Hawaii Island (Big Island) in 12 days
The reason I decided to visit Hawaii was, in one word, Volcanoes, to be more precise, Active Volcanoes. Just the thought of seeing red hot molten rock flowing and seeing it from a close distance, as close as 2 feet, got me in top planning mode. I read a lot of literature on Hawaii and found that it was a treasure trove for explorers with hundreds of natural marvels and exciting activities that could keep one busy for a long time. Alas, one thing we all are short of is Time (apart from money… Lol), so I started listing my “must see – must do” things in Hawaii. Now, Hawaii has 6 major islands, each with its own unique offerings but most people suggested sticking to 1-2 islands for a 10 day visit. Based on my wish list of volcanoes, beaches, rainforest, valleys, local culture and food, I found that I could get most of this in the Big Island, also known as Hawaii island. Having decided that, I started looking for tickets. I decided to fly into and out of Kona on the west coast. September is pretty late to start looking for deals on air tickets and as expected I didn’t get any. The best price I got was for a flight with 2 stops, taking a total of 18 – 20 hours and that was CAD 1650 per person. I was still happy because the travel agent had offered me a best deal of 2200 per person! It is interesting to note that the tickets can be as low as CAD 900 in the off season time.
May 3, 2018: Kilauea volcano erupted dramatically several hours after a magnitude-5.0 quake struck the Big Island. Kilauea is the biggest and most active of the island’s five volcanoes and is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Located on the southern shore of Hawaii’s “Big Island” Kilauea has been erupting consistently since 1983 after a period of being dormant. It is a shield-type volcano making up the south-eastern side of the Big Island of Hawaii. The volcano rises 4,190 feet above sea level and makes up around 14 % of the land area of the Big Island.
My itinerary at a glance: (time includes travel and sightseeing calculated from base camp)
- Fly into Kona
- Kona 3 nights :
- Local Kona sightseeing – Keauhou Bay, Hulihe’e Palace,
- Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park – 3-4 hours
- Green sand beach hike – day trip
- Captain Cook memorial Hike – half day
- Kona Coffee plantation – 2 hours
- Drive to Hilo via Mauna Kea – Visitor centre – about 2-3 hours
- Hilo 5 nights –
- Local Hilo sightseeing – half day
- Hilo : Volcano National Park
- Hike to Lava flow at Kalapana
- Black sand beach and sea turtles
- Waipio Valley hike
- Nearby waterfalls
- Drive to Kohala Coast –
- 3 nights – relax & enjoy Hilton Waikoloa beach resort
- Fly out of Kona
From the moment you land at Kona airport, you get a nice, rustic, natural feeling about the place. The airport is small and looks more like a large community centre. The rental car offices are a short drive away and there are frequent shuttles to transport you there. We reached Kona at 9.30 pm, took our car and entered the address of Uncle Billy’s into Google maps. I would highly recommend adding roam to your phone plan for the 2 weeks as you will require data for Google maps and searching for restaurants. It was a 30 min drive and the hotel was easy to find. The rooms are old but the location is great. Continental breakfast is included, which is cereal, toast, muffins, juice, and hot beverages. There is a farmers market next door where you can buy papaya, pineapple, avocado and many other exotic fruits. There are restaurants nearby which serve excellent hot breakfast, but it could be a bit expensive if you are on a tight budget. There is Walmart close by where you can buy boiled eggs and meat slices to add protein to the otherwise high carb breakfast.
After breakfast, we explored the area till the bay. If you like snorkelling, don’t forget to carry the gear as there is a lot to see even close to the shore. A drive along the coast on Ali’i Drive southwards will take you to a number of beaches. The drive is very scenic and enjoyable. Actuall all coastal drives in the main island are scenic and enjoyable. The beaches though are not your typical large sandy beaches, these are different!
