at the Southernmost Bar in the U.S., for their good food and selection. If you’ve come this far, you might as well drive another 12 miles to South Point, the wave-bashed rocky beach that is the most southerly spot on the isle. You can see the stark contrast between the calm, Kona side of the island and the windy Hilo side, as the waves crash nonstop to your left, and the seas stand still to your right.
The beaches were covered with locals fishing, but we didn’t see anyone catch anything. A few miles down a 4×4 road, and there’s a Green Sand beach, but we didn’t have a lot of time or good directions to it. It gives us a reason to come back, other than the island’s beauty and the friendliness of the people. Next time I want to stay in Kona, so Firecracker can go horseback riding with the paniolos, and I can drive to the top of Mauna Kea. Or sit at the Kona Brewing Company having some more of their excellent Wailua wheat and Pipeline porter.
On the way back we stopped at the spot where Mark Twain planted a monkeypod tree in the 1860’s. It stood until 1957, when a typhoon uprooted it. I’m still reading his Letters from Hawaii; it’s good, but slow going. He was still young and hadn’t gotten his steam yet. I imagine he’d have commented on the most Southerly Commode in the U.S., which Firecracker and I did make use of. We were most thankful that the heavy winds didn’t knock it over.
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