THE BIG ISLAND- HAWAII
I began my Hawaiian adventure on Oahu and left with sadness and a feeling of never wanting to leave-so The Big Island had a lot to live up to! We flew with Hawaiian Airlines on a quick, less than an hour flight and landed on The Big Island not knowing what to expect. The one question I got from a lot of my friends was “The Big Island- what’s the name of this BIG island? Well, that’s its name and is it ever accurate- This Island is bigger than all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined.
My suggestion for visiting the big island is definitely renting a car. Everything is very spread out and you will probably spend more money trying to take tours to all the sites than you would with a car rental and gas. We were told that if you wanted to drive up Mauna Kea- which is a dormant volcano and also the highest point in the USA, you need an SUV-which will cost a bit more money, but worth it! (If you are into spectacular views and all!)
We stayed at the Castle Kona Bali Kai, which is a short 5-minute drive into downtown Kona and right along the water. My first impression of this Island was “OMG this place looks like a hot version of Iceland!” The 2 places are very similar with the lava fields, lush greenery and constantly changing landscape- I very quickly realized the big island and I will get along just fine!
Downtown Kona is full of shopping, dining options, nightlife and the most beautiful ocean views you could dream of. A perfect night- Sitting on a patio having a drink and watching one of those classic Hawaiian sunsets. This is also your place for souvenirs if that’s your thing- My pineapple shaped cutting board has fit perfectly in my kitchen!
DAY ONE ON THE BIG ISLAND
Our first stop on the Big Island was Hapuna Beach- one of the nicest beaches on the Big Island, which I had read on a few Blogs. It was definitely really pretty however the currents were a little strong so be aware if you are a weak swimmer. I had bought a Lei at the airport, to get into the Hawaiian spirit-so this beach was a perfect backdrop for some photos! There is a $5 parking fee if you want to park within the beach gates but if you literally park across the street and walk an extra 2 seconds you can park for free, so…
KAHALUU BEACH PARK
After we sun-worshipped for an hour or so we hit the second stop on our beach hopping expedition- Kahaluu Beach Park- we read there was a good chance to spot a sea-turtle in this cove, so obviously we needed to check that out. My boyfriend had 2 sea turtle sightings, so it was a success! I was a little exhausted from all my relaxing, so I spent a lot of the day on the beach tanning and eating yet another shave-ice, which had vanilla ice cream along the bottom-amazing! This beach has bathrooms, showers and a place to get food and drinks so you can easily spend half a day here, if you have time!
LUAU AT THE ROYAL KONA RESORT
We needed to wash off all the sunscreen and sand to look a little more presentable for the night’s festivities- a Luau at the Royal Kona Resort. $100 per person got us dinner and a show on the water at this beautiful hotel. The food included the traditional Kailua Pig that is cooked under the ground- they go through the traditional ceremony of digging it up, which was actually kinda cool to see. After dinner there was a Hawaiian show with Hula dancers and other traditional Hawaiian dances. It was probably my favorite evening spent in Hawaii. Oh and did I mention it was open bar?
DAY TWO ON THE BIG ISLAND
From Kona it is about a 1.5 drive to the Waipio Valley. This Valley is home to tons of waterfalls, hikes and spectacular views. Unfortunately for us, we arrived to find out there was a Dengue Fever outbreak and the valley was closed. Like, what the hell. SO we basically drove all this way to see the lookout, which ill admit was beautiful, but my heart was set on waterfall jumping. If you are planning to go, maybe look online beforehand to see what the status is, because it appeared to be worth the trip.
RAINBOW FALLS & AKAKA FALLS
That small snag in the plans didn’t stop me from seeing waterfalls-our adventures took us through Hilo and to 2 beautiful waterfalls, which, OK we couldn’t swim under, but they were worth the visit. Akaka falls is not too far from the Waipio Valley- you park at the top and follow a trail that takes you through some lush landscape and around the waterfall. Continuing on to Rainbow Falls- the same thing, a small trail and waterfall views. What I liked about Rainbow Falls is that there is an area you can walk up to the top of the waterfall and walk though the river that leads to the waterfall and if you are brave you can walk to the edge.