We drove further south for 20 minutes or so to Captain Cook’s monument which is a White obelisk marking the spot where Capt. Cook was killed in 1779. The monument is reachable via hike or boat ride. We parked the car on the road side at the starting point of the trail which takes you to the monument. The plaque at the monument reads the following: “In memory of the great circumnavigator, Captain James Cook, R. N., who discovered these islands on the 10th of January, A.D. 1770, and fell near this spot on the 14th of February, A.D. 1779. This monument was erected in November A.D. 1874 by some of his fellow countrymen.” The hike from the road to the monument is challenging as the trail is uneven, steep, rock-strewn and may feel long, especially if you’re not an experienced hiker or on a hot day. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen and wear a hat and sturdy shoes. The hike takes about 2 – 4 hours round-trip (4.25 miles – 6.8 km). Happy to say that we did the hike in an hour and a bit. Plan to spend an hour or so to look around, play in the water or simply to recover and get ready for the steep climb back.
After the hike we drove down south for another 20 minutes to Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park which I would greatly recommend. Check the closing time so you get enough time to walk around and take pictures with the various structures and statues. You can also see a honu (sea turtle) basking in the sun at low tide.
KONA Food tip : Umeke’s is a good place for Poke (Poke is a raw fish salad served as an appetizer or main course in Hawaiian cuisine)
The next day after a refreshing breakfast, which included some local papayas, avocados and pineapples from the farmers market next door, we drove down south to the Green Sands beach. Needless to say, the drive was absolutely scenic and enjoyable. Remember, half the fun is the journey, so drive slowly, look around, stop where you feel like and explore. It took us about 1 hour 45 min to reach the Green sand or Papakōlea beach, as it is called. The green color of the sand comes from the olivine crystals that came from ancient volcanic eruptions. The beach itself is in the cinder cone of an ancient volcano with one side open to the sea. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience to swim in the waters here, so go prepared with a change of clothes. From the parking area, which is managed by locals, it is hike of an hour or so (about 2.5 miles) to the beach. Parking costs $10 and if you do not wish to hike, they also have 4x4s to take you close to the beach at an additional cost. I would highly recommend the hike as its one of the most scenic coastal hikes I have done. Plan on spending at least a few hours at the beach. Total time from Kona and back would be 8 hours so it would basically be a day trip. In the evening we relaxed at one of the restaurants along the shore line.
The next day we drove to Mauna Kea (dormant volcano, 4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level, its peak is the highest point in the state of Hawaii) on our way to Hilo. With a 4×4 vehicle you can drive up to the observatory right at the top of Mauna Kea otherwise you have to park at the Visitor Centre which is also at an elevation of 9200 feet. Since we were driving a Nissan Versa, we had to park at the Visitor centre and hike up a small hill which I think is called the ‘sunset hill’, to view the sunset. This short hike takes around 30 min and is a steep climb. Either way, a visit to Mauna Kea is a must-do activity.
After enjoying the sunset at Sunset hill, we drove on to Hilo where we had booked our stay in a B&B called Old Hawaiian. It’s a nice bungalow with 3 rental rooms. The landlady is a very helpful person with very good baking skills. The breakfast was included in the room rate and was a good tasty breakfast. The property is very nice with a large treed space at the back which leads to a short trail to a waterfall. We stayed at this B&B for 5 nights.
The next morning we drove to the Volcano National park which was a 20 min drive. The Volcano National park has a lot of short and long trails including one that takes you into the caldera of the volcano Mt. Kilauea. All the look-out points and visitor spots are well highlighted. We started at the Visitor centre (20 min), then did a few hikes (about 5-6 km), visited the Thurston lava tube and took the scenic drive on the Chain of craters road. The Thurston Lava tube is an easily accessible lava tube (A lava tube is a natural conduit formed by flowing lava which moves beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow) close to the Kilauea’iki parking lot. It is a 20 minute (0.5 km) walk through a tree fern forest and a well lit cave-like lava tube. Try to reach the Jaggar Museum and Halema’uma’u crater overlook towards the evening (sunset time) to see the red glowing lava in the crater below. The rangers gave a short and informative presentation and are also available to answer your questions. Reach early to get a good viewing spot.
