NOTE: This trip report details the Big Island portion of our 2 week Hawaiian adventure. To read about Maui, click HERE.
Day Eight: Even though we had to say goodbye to Maui, a new adventure awaited us on the Big Island. We flew via Hawaiian Airlines (booked for $100 per person via Orbitz.com), and we found the quick flight pleasant and refreshing (mist shoots out from overhead- a welcome after sitting in the hot airport). The plane flew over Maui, so I ‘sorta’ got to see the road to Hana. The staggering terrain looked lush, unpopulated, and very, very green. I determined in that moment to come back and see more of that beautiful island.
We soon lost sight of Maui, flying over the azure waters before making our descent to Kona. The ride was so brief; maybe 20 minutes total flight time- barely enough time for the attendants to pass out juice cups.
We landed on time and pulled right up to the outdoor airport. Literally! We hopped off the plane, walked through a flimsy fence to a covered waiting area. The airport was basically a cluster of pavilions! Xander kept saying “This isn’t an airport.” Our suitcases arrived promptly, and we picked up our Malibu rental from National soon thereafter. The agency had many more fees than Hotwire estimated- $75 more! I wasn’t happy about that.
My first reaction when I saw the Big Island from above was to say “wow!” Its has a unique, unusual, surreal landscape. Rugged black lava rock is everywhere. There’s so much of it that it’s shocking, and … well, pretty cool.
What wasn’t cool? Our rented 2 bedroom, un-airconditioned condo. While the decor was stylish and comfortable, I found myself sweating profusely as soon as we walked in. We decided we needed shaved ice and a dip in the pool was needed. Promptly.
The palm trees stood silently still our first night. Not a whisper of a breeze. I was beginning to miss Maui! The front room of our condo wasn’t usable and most likely was 85 in there. I moved the portable fan into the living room so we could use it more effectively. The pull out couch was to be used daily! It had a memory form topper and was surprisingly comfy. I took note of the brand; we needed one of these for the camper bed. Despite the discomfort of the heat, the sound of the waves breaking against the lava rock was a lullaby.
Day Nine: Our first full day on the island had us snorkeling, shopping, and savoring a gorgeous sunset high above sea level. Early in the morning, in an attempt to beat the crowds, we drove a half mile down the street to Kahalu’u Beach Park to try out some off-shore snorkeling. We rented some very worn gear from a tent and attempted to find some colorful fish, but nearly all our masks wouldn’t maintain a seal. Xander was getting frustrated with his mouthpiece because it was old and was unlike any other snorkel he had used in the past. After a couple visits back out to the tent, we did have some success. However, by this time, many amateur snorkelers had joined us so the water wasn’t as crystal clear. The park did have a wonderful assortment of fish, though. One nesting trigger fish felt threatened by Nick, and attacked him. He walked away with bloody wound.
After changing back into our street clothes, we headed into Kona for a feet-in-the-sand lunch at Huggo’s On the Rocks. The day was growing hot and humid, so we only stopped at one additional place before retreating to our condo’s pool. The Kona Farmer’s Market is definitely worth a look. It boasts a variety of handmade items and a beautiful array of colorful flowers and fruits. I bought some wooden tea-light holders and cheap magnets.
After cooling off in the pool and sitting directly in front of the wimpy fans in our condo, we headed out to Sam Choy’s, an outdoor restaurant that perches high-above Kona. It offered a welcome breeze and an amazing blood-orange sunset. We dined on spicy-sweet edamame and orange duck topped with chopped macadamia nuts and garnished with flowers.
Day Ten: In the morning we had a booked tour with Sea Quest. The tour featured a cruise along the western coast of the island and snorkeling opportunities in two locations: Place of Refuge and Captain Cook monument. I personally loved the reef around the Captain Cook monument the most. The backdrop to the reef is amazingly gorgeous jade hued mountains that seem to touch the sky. I utilized the entire 40 minutes there, finding the shallow areas near the shore to have the best reef and tropical fish. There I found countless fish, like the bright yellow tangs, a variety of triggerfish, the rainbow hued parrot fish, schools of needlefish, butterfly fish and more. Despite the quantity of fish, the silence underwater was so serene. Toward the end of my time there I could occasionally hear underwater the high pitched chatter of spinner dolphins. Amazing! On the way back to the dock, our captain drove our boat up to the shore line, exploring the lava tubes and showing us the blow holes. We actually went INTO the tubes with the swells. We could have reached out and touched the walls if we wanted to. We were so close.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing, trying not to sweat, and eating spicy Thai food brought in from a nearby restaurant.