You can’t miss the trip up Mauna Kea when visiting The Big Island! This island is home of 2 volcano’s- one is active (Mauna Loa) and the other is dormant. Mauna Kea stands 4,205m above sea level and its peak is the highest point in Hawaii! Since a lot of the mountain is under water, when measured from the base at the bottom of the ocean, Mauna Kea is over 10,000m tall, which is taller than Mount Everest. ONE more fun fact- this volcano is over a million years old! It last erupted 6,000-4,000 years ago and is dormant-so you don’t need to worry about a possible lava flow! Now that you know the history-does it make you want to see what its all about? We decided to go around 5:00pm, knowing the sun would be setting around 6, giving us time to drive up to the top. A few things you should know before you try this.
1. You need an SUV to do this drive up. It is quite steep and isn’t paved so any smaller car will likely have trouble getting up. It IS actually a little scary since some of the switchbacks up with the volcano don’t have railings and you are driving on loose gravel.
2. It takes a while to get up- I think it probably took about 45 minutes and quite a bit of gas- fill up first! I wouldn’t suggest going when you know it would be completely dark when trying to go back down.
3. Obviously the elevation is quite high, so expect your ears to pop and a possible headache! I was totally cool going up, but driving down-my ears popped a million times!! Plus the air quality is 40% less at the top due to the elevation, so if you have breathing problems, you may want to observe from within the car!
4. It is COLD at the top! We watched the temperature on the car thermometer go from 85 degrees at the bottom for 45 degrees at the top! Bring some warm clothes! PLUS its windy- I had a bag of mine fly out of the car- I don’t know what was in it, but its LONG GONE!
5. You will be driving through the clouds- it was a surreal experience to look down and feel like you are in the heavens!
6. Obviously I don’t need to tell you to bring a camera, but BRING A CAMERA! The views are unreal! We watched the sunset above the clouds- it was something I will probably never get to see again outside of a plane!
7. After dark you can head down to the visitor center, which is located just before the road turns to gravel, so any car is able to get to this point. It is still 92,000 ft above sea level, so you are pretty high up. The stars are crystal clear up here-plan a night of star gazing There are a few telescopes provided for you to get a closer look at the constellations.
8. If you don’t have a car rental, you can book a sunset and star gazing tour.
9. You need to see this when you are on the Big Island! It was one of the coolest experiences I had on my trip to Hawaii!!!
DAY TWO ON THE BIG ISLAND
Our journey continued into the Puna district and on to Ahalanui Park, which was home to the natural hot ponds. What is a hot pond, you ask? It is a volcanically heated pool of water and a huge step up from a hot tub! This emerald green pool of water was the perfect temperature to sit, relax and enjoy the sunshine and sound of the ocean. When driving there I would suggest using a GPS since we felt we were driving aimlessly through the jungle. This park has a picnic area, toilet and shower facilities, which are nice to clean off.
LAVA TREE STATE MONUMENT
This park was a bit of an add-on to our day, since we saw it on our way past the hot ponds. This is a free park where you can walk a 30-minute trail to see the lava trees. Basically the lava trees were formed when the volcano lava swept through the forest and molded to the tree trunks. If you have some extra time, it was pretty interesting.
PUNALUU BLACK SAND BEACH
This beach was a BIG highlight for me on this trip. Ever wanted to just watch sea turtles for hours at a time? If yes, than this beach is for you! Located in between Kona and Pahoa, this beach is made of soft, volcanic sand and a place where sea turtles LOVE to swim up to the shore and sun themselves. If you are afraid to venture into the ocean and swim with them, you can watch them from the safety of the sand.
DAY THREE ON THE BIG ISLAND
VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK
Okay so the BIGGEST highlight of the trip to the Big Island was visiting Volcano National Park. I mean, I have said that other things were highlights but THIS was something to not miss. If you are on a cruise and visiting The Big Island for one day- this is what you should see. Mauna Loa is an active volcano and has been considered the largest volcano on earth. It last erupted in 1984, however at night you can visit and see the red lava bubbling from the Thomas A. Jagger Museum. We had stayed for one night in the town of Volcano at a Bed and Breakfast so we were close to all the attractions on this side of the island (since this park is about 2 hours away from Kona) In the evening, the sky above the volcano was lit up red- it was crazy!
During the day, there are numerous hikes you can do- one of the most popular hikes was the Kilauea Iki trail, where you hike through the rain forest and then down onto floor of the (still steaming) Kilauea Iki crater Lava Lake. This hike will take about 2-3 hours, depending on how fast you walk and how many photos you take!