The next day we drove up north to Waipio valley, exploring the scenic spots on the way along the Hamakua coast.
We took the 4-mile long Pepeekeo Scenic Route off the Hawaii Belt Road in Onomea Valley between Hilo and Honomu. Our next stop was Akaka Falls which has a 20-minute hike to see the 440 ft Falls and is well worth the effort. A great spot to take pictures. The next stop was Laupahoehoe Point which is a detour off the main road to the bay. It’s a unique coastline with coconut & palm trees, grass and black lava rocks on the shoreline, which contrast beautifully with the deep blue ocean. Sitting on the rocks listening to the sound of the waves dashing against the rocks is very relaxing. Plan to spend at least an hour here.
A non-stop drive would have taken about an hour and 15 minutes from Hilo to Waipio valley but with all the stops, it was almost 3 pm by the time we reached Waipio. Waipio valley is a place of sheer beauty with tall green mountains rising on both sides of the valley which boasts of a curved black sand beach and blue waters. From the lookout point the hike is about 3 miles (about 5 km) round trip and I would classify it as a challenging hike because of a very steep gradient which makes both the walk down and the climb up very difficult.
We started day 3 at Hilo with a visit to a nearby waterfalls called Rainbow falls. After an early lunch we drove to Kalapana for the most exciting part of our vacation, viz., the hike to see the lava flow! We parked our car at the Kalapana Lava Viewing Site and rented bicycles from one of vendors (about $ 10 per bike or even less). The bike rental will also include helmets and flashlights. The best time to visit the lava flow area is towards the evening so that you hike one way to the lava viewing area in daylight and wait till it gets dark to return. It’s about 3 mile bike ride and a 3 mile hike after that. The hike is over lava rock which can be pretty sharp so make sure you are wearing good hiking boots for this hike. There is no trail and one has to walk towards the areas where you see smoke pouring out of fissures on the slopes of the volcano in the distance. The hike towards the lava flow area in daylight is quite easy as the smoke acts as the beacon but at night you have to rely on either the path taken by people walking in or the GPS pin you dropped at the spot you left the bikes. Make sure you have good powerful flashlights for the return journey, both handheld and ones for your bikes.
The next day after a sumptuous breakfast at the B&B we explored Hilo bay and Coconut island. The beautiful gardens are an excellent spot for taking pictures. On a clear day you can see both Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea peaks from the bay. After lunch we drove 1 and half hours to the Black Sand Beach also known as Punalu’u beach, the most famous black sand beach of Hawaii. Apart from the uniqueness of having black sand, the beach is also popular because you can often see endangered Hawksbill turtles and green turtles basking in the sun on the beach. The beach has black sand made of basalt and created by lava flowing into the ocean which explodes as it reaches the ocean and cools. We were lucky to have a group of 9 turtles basking in the sun. Make sure you stay till the evening as that is when you will see the turtles moving back into the ocean.
By now we had done more than 15 hikes and were quite worn out. We were looking forward to the 3 days of relaxation at the Hilton resort on the Kohala coast. The drive from Hilo took us 1.5 hours but it felt like we had come to a new world. Hilo was wet, humid and cloudy most of the time but the Kohala coast was bright, sunny and hot! The Hilton Waikoloa Village has a big property right on the shore. We spent the next 3 days lazing in the pool, exploring the flora and fauna along the shoreline, enjoying the sunrise and sunset at the beach, taking rides in the intra-resort boatline, enjoying the lunches and dinners in the many restaurants in the resort and enjoying many other activities.
On the day of our departure, we enjoyed a Subway breakfast on the way to the airport, returned the rental car and proceeded to the airport to check in for our return flight with a deep sense of satisfaction of having accomplished far more than we had imagined.