Day Eleven: After a casual morning in Kona, we drove up to the Seahorse farm from a brief (and expensive) tour. Xander got to hold seahorses… actually they held onto him! They wrapped their little tails around his finger. Afterward we drove up to Waikoloa Village to see the area. The beaches were manicured and pretty, but I preferred the ‘grit’ of Kona.
For lunch, we drove to the Kona Brewing Co where Nick had a prearranged meeting with the General Manager, Billy Smith. He, too, use to live in New Hampshire and actually reports directly to our former NY neighbor! Small world! While Xander and I ate lunch (pizza and a side of pineapple), Nick toured the brewery with Billy. Later they rejoined us for some beer tasting. I liked the Longboard Lager the best. It was fascinating to hear about the brewery and how Billy and his wife have adjusted to life in Hawaii. It was a wonderful afternoon!
Day Twelve: Today’s adventure, and yes it was an incredible one, entailed swimming at Manini’owali Beach (Kua Bay). We had an amazing morning at this beach! Not only was it beautiful (think white sand and crystal clear blue water), but it was fun. No, exhilarating! It was pretty packed with sun-worshipers by 10am, so Nick dropped me off and then went to go find parking. The climb down the lava to the sand was a bit tricky, but doable. We brought an umbrella from the condo thank goodness because there was no shade, and it was quite hot. The waves here were HUGE! Like over 10 feet tall! It was so much fun to watch and play in. I got knocked down countless times, inhaled water a few times, and collected a gallon of sand in my bathing suit. I wish we could have stayed longer, but we forgot to pack a lunch (no food or drinks nearby) and we were famished by 1pm. Xander had made a friend (a little boy from NY), so he, too, didn’t want to leave. This morning ranked pretty high on our “favorite things about Hawaii” list. After a pit stop at Subway, we went to Target to purchase souvenirs! Surprisingly, they had nice gift items at the front of he store. I bought a lovely wooden turtle ‘catch-all’ bowl, for example, and a few flower hair pins.
Day Thirteen: After a quick morning swim, a smoothie utilizing the last do our fruit (banana, dragon fruit and mango), we got on the road. First we filled up our gas tank, in the event that gas was few and far between on the 90 mile drive.
The drive was atypical. We found ourselves among coffee bean trees, fruit sands, mad vibrant foliage. Throughout the drive, the road was only two lanes. At first we found ourselves soaring high above sea level, but slowly the road was taking us closer to the ocean. At one point we noticed that the temperature gauge read “78 degrees” so we rolled down the windows to bask in the cooler temps. The 90+ temps of Kona (especially without air conditioning) had worn on us. The smell of freshness whipped by us and wafted into the open windows of our Malibu.
Our first stop was Punalu’u Bakery to pick up lunch and some fresh malasada donuts for breakfast. When we hopped out of the car I instantly smelled raisin bread. Ahh it smelled divine- definitely a welcome oasis! Inside, we picked out four types of malasadas, and in the end, I think the plain ones were the best. The passion fruit ones were very unique! After checking out the store (Spam, anyone?), we ordered a picnic lunch (hotdogs for the boys and a turkey and sprout sandwich for me). Our plan was to could dine outside at Punalu’u Beach Park.
Back in the car, we continued down the highway for about 15 minutes. When we arrived at the park, it was quite busy because there was a tour bus making a pit stop. We found a picnic table by the sea and had a lovely meal as the waves crashed into the lava rock. Afterward, we removed our shoes and walked over to the breathtaking black sand beach. I have never seen such an amazing site. The sand was as black as midnight in a moonless Adirondack forest; the sand granules were humongous and coarse. In a walled off section were four Honus (Hawaiian Green Sea turtle), sunbathing. They attracted a lot of fanfare from visitors. After snapping our photos, we went over to the little beach area and Xander spent time playing in the surf, searching for little pieces of sea glass. Nick and I watched a teenager with a large fishing net crouch down and stare at the water intently before casting his net out into the ocean. We easily could have plopped down some chairs and spent a couple hours here. It’s a magical place.