Near the Kilaukea Iki trail, you can hike down into the Thurston Lava Tubes- this was pretty crazy, you can walk through a large tunnel where lava flowed thousands of years ago.
While you are driving through the park, past the visitor’s center and towards the museum on chain of craters road, you will see the steam vents. Pull over here to get a close look at the volcano.
The craziest hike we did was a little off the beaten path, but one of the friendly park workers told us about it and it was a MUST-DO-It was called Mauna Ulu. Follow the park map to the entrance of this trail. You will be hiking through the lava fields, and you need to follow the little lava structures (the Ahu) built to mark the trail (which I didn’t know at first, I thought they were for decoration). Once you have hiked about 40 minutes you will see a hill within the broken lava-climb up this hill (being very careful!) and once you reach the top- you can look down into the 100-foot crater. It was incredible. (And slightly dangerous- there were NO railings) We were the ONLY people here, I felt as though we were the only people in the world at this time. When walking down this hill you can see formations where lava flowed, it was an unforgettable experience. This was some of Mother Nature’s best work I have seen yet!
This park is easily a full days worth of excitement, and if you are really into hiking, you can spend numerous day’s here. As for cost, it is $15 per vehicle for 7 days, so you can choose to return if you want to spend more time here.
DAY FOUR ON THE BIG ISLAND
KONA COFEE TOUR
Our day stared bright and early with a free tour of the Greenwell Kona coffee farm. If you haven’t heard of Kona Coffee, it is delicious and quite expensive! This farm was established in 1850 and was one of the first coffee farms on the island. Sample the different types of Kona coffee while learning about how it was made on this 30-minute tour.
PAPAKOLEA BEACH AKA GREEN SAND BEACH
This beach was definitely unforgettable! Located near South Point (The most southern point of The Big Island and also the entire USA) This beach has olive colored sand and is one of 4 green sand beaches in the world. I was told that it was quite the hike to this beach but I didn’t care I needed to do it anyways. After we parked the car we headed to the trail (which was NOT shaded, NOT direct since it zigzagged in every direction and was pretty uneven!) Do yourself a fave and bring as much water as you can possibly carry! Id say we were pretty fast walkers (I was even sprinting at one point) and it still took an hour walk each way (The sign said 3 miles each way- I am from Canada, we speak in Kilometers- apparently “miles” feel MUCH further when walking in 30 degree weather, no wind, no shade!!!) Once we got to the beach, I was in awe- I knew I was sweating buckets for some reason- although my tan was on point!) This beach was beautiful! You have to hike down a pretty intense hill to get onto the beach, so hopefully you wore your running shoes- I sure didn’t! The water was warm and SO blue compared to the green sand with small, fun waves. Give yourself some time here to enjoy the scenery. Since it is such a trek, it wont be over crowded by tourists!
KA LAE AKA SOUTH POINT
Right by the beginning of the trail to the green sand beach, you can chose to drive to the right and you will hit the South Point, which is the most southern point of the island. There were many brave souls cliff jumping off the edge, and then climbing back up this super sketchy ladder, which I was told was even scarier than the jump off the cliff itself. I obviously didn’t do it- I didn’t even humor the idea of jumping after I hiked to and from that beach, so I offered to be the photographer when my boyfriend jumped. (I stood on the sidelines and ate popsicles from a nice man in an ice cream truck.)If you are risky and love to feel the rush- this may be up your ally!
STILL ON THE LIST TO SEE ON THE BIG ISLAND:
I was really sad that I wasn’t able to go to Captain Cook snorkeling while on the Big Island. Through my research I had read that this is the best place to snorkel and see dolphins. The water was supposedly too wavy to take a tour out on the days we were there so it wasn’t safe for us to go. If I were to return to the Big Island, this would be on the top of my list!
SEA HORSE SANCTUARY
I LOVE sea horses, I was really excited to hear there was a sanctuary here where you can actually hold one in the water. We ran out of time and wasn’t able to go, but if you are on the Big Island in the Kona area, it would definitely be a cool experience.
PU’UHONUA O HONAUNAU
This is a historic park translating to “Place of Refuge” where the Hawaiians who broke the law would flee to avoid punishment. This park is located in between the South point and Kona and contains many archaeological sites and snorkeling opportunities.