We continued our drive into the village of Volcano. The village is small, with a few cafes and general stores. I had rented a tree house via Homeaway.com in the neighboring fern forest. The drive on the narrow road was enchanting, as the ferns dip low and brushed us as we drove by. Here the houses rely on collected rainwater but are not completely off the grid. We saw the Hawaiian pheasant, a rooster, and plenty of blue hydrangeas on our way up. The house was small and absolutely perfect for our needs. Read my review HERE.
We opted to check out the Volcano winery, an adorable little place near the park. The walls are lined with colorful photos of lava flows and blue and green wine glasses. As we tried 7 wines, we ate crackers with sundries tomato, basil cheese. We engaged in a conversation with the owner; she was from Jersey and her winery had earned many Fingerlake awards! Small world!
After sunset, we drove into the park to check out the crater. We brought a couple flashlights to guide out way… plus we had Xander’s light-up crocs from Maui! The Jagger Museum has a lookout, and boy, it was crowded! We planned to come back the following day, but later in the evening, when hopefully all the sunset crowds would be gone.
Day Fourteen: We started off the morning with coffee, malasadas, and a little fire in the wood burning stove. Yes, it was cold! It had rained over night which further cooled off the air. The refreshing air wafted in throughout the evening and I slept soundly… Until the rooster woke me up at 3am. I guess he thought the big bright moon was the morning sun. Around 10:30 we hopped in the car and head toward the park for a day of hiking. We stopped at the visitor center to pick up some info.
In the end we spent over 4 hours seeing the sights. We went to the steam vents to check out the Kileua crater, then hiked the lava tube. After a quick snack in the car we hiked the lonely devastation trail. Next we settled back into the car for the long drive down to sea level so we could see the damage from more recent flows. Along the way we stopped at various lookout points to check out craters, old lava, and the spectacular views of the sea.
Xander loved the final hike out to the edge of the 1992-2007 flow. The black rock was sparkly and had various shades of blue. Xander spent a lot of time hunched over, examining the treasures. He kept making Minecraft references.
On the way back to the tree house we stopped at a cafe to pick up sandwiches. We immediately noticed the temperature difference. At the sunny, lava-covered coast, we were sweating in the 87 degree temps, but back up at 4000 evaluation it was misting and 67 degrees. Crazy! We cooked food at the house that evening, watching a DVD from the owner’s vast library. Free Willy 2 isn’t too bad! Afterward, we suited up in our warm clothes and drove back into the park to see the burning crater one more time. It was less crowded, darker, and much easier to find a spot to view the glowing crater.
Day Fifteen: A loud MOOOOOO woke me up bright and early. Apparently a next door neighbor has a cow. My window was left wide open, so the animal sounded like it was IN my room. We spent the morning lazying around and packing our suitcases. Once the house was emptied of our belongings, we got into the car for a short day of sightseeing in the Hilo area. First up was Akaka Park to view the waterfall. The park was packed by the time we got there, but somehow we managed to get a decent parking spot near the entrance. The path to the falls was crowded, but incredibly interesting due to the unusual tropical flora.
Afterward, we stopped for lunch at Hilo Bay Cafe. It was crowded and thus took a while before we were seated. Despite the spinning fans, it was definitely warm inside. The food was average. Afterward, we drove around, exploring Hilo. Most things were closing for the day at this point, so our options were limited. In the end, we went to Hilo Hatties for souvenirs and later an arcade (for Xander) near the Walmart. The sun was beginning to set, so we head to the airport to return our car. As we were walking to the terminal, we spotted another family driving their rental in…. their rear bumper was placed haphazardly in an open trunk! Ha! Guess they had had an accident.
For whatever reason, most people on Tripadvisor forums suggest flying INTO Hilo as opposed to flying OUT of Hilo. I strongly disagree. The Hilo airport is located indoors and had a huge area in the main terminal with a ton of couches and electrical plugs! It was so pleasant waiting for our flight. This would not have been the case in Kona. Our flight on United departed on time and was pretty uneventful.
Day Sixteen: When we finally arrived back in NY, after a sixteen hour journey, we were tired, yet energized to be home. I started some laundry and we created our Ice Bucket Challenge video with neighbors. We ordered in some dinner and tried to fall asleep. I had to work the next day, so I was quite unhappy to find myself wide awake until the wee hours of the morning. The time change and the lack of lack of air conditioning in Kona were the biggest challenges of our amazing, extended vacation in Hawaii. When comparing our two island experiences, I think I would pick Maui over the Big Island. I loved its beaches, friendly people, stunning scenery, and refreshing trade winds. I hope to return one day soon.